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Michels does have ties to groups that have advocated for raising Wisconsin’s gasoline tax — having previously sat on their boards, or having representatives of Michels Corp. serve on them currently.
And he’s distanced himself from prior actions of groups that he (or his company) were a part of that conflict with the campaign he’s currently running.
Still, there’s no evidence that Michels himself wanted to raise the gas tax. And he has said on the campaign trail he does not support doing so.
With just a few days until Wisconsin’s Aug. 9, 2022, primary, the top two Republican gubernatorial candidates are taking shots at each other to try and set themselves apart.
Tim Michels, a multimillionaire who owns Michels Corp., one of the nation’s largest construction companies, and Rebecca Kleefisch, who served as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Scott Walker, were virtually tied in the most recent Marquette Law School poll on the race, released June 22, 2022. Michels pulled a hair ahead of Kleefisch, with 27% and 26% backing, respectively, well within the margin of error.
It’s no surprise, then, that in recent weeks the two have turned up the heat.
On July 6, 2022, Kleefisch’s campaign released a TV ad criticizing Michels by name. In the ad, she fills up a minivan with gas and bemoans skyrocketing prices – blaming them on President Joe Biden and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers — then focuses on Michels.
"Tim Michels pushed for years to raise our gas tax," she says.
Around the same time, the campaign released another ad where Walker praises his former second-in-command and also claims that Michels "teamed up with … those lobbying for a gas tax increase."
Michels’ campaign swiftly pushed back against the accusations.
So what’s the real story? Let’s dig in.
When asked for evidence to back up her claim, Kleefisch’s campaign cited several connections between Michels and a gas tax increase, many from a June 27, 2022, piece from the conservative news outlet Wisconsin Right Now.
"Tim Michels — because of his role in directly funding campaigns to increase the gas tax in other states, sitting as president of a board that supported a gas tax increase, and his company’s (the one he is vice president of and takes credit for their 8,000 jobs on the campaign trail) leadership in other associations that supported increases in the gas tax — supported raising the gas tax," campaign staff wrote in response.
Breaking it down, though, that assessment skips a few steps. The connections the campaign cites are each a few steps removed from Michels himself, who has said publicly he does not support raising the gas tax.
Chief among the connections cited are Michels’ ties to the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association, the Construction Business Group and the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin. He served as WTBA’s board president from 2007 to 2008 and was previously a member of the TDA’s executive committee. Michels Corp is a TDA member, and a Michels Corp. staffer sits on the board of WTBA.
Indeed, the groups have advocated for higher gas taxes.
Michels’ response: He doesn’t always agree with the advocacy efforts of the trade groups he and his company have belonged to.
He does have a point there. Having served on boards of organizations that have sought to increase the gas tax isn’t the same as pushing for it himself — which is what the Kleefisch ad claims.
In a way, it’s similar to how we treat votes on those megabills in Congress that cover hundreds upon hundreds of initiatives. Voting for the package does not signal support for every last line item in it — especially when there is evidence to the contrary.
And, in this case, Michels has said repeatedly he does not back a gas tax increase.
The Wisconsin Right Now piece also points out that Michels Corp. subsidiaries have donated to groups in other states that have favored raising gasoline taxes.
Again, that’s a few steps removed from Michels himself.
It’s worth noting that Michels has provided similar explanations for other actions by organizations he (or his company) was a member of that conflict with usual conservative positions, including a coalition that opposed the state’s right-to-work law and WTBA’s opposition of an anti-immigration bill.
Kleefisch’s campaign staff seemed to have anticipated the explanation, writing in a response, "That’s a cop-out … Michels has not proven anything to show that he or his company contradicted any of the trade association positions at the time."
It remains to be seen what Michels would do with the gas tax if elected governor. But right now, the burden is on Kleefisch’s camp to prove her claim that he personally pushed to increase it — and there’s no evidence of that.
Kleefisch claimed Michels "pushed for years" to increase Wisconsin’s gas tax.
Michels does have ties to groups that have had that aim, and this isn’t the only time he’s tried to distance himself from what they’ve been involved in.
Still, there’s no evidence that he was personally the one pushing. And he has explicitly stated the opposite on the campaign trail: That he will not increase the gas tax.
A rating of Mostly False means the statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
That fits here.
Statista, "The 50 biggest construction companies in the U.S. based on revenue 2020," accessed Aug. 4, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Marquette poll shows Ron Johnson, Tony Evers in close general election races," June 22, 2022
YouTube, "Minivan" campaign ad, accessed Aug. 2, 2022
Youtube, "One conservative" campaign ad, accessed Aug. 2, 2022
Wisconsin Right Now, "Tim Michels tied to groups that pushed aggressively for gas tax increases," June 27, 2022
Wisconsin Public Radio, "Tim Michels has run as a political outsider. To many, what he would do as governor is a mystery," July 28, 2022
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Bice: Tim Michels rails against illegal immigration but says he didn't know his group fought an anti-immigration bill," July 12, 2022
Wayback Machine, Michels for Senate campaign page, accessed Aug. 4, 2022
TDA Wisconsin membership directory, accessed Aug. 4, 2022
WTBA Board of Directors, accessed Aug. 4, 2022
The Capital Times, "Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin: Follow other Midwestern states and raise the gas tax, registration fees," March 5, 2018
WKOW, "Transportation task force considering 10 cent gas tax increase," Feb. 8, 2019
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "GOP candidate for governor Tim Michels says he supports Wisconsin's right-to-work law despite his company's past opposition," July 8, 2022
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