MADISON, Wis. — A new Kimberly-Clark lobbyist and his wife gave Republican legislators and their supporters more than $4,000 in late August, a little more than a month before GOP leaders decided to reconvene to consider tax incentives for the Texas-based papermaker, campaign finance reports show.
R.J. Pirlot registered to lobby for Kimberly-Clark on Aug. 22. He and his wife donated $4,250 to GOP legislators and committees that work to elect Republican lawmakers between Aug. 15 and Aug. 31. The contributions included $500 to Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, $250 to Senate President Roger Roth, $250 to Sen. Chris Kapenga and $250 to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.
The donations came just weeks before Fitzgerald and Vos ordered the Legislature to reconvene in a lame-duck session following the Nov. 6 elections to consider a $100 million tax incentive bill for Kimberly-Clark. The company has said if it doesn't get the tax credits it will close a Fox Crossing plant that employs about 500 people.
The Assembly passed the bill in February but it stalled in the Senate. Kapenga said he wouldn't support the measure, meaning all other Republicans would have to vote for it or convince a Democrat to approve.
State law allows lobbyists to donate to legislative candidates between the last day of the Legislature's regular session and the general election and there's no prohibition on lobbyist contributions to legislative campaign committees, meaning Pirlot's donations were legal.
Still, Joanna Beilman-Dulin, research director for liberal group One Wisconsin Now, accused Pirlot of using money to ensure the Senate takes up the bill.
"It seems Kimberly Clark's new hired gun lobbyist thinks campaign cash is the way to thank supporters like Roger Roth and open others' doors," she said in a statement Tuesday.
Matt Rothschild, executive director of government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said Kimberly-Clark is "playing the money game in Madison."
"Their lobbyist is sprinkling donations all around to influential Republican legislators in an apparent effort to grese the skids for the upcoming special session," he said in an email. "We've got the best legislature (sic) money can buy, and it doesn't even cost that much."
Pirlot didn't immediately reply to an email. Nor did aides for Fitzgerald, Roth and Kapenga.