Listeners to Green Bay Packers or Wisconsin Badgers radio broadcasts in recent weeks may have noticed advertisements urging them to visit americanlegionpost139.org and expressing concerns about job security for veterans. A visit to the website provides the standard boiler plate information about the American Legion Post. It also includes a petition that warns viewers:
Did you know that Wisconsin Legislators are planning to remove job protections for our veterans?
Sign our petition demanding that our elected leaders reinstate job protections for Wisconsin Veterans and demanding that our elected leaders make no further changes to wage laws that negatively impact Wisconsin Veterans!
The petition appears to refer to reforms to Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law Republicans passed in 2015. Prevailing wage laws mandate that taxpayers pay artificially inflated prices for labor on public construction projects. After a full repeal of the prevailing wage law stalled, lawmakers approved a compromise offered by Sen. Frank Lasee, R-De Pere that repealed prevailing wage requirements for local governments and required the federal prevailing wage, rather than one set by the state, to be used for state-funded projects.
The petition may stem from the possibility that Republicans, with an even larger senate majority this session, may work toward a full repeal of prevailing wage. So, who is behind ads for an American Legion Post that are being heard on dozens of radio stations around Wisconsin during the heavily listened to Packers and Badgers broadcasts?
A spokesman for the Packers Radio Network told Media Trackers that the ad buy was placed by the Construction Business Group(which is identified in the ads). CBG was founded as a joint venture between a handful of businesses and representatives of Operating Engineers Local 139 in 1992. As Media Trackers previously reported, the CBG bills itself as “a joint labor management organization. Its Executive Director is State Rep. Robb Kahl, a Dane County Democrat.
Media Trackers reporting revealed documents depicting CBG as an organization on the prowl looking for a way to make sure taxpayers pay the inflated cost of prevailing wages, filing complaints around the state that created administrative headaches for local officials. An open records request by Media Trackers last year produced more than 60 CBG-filed prevailing wage-related complaints in 2013 and 2014.
We contacted Kahl’s legislative office but never got a response to our voice mail message requesting comment. A woman named Patty, who answered the phone at the CBG office Wednesday afternoon, told Media Trackers that she was unaware of the radio ad buy but would give our contact information to those in the organization that could respond.
She did tell us that “we (CBG) are affiliated with the Operating Engineers and it (American Legion Post 139) is for operating engineers who are veterans. She then said: “we’ve been helping them get set up with pro bono legal activity.” When asked what they were helping them set up, she gave a disjointed response that included “501(c)3” and “IRS.”
Later Wednesday we received this response from CBG General Counsel Cynthia Buchko:
I understand that you recently called CBG’s office asking questions about CBG’s affiliation with the American Legion Post 139.
CBG is not affiliated with the American Legion Post 139. CBG’s Board of Trustees approved an in-kind donation of advertising time during Badger and Packer games and a modest cash donation to help the Post with startup costs. CBG donates to many nonprofits every year, and any donation over $5,000 is publicly reported on CBG’s 990.
I personally provided pro bono legal help to get the Post started. As you may or may not know, all lawyers are required by the rules of professionally responsibility to provide 50 hours of pro bono legal help annually to individuals or organizations that cannot afford lawyers. I provide pro bono legal services to several civic/charitable organizations.
Construction Business Group
CBG may not have any affiliation with American Legion Post 139, the ad content does little to promote Post 139 and instead echoes the talking points of the petition mentioned above; that legislators are planning to remove job protections for veterans and urges listeners to sign the petition to make no further changes to wage laws that negatively impact veterans. No legislation recently passed in the Wisconsin legislature directly affects veterans wage. Nor has any such future legislation been discussed, both of which could be inferred from the ads and the petition.
However, some Republican lawmakers have said that a full repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law is something they’d like to revisit in the future. Paying for radio ads with the goal of preempting such efforts would be consistent with CBG’s past behavior where prevailing wage laws are concerned. And implying that a full repeal of prevailing wage would hit veterans especially hard (while providing no evidence to support that assertion) would add a powerful emotional appeal to CBG’s effort.
Incidentally, “139” may be more than a randomly assigned number. The website also includes a video featuring Operating Engineers Local 139, a union whose paid lobbyist, former Republican Assembly Speaker John Gard, worked against prevailing wage reform.
At its website, American Legion Post 139 is called Wisconsin’s newest American Legion Post. A follow-up email to Buchko asking when the Post was created went unanswered. Media Trackers will continue to explore the nature of the relationship between American Legion Post 139, CBG and the prevailing wage issue and provide updates in future posts.