Is Cronyism Killing Common Sense Conservative Reforms?

Capitol influence peddler and lobbyist Brandon Scholz (Left) and Republican Speaker Robin Vos (Right)
Capitol influence peddler and lobbyist Brandon Scholz (Left) and Republican Speaker Robin Vos (Right)

When it comes to getting rid of some of Wisconsin’s dumbest laws, a distinct pattern is starting to settle in. At its core is a rather peculiar question: What do the Grocers think?

While not one of Wisconsin’s most powerful lobbies, the Wisconsin Grocers Association is one of its most connected given the friendship of Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) and group’s chief lobbyist, Brandon Scholz. It’s a relationship we at Media Trackers highlighted in the past when the group held a “Bag Off” in January 2016:

On Wednesday, a special interest group working to kill legislation that would repeal Wisconsin’s outdated minimum markup law, which prevents consumers from benefiting from overly low prices, hosted an event in the state Capitol to cozy up to lawmakers. The Wisconsin Grocers Association used the North Hearing Room to hold a “Bag Off” between two members of the WGA and two prominent Republican lawmakers.

Speaker Robin Vos the top Republican in the state Assembly, and state Rep. Joan Ballweg (R) took turns competing against grocers in a timed competition where contestants took common grocery items and packed them into a handful of grocery bags. Ballweg lost her competition, but Vos managed to pull off a win before the WGA unveiled a pre-made banner congratulating him on his win.

The Master of Ceremonies for this event…Brandon Scholz.

But killing the repeal of the minimum markup law isn’t the only common sense conservative legislation the Grocers’ made disappear. For two straight legislative sessions now, the group has successfully been able to use their relationship with Vos to kill what’s been known as “The Cookie Bill” as well. The bill, which would lift the Badger State’s ban on the sale of homemade baked goods, has immense bipartisan support in both chambers and has passed the state Senate twice.

On Monday, a third attempt to make the bill into law was introduced. What becomes of it is anyone’s guess; but many believe Vos will once again kill it by failing to schedule a vote in the state Assembly. At the same time, a number small business owners affected by the law “The Cookie Bill” is trying to repeal has taken the state to court (a ruling is expected later this spring), and finding a sympathetic ear in the national media.

What are the reasons for the bill not seeing a vote in the Assembly? Depends on who you talk to. According to Vos’ office, it’s about “creating an even playing field” for all businesses in the state. If you talk to the lobbyists, they claim it’s all about public health.

But Brandon Scholz of the Wisconsin Grocers Association did talk to us. “It’s not about muffins and it’s not about competition; it’s about public health,” he said. “We don’t want to have anybody get sick.”

Scholz says commercial bakers and groceries are subjected to rigorous health and safety regulations that home bakers don’t want to face.

Never mind that most people subject to “The Cookie Law” only want to serve homemade snacks at bed and breakfasts they already operate, or sell cookies at the local farmer’s market during the weekend.

The sad reality is that this all too cozy relationship between Vos and Scholz exposes why people on both the Left and Right hate politics and politicians. Instead of making laws where common sense and the free market prevail, or allow for the little guy to have a chance, politicians in power have tin ears reserved only for lobbyists – like the Grocers – who fear change and are determined to maintain the status quo.

As a result, Wisconsin has higher prices at the gas pump and bake sales outside of a high school fund raiser are illegal. Isn’t cronyism grand?