By Steve Horn on March 06, 2011

Madison, Wisconsin -- A new lobbying firm, the Badger Advocates, has opened on Capitol Square.

According to its newly-minted website, the Advocates "are dedicated to supporting the University of Wisconsin-Madison ... [and] will promote greater accountability through enhanced autonomy for this unique institution." This lobbying effort is similar to efforts afoot in other states to use state budget issues to privatize public higher education institutions and put more assets and power at the disposal of powerful corporate interests.

The lobby shop's PR description closely mirrors the title of the Wisconsin Public Research Institute's December 2010 report titled, "Making the University of Wisconsin More Accountable Through Greater Autonomy." WPRI is heavily funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a right-wing neo-conservative think tank.

"Enhanced autonomy for this unique institution" is more well known as the New Badger Partnership (NBP). The NBP, which UW-Madison Chancellor Biddy Martin has been advocating for since fall 2010, and which controversially was snuck into WI Republican Gov. Scott Walker's 2011-2013 Budget, would cut the strings that tie UW-Madison to the UW System. This would make UW-Madison, the current state flagship university, a quasi-private "public authority" institution.

As seen by other public universities that have privatized, including the recent changes at UC-Berkeley and the University of Virginia System, tuition would skyrocket under this plan. The initiative would also serve to corporatize and thereby neoliberalize all pillars of the University, an effort being pushed by corporatists at universities nation-wide.

The Advocates, 14 well-connected corporate lobbyists, will be working with Martin to destroy, once and for all, the concept of UW-Madison as a public higher institution.

A biographical sketch of some of them thus is in order.

The Advocates: A Biographical Sketch

Brandon Schlotz: Schlotz, listed as one of the two contact people for Advocates, is currently a lobbyist for The Capitol Group, LLC. The Capitol Group is the "manager" of Badger Advocates, according the Advocates website. Schlotz is also the former Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

According to the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) lobbyist registry, he also lobbies for the Wisconsin Charter Schools Association, Visa U.S.A., and the Wisconsin Collectors Association.

The charter school effort is something Walker supports and is trying to direct more state dollars to, as part of efforts that some contend undermine the public education system by subsidizing the privatization of it. The credit card issues are a sore spot for many in the wake of the pattern of credit card companies giving out high interest credit to college students with little income and escalating college expenses. And collection agencies are also a sore spot for students struggling and to pay back their debts.

When asked during a phone interview whether his work on behalf of credit card companies and collection firm agencies serves as a conflict-of-interests, he responded, "I don't think I'm going to be an authority on that. We represented Visa on the gift card issue and this was quite some time ago (even though he's still listed as their Wisconsin lobbyist on the GAB website). I would go back to my earlier comments that the University wants to work to control its future and destiny and maintain affordable financial aid packages and tuition assistance." Thus, this answer was a non-answer.

Michelle Kussow: Kussow is also employed by The Capitol Group and lobbies for all of the same entities as Schlotz.

Brad Boycks: Boycks has been the chief lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association since 2004. Prior to that stint, he served as Chief-of-Staff for former Wisconsin State Senator Bob Welch, who now lobbies for The Welch Group. Welch's clients include Georgia-Pacific (owned by Koch Industries), SC Johnson & Son, the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute, and the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance.

Thomas Fonfara: Fonfara works as a lobbyist for Arrowhead Strategies. Through that position, he lobbies for the American Federation for Children, which describes itself as, "a leading national advocacy organization promoting school choice, with a specific focus on advocating for school vouchers and scholarship tax credit programs." Fonfara is thus a lobbyist for efforts that undermine the public eduction system and seek government subsidies for private or corporate schools.

American Federation for Children is chaired by Betsy DeVos, whose brother, Erik D. Prince is the former CEO of Blackwater USA and is now an ex-patriot, having fled to the only country in the world in which someone who flees the U.S. cannot be extradited--the United Arab Emirates. Her family also owns the controversial corporation Amway, a major funder of right-wing interests. Fonfara also was formerly on the Board of Directors of Pigeon Falls State Bank.

