Michels says he’ll divest from company if elected governor

April 28, 2022 GMT

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels tweeted Thursday that he’ll divest himself from his construction company if he wins office to avoid any potential ethical conflicts.

Michels and his brothers co-own Brownsville-based Michels Corp. The company often bids for contracts on state projects, setting up a potential conflict if Michels were to become governor. State law requires governors to sign road construction contracts worth $1,000. The state ethics code prohibits state officials from using their positions for private benefit.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a story Thursday pointing out the potential conflict if Michels were to become governor. Hours later, he tweeted that he has stepped away from his job at the company “to focus on running an aggressive, successful, statewide campaign” and that he would divest from the company if elected “to focus on making lives better for every person who calls Wisconsin home.”

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Even if Michels were to divest himself from Michels Corp., his family would still benefit if he signed off on contracts for the company as governor.

The state ethics code prohibits state officials from using their position to enrich or provide anything of benefit to themselves, immediate family members or to organizations officials are associated with. Siblings are considered immediate family members under state law. Association with an organization is defined as the official or any immediate family members having an ownership or controlling interest in the organization.

Wisconsin Ethics Commission Administrator Dan Carlton declined to speculate on whether divestment would satisfy the ethics code in Michels’ situation assuming his brothers maintained control of the company. He said the facts of every individual situation are important and he avoids offering opinions on hypothetical situations.

Michels faces a crowded GOP primary field that includes former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, business owner Kevin Nicholson and state Rep. Timothy Ramthun. None of the campaigns immediately responded to messages seeking comment on Michels’ tweets. Nicholson campaign spokeswoman Courtney Mullen told the Journal Sentinel that Nicholson makes his living in the private sector seperate from the “Madison industrial complex.”

The Republicans will square off in an Aug. 9 primary. The winner will face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the Nov. 8 general election. Michels, a multimillionaire, is expected to inject millions from his personal fortune into his campaign.

Evers campaign spokeswoman Kayla Anderson told the Journal Sentinel that anyone who runs for governor should provide a clear plan on how they’ll avoid conflicts and protect taxpayer dollars, especially a candidate whose company relies on state contracts.

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Ben Wikler called Michels’ divestment tweet “laughable.”