Bill Would Give Subsidies to High-End Donor for Golf Course Project

March 17, 2015

Two Republican legislators are sponsoring a bill that would allow an Adams County town to give a developer, who has contributed more than $21,000 to GOP Gov. Scott Walker and the state Republican Party in recent years, cash grants or loans to build high-end golf courses.

The bill would make a one-time change in state Tax Incremental District requirements to allow the town of Rome to provide direct grants or loans to Chicago businessman Mike Keiser to build up to four golf courses and lodging on about 1,500 acres of land about 15 miles south of Wisconsin Rapids. Tax Incremental Districts are created by local governments through the state Tax Incremental Finance (TIF) program, which uses tax breaks and other incentives to encourage new businesses to locate on blighted land or in economically depressed areas.

Keiser, who made his fortune in the greeting card industry and has a track record of building world-class golf courses in Oregon, Florida and Nova Scotia, said construction of the first course and a clubhouse would start in 2015 and would cost between $5 million and $6.5 million.

The lawmakers, Representative Scott Krug of Rome and Senator Roger Roth of Appleton, and some local officials support the project, which is called Sand Valley, because they say it would create jobs, boost the local economy and make Wisconsin a top destination for traveling golfers along with the state’s two other acclaimed courses – Erin Hills in Hartford and Whistling Straits near Sheboygan.

Keiser, who is a frequent, generous contributor to state and federal Republican candidates and committees and conservative causes, contributed $11,100 to Walker between February 2012 and September 2014, and $10,000 to the state Republican Party last October, about two weeks before the November general elections.