Wisconsin

Is State Official Taking Junkets at School Districts’ Expense?

Open Government

Has Wisconsin’s State Secretary of State been using a fund meant to purchase library books for school children as his slush fund for trips and junkets?

That’s the accusation being made by Wisconsin state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk against Doug La Follette, the state’s long-time secretary of state. According to Adamczyk, La Follette has been using funds from the Wisconsin Bureau of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) as a piggy bank to fund trips to conferences on the taxpayer dime.

Adamczyk discovered the junkets were all paid for by the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL). The BCPL is constitutionally required to direct all income made from trust funds to public education, in this case, money for books at K-12 school libraries.

 

“I cannot believe Doug La Follette has been allowed to waste this money. What a joke! He and staff at the BCPL fly around the country going on luxurious junkets with money that should be going to the children of Wisconsin. I sure hope that someone in the media asks Doug how long he has been using this perk to travel staying at posh resorts,” said Adamczyk.

 

Since 2007, La Follette has spent about $35,000 on travel with an average of two trips per year. Unfortunately, records do not exist before 2007, but La Follette has been on the BCPL Board for almost 40 years. That would mean records do not exist for almost 30 years.

 

“I have no clue the true cost to taxpayers of La Follette’s junkets, as no records exist before 2007. I can only imagine all the travel we don’t know about. At a cost of about $35,000 this last decade, what did he spend the previous three decades,” said Adamczyk.

 

Treasurer Adamczyk believes that in his forty years on the BCPL, taxpayers have paid for over $100,000 or more for what essentially were vacations for state Secretary of State La Follette.

The Wisconsin State Constitution created the board and the fund in 1848 to act as a depository of funds from the sale of public lands. Since most of the state’s public lands have been sold off, it acts as a bank for state municipalities to finance various road and other infrastructure projects. The fund’s earnings from interest provide the sole financing for the state’s K-12 school library needs.

Last year, that equated to $32.1 million dollars.

Oversight of the BCPL is under the control of a board consisting of the state treasurer, state secretary of state, and state attorney general. Twice a month, Adamczyk, La Follette, and Attorney General Brad Schimel are supposed to meet and discuss the status of the fund.

Most meetings are held via teleconference and tend to last only minutes.

According to the records complied by Treasurer Adamczyk, La Follette was taking an almost annual trip to the conference of the “Western States Land Commissioners Association,” an apparent trade organization for state land commissioners. Annual registration fees tend to be around $400, with additional costs for hotel lodging, meals, and other aspects of the trip. Past trips have included stays in Anchorage, Alaska, Phoenix, Arizona, and Austin, Texas.

Adamczyk claims that La Follette has no need or reason to go on these trips, and that they were nothing more than a taxpayer-provided vacation for the state’s longest serving statewide official. Adamczyk has long been a critic of these kinds of expenditures, questioning whether such trips are worth the state’s time and the investment put into them.

“My concern is that these trips are going to multiply in the coming years and that money which should be going to kids,” said Adamczyk, “is going for things like this instead. This isn’t just about trips Doug might be taking, but those of staff as well. I’m trying to make sure the money goes where it’s supposed to go.”

In light of Adamczyk’s claims, Media Trackers reached out to La Follette, who said in response that Adamzcyk is “full of malarkey as usual,” and that the expenses that Adamczyk is referring to were over a twenty year pay period, with the expenses being less than 2,000 a year:

The funds are mandated for the operation of the land commission. We have several staff people. We have specialists in investment in bonds to make money for us. The funds are for the operation of the commission…

…He comes up with these crazy ideas and it’s him trying to cause trouble over nothing, as I pointed out. It’s nothing to spend $1,800, including $400 on registration. I have attended them every year for past 20 years, and he makes it sound scary. My meetings were on legitimate commission business.

Media Trackers also reached out to Adamczyk for further comments, who responded that La Follette has no reason to go on these “trips” since his staff already attends them. He criticized further saying, “I’m sure they’re fun trips. They probably go see things, go around, have nice dinners. What is there to learn? He’s the only one that has ever gone. He knows this is a pot of money that can pay for this trip.”

The state treasurer also pointed out that of the 21 members states in the Western States Land Commissioners Association, Wisconsin has but a sliver of the 500 million acres of land which are designated as public lands.

“Texas alone has 12 million acres designated as public land. We have 70,000 acres total,” said Adamczyk. “There are counties in this state which have more acres of forestry than we have land under our jurisdiction. Does the state need two conservation agencies when the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) could oversee that aspect of our job?”

Voters are poised to potentially eliminate the State Treasurer position in an April 2018 state referendum. Treasurer Adamczyk, who campaigned on eliminating his own office, still wants to see that happen but has concerns about how fiscally conservative the BCPL will be in the future in its role overseeing a trust fund worth over $1 billion.

If voters approve the referendum, the state treasurer’s seat on agency’s board will be replaced with the lieutenant governor.

Sam Morateck contributed to this report.

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