Follow the Money: Minimum Markup Repeal Languishes

A bill that would repeal Wisconsin’s Unfair Sales Act, also known as the minimum markup law, is languishing in the state Senate despite an effort to at least get a hearing for the measure. Under current law, it is illegal for retailers to sell products at a discount that doesn’t meet government-mandated minimum pricing requirements.

One explanation for the lack of legislative action could be, quite simply, campaign cash.

SB 371, the Senate version of the reform, has been assigned to the Senate Committee on Economic Development and Commerce, which is chaired by Sen. Rick Gudex (R). He has not even scheduled a public hearing on the bill, much less an executive session which would give the committee a chance to vote to approve or disapprove of the bill.

According to campaign finance records, Gudex, who was elected in 2012 after a hard fought campaign, received $3,250 from Kwik Trip employees between 2012 and 2015. Kwik Trip, a large convenience store chain, has spent thousands lobbying against SB 371 and its Assembly companion. Among those at Kwik Trip who have given to Gudex are Don Zietlow, the president and CEO, and his wife LaVonne. Steve Loehr, vice president of the company, has also contributed to Gudex.

Another committee member, Sen. Jerry Petrowski (R), has received $860 in campaign contributions from Zietlow, Loehr and other Kwik Trip employees.

Kwik Trip runs a conduit fund that channels money to political candidates. In 2014 that fund liberally spread $34,780 between Republicans and Democrats, a smooth move to ensure loyalty from both sides in Madison. An ally of Kwik Trip in the fight against minimum markup reform, the Wisconsin Grocers Association, has a political action committee that donated $8,750 to candidates in 2014, with the majority of that going to Republicans.

In what could be a competitive election year, a partial reason for why minimum markup repeal isn’t getting so much as a hearing may be because some lawmakers don’t want to lose the campaign cash that comes from the status quo’s supporters.