MADISON, Wis. — U.S. Bank fired a Wisconsin state treasurer candidate because the bank feared his campaign could be perceived as a conflict of interest as the bank pursues a new $10 million contract with the state for banking services, emails released Monday show.
The bank fired Travis Hartwig, a Republican, from his mutual fund administrator job in Milwaukee on July 2 after he refused the bank's demand that he drop out of the race, Hartwig said.
State Department of Administration spokesman John Dipko said U.S. Bank is under contract to provide banking services for state agencies through June 2019. The state is currently taking bids for the next contract, set to begin on July 1, 2019.
Hartwig and his attorney, Nate Cade, released emails between U.S. Bank personnel and Hartwig on Monday after Hartwig issued a news release saying the bank had fired him. Hartwig initially said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press that no one at the bank ever explained to him why he couldn't run for treasurer.
Hartwig told the bank in the emails that the state treasurer has no duties and isn't involved in procuring business for the state. The treasurer's office once had extensive powers, including collecting taxes and depositing checks, but Republicans have spent years weakening the position. The office's only real remaining duty is serving on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, a little-known entity that manages trust funds built through fees, fines and land sales.
Paul Connelly, a human resources manager with U.S. Bank, wrote back on June 19 that the role of the state treasurer is in "complete conflict" with the bank. He offered to have U.S. Bank public relations employees help Hartwig "gracefully exit" the campaign.
"As we discussed, you running is both a conflict based on the bank's 'current' relationship/activity with the state of Wisconsin and 'appearance of conflict' based on the current (contract bid) that the bank is in the midst of with the State of Wisconsin," Connelly wrote. "The 'role' of State Treasurer is what is in complete conflict with the bank."
Hartwig said he notified the bank in April that he was running for treasurer. Company officials told him last month that he had two options: Quit the race or resign. He refused to do either, and the bank ultimately terminated his employment, he said.
Hartwig said he had worked for U.S. Bank since February 2016 and was making $62,250 a year. He said he refused to drop out of the race because he feels it's important to have citizen representation in government.
"Employer restrictions like this make it hard for citizens to want to be involved in their government," he said.
Cade said he plans to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Fair Employment Practices Agency.
He said he can't imagine how being state treasurer would conflict with being a mutual fund administrator, noting almost every legislator has another job.
Hartwig faces fellow Republican Jill Millies in an Aug. 14 primary. The winner will go on to face whoever emerges from a three-way Democratic primary in the November general election. The incumbent, Matt Adamczyk, is running for the Legislature and isn't seeking re-election.