Walker Calls Out Mary Burke For Grant She Oversaw As Commerce Secretary

HUD Has Since Asked For Repayment Of $12.5M Grant Given To Kenosha Business Group

Above, Mary Burke at a campaign stop on Tuesday in La Crosse. Photo: Maureen McCollum/WPR News.

Gov. Scott Walker is attacking Democratic challenger Mary Burke’s record as state commerce secretary, specifically calling out a grant Burke oversaw eight years ago to try and lure Abbott Laboratories to Wisconsin.

Walker and Republican groups have been running TV ads off and on since last year that have attacked Burke’s ties to former Gov. Jim Doyle, but the ad Walker started airing on Tuesday got a little more specific, mentioning that:

“As Jim Doyle’s Commerce Secretary, Mary Burke spent $12.5 million for a company that said it had no plans to create jobs in Wisconsin.”

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The grant in question was made to the Kenosha Area Business Alliance to try to entice Abbott Laboratories to expand in Wisconsin. Today, the land the group set aside for Abbott sits empty.

Speaking to reporters at a powder coating plant in Oregon, Walker said the ad was fair criticism.

“They talk about our record on jobs, they talk about numbers,” said Walker. “I think those are all fair issues. But at the same time, so is the work that she did for Jim Doyle as the secretary of commerce.”

Burke, who toured several businesses in western Wisconsin, said in La Crosse that she “absolutely” stood by her efforts to try to lure Abbott, saying that when you have a chance to bring a Fortune 500 company to Wisconsin, you take it.

“Scott Walker says Wisconsin’s open for business, but somehow he’s condemning this deal that actually would have created thousands of jobs,” said Burke.

Burke highlighted a provision in the grant that required the Kenosha business group to pay the state back if the deal failed to create the promised jobs.

Documents released by the State Department of Administration show the state will have to repay the federal government for its $12.5 million grant to Abbott. The federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) office sent letters in 2013 instructing the state to repay the money.

HUD said the grant covered too lengthy a time period and included no commitments from Abbott, adding that based on its review of the proposal, there was no evidence that the Abbott expansion was feasible.

Burke also started running her own new ad on Tuesday. The one-minute commercial speaks at length about Burke’s business experience, and does not address her time running the state Commerce Department under Doyle.

You can watch both the Walker ad and the Burke ad below:

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated with new information since the radio version aired.