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By Emma Roller August 29, 2011

The Wisconsin Club for Growth says Democrats in the Legislature in 2009 voted for various “pork projects” including “a $5 million scoreboard for the Milwaukee Bucks.”

There was plenty of hot air expended during the unprecedented state Senate recall elections during the summer of 2011. An enormous amount of time and money was spent by political parties and third-party groups to protect or promote their candidates.

And, of course, to attack their rivals’ record.

The elections are over. But some of the claims lingered with us.

One involved the Bradley Center, home of the Milwaukee Bucks, Marquette University Golden Eagles, Milwaukee Admirals and Milwaukee Mustangs. With the busy season of the downtown Milwaukee venue just around the corner, we thought we’d take a deeper look.

The Bradley Center is a $90 million gift to the community from Jane Bradley Pettit in honor of her father, industrialist Harry Lynde Bradley. The facility is a state building but operates without state taxpayer support.

For years, the Bradley Center board of directors and the Bucks have complained the facility, which opened in 1988, is obsolete for an NBA team. Most recently, the team sought $10 million in borrowing for renovations, a request that Gov. Scott Walker shot down.

In recent years, a variety of smaller-scale renovations have been undertaken to generate more revenue for the team. That includes a new scoreboard that debuted in the fall of 2010 in an effort to increase advertising revenue.

That scoreboard popped up in a string of television ads the conservative Wisconsin Club For Growth used to attack Democrats running in the recall elections. For instance, one spot targeted state Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo), who lost to state Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) in his recall election.

"Clark voted for $37 million in pork barrel projects, including a $5 million scoreboard for the Milwaukee Bucks," the narrator states in the ad.

Did state taxpayers really buy the Bucks a new $5 million scoreboard?

Let’s go to the replay.

We asked the Club for Growth for backup, and they sent us to a Journal Sentinel story about items included in the budget, and the budget bill itself.

So, we dug further.

The Bradley Center board sought state assistance for the facility, arguing for the economic benefits that the facility provides to Milwaukee. The request was heard in 2009 by the state Building Commission, which handles requests for large-scale construction projects.

The commission voted April 1, 2009, to recommended a $5 million grant for the Bradley Center, and the amount was included in the proposed 2009-’11 state budget.

Among those voting to approve the borrowing was commission member Dean Kaufert, Republican member of the state Assembly from Neenah. Clark was not a member of the commission, nor were any of the Democrats targeted by the Club for Growth ads.

The bonding for the Bradley Center was then included in the budget by then-Gov. Jim Doyle.

Al Runde, an analyst at the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau, said there was no amendment made to remove the Bradley Center funding from the budget package. In other words, there was no separate vote on that item.

(After this item was published, our attention was directed to a budget amendment that would have -- among other things -- cut the funding for the Bradley Center and nine other projects approved by the Building Commission. That amendment was tabled on a 51-47 vote with Clark voting in the majority.)

The budget was approved by the Democratic-controlled Legislature with Clark among those voting in favor of it.

We’ve seen this type of approach before, where a vote for an entire budget is used to hammer home a point on one relatively small item contained within it. This often distorts what really happens in the Legislative process.

Beyond that, the Club for Growth’s claim is off base when it says the $5 million went for a scoreboard.

"Nothing in the act says anything about the scoreboard, just general funding" for the Bradley Center, Runde said.

The Bradley Center spent $1.29 million of the state money on the $3.2 million scoreboard, said Evan Zeppos, spokesman for the center’s board. The state funds also went to repair concrete, lighting, elevator and escalator maintenance, plumbing, flooring and a new hockey dasher-board system, he said.

The Bradley Center has not yet spent the entire $5 million, and more than $580,000 remains on hand, Zeppos said.

Zeppos noted the scoreboard isn’t just for the Bucks. Marquette, the Admirals and other tenants also use it.

"It’s for everything we do there," Zeppos said.

Let’s settle the score on this one.

The Wisconsin Club for Growth said Clark and other Democrats voted for $5 million for a new scoreboard for the Bradley Center.

Featured Fact-check

There’s no evidence that Clark had an opportunity to vote yea or nay on that specific matter, although he did vote to table an amendment that included the Bradley Center funding and numerous other projects. And it’s a reach to make a specific charge against him for an item that was wrapped in a broader vote. What’s more -- and more importantly -- the group misstates how the state money was used. About a fourth of the money went to the scoreboard. And it’s not specific to the Bucks.

So it’s wrong in multiple ways. We rate it False.

Our Sources

Wisconsin Club For Growth television ad "Pork," June 14, 2011

Emails, Deborah Jordahl, Wisconsin Club For Growth, Aug. 18, 2011

Interview/emails, Al Runde, Legislative Fiscal Bureau analyst, Aug. 18-19, 2011

Interview/emails, Evan Zeppos, Bradley Center spokesman, Aug. 18-19, 2011

Interview, Ted Kanavas, former state senator (R-Brookfield), Aug. 18, 2011

Interview/emails, Paul Anderson, aide to Rep. Fred Clark, Aug. 19, 2011

Emails, Rep. Fred Clark (D-Baraboo), Aug. 19, 2011

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Bradley Center unveils new scoreboard," Sept. 30, 2010

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Budget includes millions in earmarks," May 29, 2009

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "GOP rips scoreboard, but GOP legislator backed it," Oct. 1, 2010

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Scott Walker and the Bradley Center: Then and now," March 28, 2011

State Budget (Page 4):

2009-’11 Capital Budget Recommendations (Page 139): Legislative Fiscal Bureau

2009 Assembly budget amendment offered by Rep. Kaufert, June 11, 2009

2009-’11 State Building Projects Summary (Pages 5-7)

2009 Assembly Bill 75

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More by Emma Roller

The Wisconsin Club for Growth says Democrats in the Legislature in 2009 voted for various “pork projects” including “a $5 million scoreboard for the Milwaukee Bucks.”

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