Kimberly-Clark spent $131K lobbying for incentive bill

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When Republicans introduced legislation nearly a year ago trying to keep Kimberly-Clark from closing two plants in the Fox Valley, they said the company didn’t approach them asking for incentives. Instead, their bill was an attempt to change the company’s mind.

Kimberly-Clark’s lobbying reports underscore that, showing the company didn’t spend anything to lobby the Capitol until the waning months of last session. They also add some detail to the company’s late — and ultimately unsuccessful — push to get the Senate to approve the bill before then-Gov. Scott Walker’s administration stepped in with a package to keep open one of the plants.

GOP Sen. Roger Roth, whose district includes the plants targeted, said even though the company’s efforts on the bill fell short, he believes its engagement with the Capitol helped lead to Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. reaching a deal with the company in the days before the former governor left office.

“I’m sure it helped,” the Appleton Republican said.

The lobbying reports show Kimberly-Clark spent $131,107 to lobby the Capitol between July 1 and Dec. 31, a significant uptick in activity for the manufacturer. Kimberly-Clark didn’t register a lobbyist with the state for the 2015-16 session and reported no spending in 2013-14. Going back to 2003-04, the most the company had spent over an entire two-year session was $82,535.

Still, the $131,107 spent over the last six months of 2018 was only good enough for No. 15 among groups that lobbied the Capitol over the period, showing K-C hasn’t been a major player in terms of lobbying the state. By comparison, Wisconsin Infrastructure Investment Now Inc., a group headed by former GOP Assembly Speaker John Gard that lobbied last session against eliminating the prevailing wage, led the way for spending in the last half of 2018 at $335,650. The League of Wisconsin Municipalities was next at $333,182, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce was No. 3 at $256,880.

All of Kimberly-Clark’s effort last year went into AB 963, which cleared the Assembly in February but bogged down in the Senate.

The company said in a statement it decided to register a lobbyist after ratifying a tentative agreement with the union at the Cold Spring facility in Neenah.

“This provided us the opportunity to further educate the Legislature about our business,” the company said.

The agreement was ratified July 23, and Kimberly-Clark’s first lobbyist — Susan Phillips, the company’s DC-based vice president of government relations — was registered with the state four days later.

The company then added contract lobbyist R.J. Pirlot almost a month later before it issued a deadline in September, announcing it wanted lawmakers to finish work on the bill by month’s end.

But after failing to meet that deadline, legislative leaders announced plans for an extraordinary session after the November election to take up the bill.

Following the election, the company ramped up its activity, with seven more lobbyists registering in the days after Nov. 6 as Pirlot ceased lobbying for the company. That included five from the firm Schreiber GR Group and two who work for Kimberly-Clark, the plant manager at the company’s plant on Cold Spring Road in Neenah and an electrician there.

But that legislation, which would have given the company up to $115 million over 15 years to keep two plants open, never made it to the Senate floor. Instead, WEDC signed a five-year deal worth up to $28 million.

WisPolitics.com reported in December that WEDC had Kimberly-Clark in mid-October file an application that opened the door to the agency negotiating the package that was ultimately signed.

At the time, WEDC CEO Mark Hogan told WisPolitics.com that company officials remained focused on the larger deal in the legislation, but he began laying the groundwork for a fallback plan in case the legislation failed.

Hogan said this week Kimberly-Clark didn’t lobby WEDC “to do anything.”

“My observation is that the company’s lobbying activity followed union approval to seek an incentive to remain in Wisconsin and was focused on getting the original legislation through the Wisconsin Senate,” Hogan said.

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