Leaked documents to the Guardian reveal a damming quid-pro-quo between Republican Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin and the billionaire oligarch in charge of National Lead Industries, Harold Simmons. Simmons’ reputation as “Dallas’ most evil genius” precedes him, as he previously escaped justice and wormed his way out of having to pay millions of dollars in damages for child victims of lead poisoning in Milwaukee. He would try the same trick again by buying Scott Walker’s help.
In flagrant violation of campaign finance laws, Simmons donated a previously undisclosed amount of $750,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth which then funneled the money to the Scott Walker campaign. Following this colossal bribe, Walker would work to implement “Act 2,” an offensive to tighten tort law, and create legal changes that would retroactively grant immunity to lead manufacturers from any compensation claims for lead paint poisoning. NL Industries also employed professional lobbyists for 330 hours, at a cost of $172,500, to persuade the Wisconsin legislature to pass the retroactive immunity bill. At stake were the rights of hundreds of mentally disabled children from poor urban areas whose lives were devastated by lead poisoning inhaled from residential paint growing up.
“These children were perfectly innocent. They entered life with all the gifts and health that God gave them and were devastated by this neurotoxin,” said Peter Earle, the principal attorney on 171 cases that are currently ongoing against NL Industries and other former manufacturers of lead paint.
Before these documents were leaked, some of the most powerful judges in the country tried to stop the public from ever seeing them. The state’s highest court, the conservative-majority supreme court of Wisconsin, terminated the investigation that amassed them before charges were brought, going so far as ordering prosecutors to “permanently destroy all copies of information and other materials obtained through the investigation.”
Thankfully, despite the attempt by NL Industries to use the amendment for dismissal of negligence lawsuits, a federal appeals court stepped in and ruled that such a retroactive granting of corporate immunity would be a violation of the US constitution.
However, it is worth asking what it would have meant for the victims had the amendment stood. Victims like Yasmine Clark, one of the plaintiffs. Clack suffered such severe lead poisoning she was hospitalized twice and found to have a lead level in her blood of 48 micrograms per deciliter. For context, in Flint, Michigan, doctors sounded the alarm after children were found to have levels above 5 micrograms per deciliter from polluted water supplies – about one-tenth of Clark’s concentration.
This is an excellent example of the Republican brand – whose which will stop at nothing to protect the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised.