Latest Protests Bring an 'Epic' Wisconsin Donor Back Into the Spotlight
Labor unions and leftist activists are expected to once again descend upon the Captiol in Madison, WI on Tuesday. They plan to protest Governor Scott Walker's first 2-year budget proposal, which seeks to cap entitlement programs and make cuts in education while expanding school voucher programs, in an attempt to close a $3 billion budget deficit. Republicans also expect to add the collective bargaining provisions that were passed in March, unless the State Supreme Court issues a ruling before then.
Opponents of Walker's proposal view their side as an issue of human rights and a statement against corporations, and have not surprisingly ratcheted up the rhetoric. On its website announcing Tuesday's protest, the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO posted:
Debate will be limited, democracy will be circumvented and the balance will greatly tip in favor of ramming through an anti-worker, anti-family, anti-community agenda. Come bear witness to this denial of democracy... Please take part in democracy and bear witness to the extreme attack on the people of Wisconsin. Join us tomorrow, Tuesday, June 14, as we continue to stand strong against a budget that guts public schools, attacks health care, raises taxes on workers and seniors, and jeopardizes public services like police and fire. All while handing over $300 million a year in tax breaks to the rich.
Oh, the drama....
The message from the left is much the same as it was in March. One of the speakers at those many rallies was then former mayor Paul Soglin, who is now Madison's current mayor, again. Here he is as he speaks about business: profit bad, corporations bad, happy hand-holding workers good.
Soglin, who camped overnight with protesters at the state capitol during the last budget battle, is a Wisconsin fixture in liberal activism and politics, having been a noted activist since the 1960's and featured in several books and the anti-war documentaries, "Two Days in October" and "The War at Home." He has spoken of things like government sponsored cooperatives, and stated that "Since the Berlin Wall came down, the Republican Party, with its designer wars, poses greater threats to national security than the ice cream parlors in Havana." In fact, during an earlier term as mayor, Soglin awarded Fidel Castro the key to the city of Madison, and spent time with Castro in Cuba in 1975.
As Tuesday's protests roll around, we're reminded of some of Soglin's words just prior to his election. While he often seems to be a reasonable guy, his ideology is unapologetically leftist and he frequently speaks in terms of shared responsibility and the government having a large role in that collective effort.
"I look at management as a Tom Sawyer experience....if there's a fence that needs to be painted, the best way to do it is to get everyone to participate and make it fun. That is what we're going to do in the future."
Sounds groovy. What's especially interesting to note though is that the mayor shares some of his background and ideology with someone we've previously mentioned on the Bigs in the past. Mind you, her role was not yet fully recognized at the time, but once she caught the eye of a few bloggers in the Wisconsin area, she started to take on a little bit of a George Soros persona. And she's apparently rubbed off on the mayor:
After leaving City Hall in 1997, he worked for Lincoln Financial Advisors, and after losing to Cieslewicz became a project manager at booming Epic Systems in Verona from 2003 through 2008. He says he gained invaluable insights into economic development and corporate success from Epic CEO Judith Faulkner.
Drawn back to the public arena, Soglin left Epic and started a blog and a consulting business. His efforts for unions and developers, he said, created better understanding of labor and tensions between neighborhoods and builders.
Now Soglin is on leave from an adviser job with the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. He still teaches graduate seminars at UW-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs.
If you haven't previously read about who Judith Faulkner is, it's imperative – especially if you live in Wisconsin – to read this post first, Will Money & Power in Wisconsin Politics Influence Health Care Policy?, particularly the last third of it.
You see, it turns out that one of the biggest backers of liberal politicians and big labor in Wisconsin is actually none other than....an evil corporation!
But this isn't just any little local corporation either. This is Epic Systems, the company whose CEO, Judith Faulkner, is helping to implement standards for the federal mandate of nationwide electronic health records. You know, the digital storage of your own personal medical information? (And quite possibly transitioned over to the government as part of a single-payer system, if liberal politicians have anything to do with it). From my prior BigGovernment post:
It turns out that Judy Faulkner is also important outside of Wisconsin. She was appointed to the federal Government Accountability Office Health IT Policy Committee in April 2009. This is a committee that was created in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for the purpose of “mak[ing] recommendations on creating a policy framework for the development and adoption of a nationwide health information technology infrastructure, including standards for the exchange of patient medical information.” Electronic Medical Records (EMR) / Electronic Health Records (EHR) – long considered by the left to be the holy grail to a single payer system - are a key financial component of both the ARRA and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Faulkner’s company, Epic Systems, is the same software that is installed at many of the facilities often cited by President Obama and members of Congress as the “model health care systems,” including Geisinger, Kaiser Permanente and Cleveland Clinic, to name just a few.
Mayor Soglin's former employer is a powerful source - pouring money into Wisconsin politics and influencing decision makers throughout the state. One of the political committees to which she donates, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, spent over $1.3 million on just the Supreme Court race alone, much of it on disgraceful attack ads on television. But in the 2008 race, Faulkner, along with Soglin's help, called for a boycott of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), the state’s leading pro-business lobby, when it spent $1.2 million on campaign advertising in support of the conservative candidate, which prompted the resignation of WMC board member and J.P. Cullen & Sons CEO, David Cullen. Cullen’s company was Faulkner’s building contractor working on the $300 million expansion of Epic Systems' Verona campus at that time. The bullying has continued into more recent elections, as the committee has also been running anti-Walker ads all throughout these protests.
As usual, it seems hypocritical for labor unions to be crying foul over corporate donors throughout these protests and screaming for a more "collective" way of life in Wisconsin, when one of their own is not only bankrolling a good amount of liberal politicians in the state, but also in federal elections, including Obama's. Meanwhile, some of those very politicians who have received donations from Epic have coincidentally been interfering in policy decisions at state and federal levels, seemingly on the company's behalf.
Epic Systems and the Faulkners are also donors to many liberal and Democratic candidates, including some who have been cited as potential 2012 Wisconsin Senate candidates, such as Rep. Tammy Baldwin. Epic Systems came up recently when five members of a congressional delegation, including Tammy Baldwin, sent a letter to the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, asking them to consider using a commercial off the shelf system for their electronic health records solution. The letter cited Kaiser Permanente, Cedars Sinai and Cleveland Clinic as model examples – all Epic Systems installations.
Of course given its business model, Epic thrives on government contracts and on new government mandates and regulations. The Obama administration has set aside almost $100 million in total for electronic health records incentives, claiming it would create tens of thousands of jobs, and issued numerous mandates and regulations pertaining to electronic health records. Well, when the CEO of Epic just so happens to sit on the federal Health IT board, one would think that probably gives this heavyweight campaign donor and labor union allies quite a few perks.
I'm sure much of this will come in handy for the 2012 elections as well.
It's also worth pointing out that Epic Systems is not a union shop. I suppose that doesn't bother unions as much, since the Faulkners donate so much to union causes and their preferred politicians. Wisconsin's labor unions, the mayor of Madison and his business muse at Epic can all go ahead and keep criticizing Scott Walker's pro-business policies and his "Open for Business" campaign slogan all they like. They seem to play the political donor game just as well as those they criticize. The difference between the two sides is that one cannot succeed without the government, while the other can only succeed if government gets out of the way. Just as Wisconsin Policy Research Institute recognized at the time, figures like Faulkner benefit from the pro-business groups like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which, despite the coordinated attacks from Faulkner and Soglin's allies on the left, had "helped assure that she can run her company as she sees fit."
Then again, let's remember, this is where Fidel Castro was once given the key to the city, by its current mayor.