Bob Seitz: Seitz is Fonfara's partner at Arrowhead Strategies. From 1989-1991, he served as former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson's policy advisor. He also lobbies for the American Federation for Children.

Mark Graul: Graul played the role of campaign manager for Bush/Cheney's 2004 Wisconsin campaign. He was loosely linked to Jack Abramoff, from whom he received free tickets to a pro basketball game from in 2000. He now works for Arena Strategy Group, a lobby shop with offices in Green Bay, WI and Madison, WI.

Kristin Ruesch: Ruesch is listed as Graul's colleague at Arena Strategy Group, and is listed as the other contact person on the Advocates website. Her background consists of formerly working as the Communications Director for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, as well as working as Communications Director on Ron Johnson's campaign for U.S. Senate.

Carol McCoshen: McCoshen lobbies for Capitol Consultants, Inc, which advocates for some of the biggest corporate powers in the United States. Her husband, Bill, who also works for Capitol Consultants, is the former chief-of-staff for former Republican Governor Tommy Thompson.

Forbes McIntosh: McIntosh lobbies for Wisconsin Government Policy Solutions. He also sits on the Board of Directors of the Urban League of Greater Madison, a Board that also seats UW-Madison Vice Chancellor Darrell Bazzell. When prompted for an interview request over the phone about the Advocates, McIntosh rapidly hung up and did not pick up any subsequent phone calls.

Thus, the New Badger Partnership's lobby team is rife with corporate lobbyists. Given that the Walker-Martin initiative is really about corporatizing a formerly public institution, the all-star corporate lobby team is not surprising.

And yet, the newly formed squadron should be troubling to anyone concerned about preserving the university from the nexus of ideological and corporate interests that are being branded a New Badger Partnership.

Comments

Steve

Your hard work and investigative reporting is much appreciated. It helps ensure real transparency around here. Tell us, how many of these are alums? What is the potential that these folks will become part of eleven board appointees made by Walker?

Sara

Sara, thanks for asking that question. I did a quick check on the alumni directory, which is not necessarily complete. Mark Graul is an alum, and a Kristin Ruesch is a graduate and is listed as an aide to Rep Phil Montgomery.

"...promote greater accountability through enhanced autonomy for this unique institution."

On the face of it, one might think a more autonomous institution would have to account for less, and vice versa. Or has the word "enhanced" perhaps undergone mission creep in the last decade or so? ;-)

How does Chancellor Martin benefit from this?

What was the argument years ago to form the UW system?

Chancellor Martin believes a demerger would be in the best interest of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. If she is correct, she'd go down in history as one of the great leaders of the UW.

Chapter nine of the 4th volume of the history of the University of Wisconsin is the most definitive account of the merger. It is available online here: http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/cgi-bin/UW/UW-idx?type=article&did=UW.UWHist19451971v4.i0020&id=UW.UWHist19451971v4&isize=M

The short version is that after the University of Wisconsin was established in Madison, a separate system of teachers colleges developed. By the mid-twentieth century, the teaching colleges had become true universities even offering graduate degrees. At the same time, the UW established the 2-year centers, and 4-year institutions, such as UW-Parkside. As the two systems became more alike, it made less and less sense for there to be two systems with two boards of regents and two budgets. Partial solutions were devised, but continued the inefficiencies. By the time the systems merged in 1971, it had been long overdue.

Now, more than ever, we need Facebook and other social networking sites as forums for venting and voicing our opposition to the ever-creeping (and creepy) private take-over of our beloved public institutions. We will be using these sites to monitor the UW to make sure it stays clear from the reprehensible madness of the right and its incessant need to control the world, including Wisconsin, through its insatiable need for profit and dehumanization.

...is a not-for-profit Facebook equivalent, one that's not in business, above all else, to make money by selling users' personal information to marketers. People have accomplished a lot of good things with Facebook, but as it is now it's very much a two-edge sword.

...more and more, abusers seem poised to overwhelm honest users. Here are just two recent items:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2011/mar/17/us-spy-operation-social-networks

http://thinkprogress.org/?p=149408