By Eric Timmons
What do Scott Walker, Tony Evers, Robin Vos, Jill Billings and Derrick Van Orden have in common?
The answer is that all have received the financial backing of the Skogen family or the political action committee of Festival Foods, which the family owns and leads. Last October, the Festival PAC donated $20,000 to Gov. Evers, a Democrat, although the next election for governor isn’t until 2022. Around the same time, Festival’s PAC contributed $2,000 to Republican Assembly Speaker and mask debater Robin Vos.
The Skogens, who opened the first Festival Foods store in Onalaska in 1990, may be politically conservative but appear willing to hedge their bets to ensure they have good relationships on both sides of the aisle.
For example, last year the Festival PAC gave $6,000 to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate shortly before the general election. Perhaps sensing their friends from the other side might be a bit miffed, Festival also cut a check for $3,000 for the State Senate Democratic Committee. Similarly, Festival gave $4,000 to the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee in 2020 and $3,500 to the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee.
The Festival PAC also made donations in 2020 to Milwaukee Democratic State Senator LaTonya Johnson and to La Crosse Democratic State Rep. Jill Billings, as well as to Milwaukee Republican State Rep. Dan Knodl and to Republican State Senator Dale Kooyenga of Waukesha County.
Knodl, along with State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, another Republican who received a Festival donation in 2020, are part of what has been dubbed the “sedition caucus.” Both signed on to a letter urging former Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to certify the 2020 presidential election results. The letter was published a day before the Jan. 6 Capitol riots, which were fueled by false theories about election fraud.
The Festival PAC’s donations to Wisconsin state candidates totaled about $55,000 in 2020, with the $20,000 contributed to Evers’ campaign committee representing the biggest chunk of that spending. That total does not include donations made directly by Skogen family members to state and federal candidates (more on that below). You can view the Festival PAC’s donations for 2020 at this link.
Friends of Scott Walker
Back in 2014, as Festival was expanding into the Madison market, liberals in that city threatened to boycott the non-union chain due to the Skogen family’s support of then Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who at that time had received at least $7,000 in campaign contributions from Skogen family members. No serious boycott materialized and Festival has continued to thrive in Madison and across Wisconsin.
The pragmatism of Festival’s leaders when it comes to spreading their wealth among political candidates stands in contrast to other rich local players, such as Kwik Trip CEO Don Zietlow and Don Weber, the founder of Logistics Health Incorporated. Zietlow and Weber generally only donate to Republicans, and both spent hundred of thousands of dollars backing Donald Trump, including during his erratic and ultimately losing 2020 campaign.
The Skogens have steered clear of Trump. But Festival Chairman Dave Skogen and his wife Barb did each donate $1,400 to Derrick Van Orden in the 2020 cycle. The Republican lost to Rep. Ron Kind but has kept busy since the election. On Jan. 6., Van Orden was in Washington, D.C., for the “March to Save America” protests. When things turned violent, resulting in the sacking of the Capitol by a Trump supporting mob, Van Orden claims to have quickly retreated from the scene.
Van Orden has also been busy knocking Kind and others on social media, including tweeting that the Jewish former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich should change his first name to “third.” The tweet was later deleted and Van Orden issued a statement apologizing to the “Jewish people” for any offense caused. The Republican seems to be gearing up for a second run against Kind in 2022. It remains to be seen if he will again do so with the financial backing of the Skogens. In both the 2018 and 2016 election cycles, Dave Skogen made donations to Kind’s campaign.
Current Festival CEO Mark Skogen personally makes relatively few political donations. Last year he donated $500 to Rep. Glenn Grothman, a Republican Congressman from the eastern part of the state. In the 2016 election cycle, he joined with his mother Barb to donate a combined $3,400 to Sen. Ron Johnson, one of Trump’s chief loyalists in Congress.
Festival’s often bipartisan campaign contribution strategy is one that has been common among many major corporations. But there are signs that may change in the wake of the Capitol riots, at least until the dust settles on that event and the divisive Trump campaign that fueled it. Hotel chain Marriott recently told the New York Times that it would pause donations from its PAC “to those who voted against certification of the election.” Blue Cross Blue Shield and Boston Scientific are among the corporations taking a similar approach. Meanwhile, Wall Street firms Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup have all announced that they are pausing political donations for various lengths of time amid the fallout from the Capitol protests.
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