Governor taps bank executive to lead job creation agency


September 4 2015

   

MADISON Gov. Scott Walker has appointed a bank executive who has contributed thousands of dollars to his campaign to a six-figure job leading the state's troubled economic development agency.

Walker announced Thursday that he has tapped Mark Hogan to serve as the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.'s chief executive officer. Hogan has worked for nearly 40 years at M&I Bank and BMO Harris Bank. He retired in 2010 as M&I's executive vice president and chief credit officer. He signed on as BMO Harris' senior adviser the following year. He has served as chairman of the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority since March.

Hogan has given Walker's campaign $24,375 since 2005, according to government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's campaign finance database. Federal campaign finance records show he gave $10,000 to Unintimidated PAC, a super PAC Walker's former campaign managers formed earlier this year to support Walker's bid for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.

Hogan will make $195,000 in his new job.

Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said the donations didn't play a role in Hogan's appointment.

"Mark is a proven and respected business executive and we believe his extensive experience will be invaluable at WEDC," Patrick said in an email.

Hogan replaces Reed Hall, who plans to retire this month. Walker appointed Hall to replace the agency's first CEO, Paul Jadin, in October 2012. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's database shows Hall donated $1,000 to Walker between May 2010 and March 2012. Hall made $185,000.

Walker created the WEDC shortly after he began his first term in office in 2011, touting it as the state's job creation engine. The agency has been plagued by gaffes and missteps since the beginning.

A state audit last fall found that the agency lacked documentation justifying money paid to cover expenses and grants during its first two years. An audit released in May found that contracts with grant and loan recipients hadn't complied with state law and the agency hadn't demanded proof that recipients were creating or retaining jobs.

The agency released documents in June showing that from July 2011 to June 2013, 27 awards worth about $24 million went out without a staff review. One award was a $500,000 unsecured loan for a company owned by a Walker donor, William Minahan. Walker appointees pushed the agency to give Minahan even more money even after the agency learned that Minahan had pledged agency funds to pay for a lease on a Maserati sports car. The company defaulted on the loan from the state.

The agency also handed out $1.2 million in grants and loans during Jadin's tenure to Green Box NA Green Bay LLC after the company said it could turn dirty plastic forks and ketchup-stained napkins into jobs.

But it appears that the agency didn't look deeply enough into the company; founder Ron Van Den Heuvel owed millions in legal judgments to banks, business partners, state tax officials and even a jeweler. As recently as February, the agency considered giving Green Box additional incentives.

Minority Democrats have poured criticism on the agency for years. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, who sits on the WEDC board, said in a statement he found it "curious" that Walker appointed one of his major donors as CEO but still bid Hogan welcome.

"I am glad to see that Mark Hogan has experience in the private and financial sector and I look forward to working with him," Barca said. "A change of leadership was desperately needed at this agency."