The unabashed liberal sensibility of Epic System's Judy Faulkner became even more pronounced this week as her fast-growing software company -- normally a publicity-shy operation -- issued a public condemnation of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce.
Blaming WMC's politicking for the "travesty of ethics" in this spring's state Supreme Court race, Epic's management announced that it would "try to work only with vendors that do not support WMC with its current management."
That policy decision apparently prompted J.P. Cullen & Sons, the Janesville-based contractor of Epic's ongoing campus expansion in Verona, to drop its membership in WMC and for its president and CEO David Cullen to resign from the WMC board of directors.
In an email to Isthmus, Cullen said he wanted to devote his energy to managing his company "to the benefit of our valuable clients." The text of Cullen's resignation letter read:
Due to some corporate structuring and analysis, we regret to inform you that we are withdrawing our membership in WMC and I must resign my position on the Board of Directors. I continue to support the ideals of the organization to promote a healthy business climate for Wisconsin, and it is my intent to continue to advocate for sensible public policies that will benefit both the businesses and people in our great state.
The massive Epic construction project -- the second phase exceeds $200 million -- has to be a major piece of business for Cullen, which finds itself caught in the middle of the Epic-WMC smackdown.
The dispute is so sensitive that none of the principals were willing to talk today to a reporter, either declining to comment like the usually voluble WMC spokesman Jim Pugh did or resorting to prepared statements sent via email.
WMC, nominally a non-partisan big business group, has repeatedly launched hard-hitting political attacks against state Democrats and liberal candidates, culminating this spring in a bruising takedown of Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler.
Epic management, in its statement, also professed to be politically neutral, saying, "We do not as a company support or endorse any particular party or candidate."
But the managers go on to say: "We believe business exists to support society. When instead business undermines society's basic principles, then we each choose whether or not to tolerate it." The complete statement (PDF) was issued on Wednesday, June 25, and is available in the related downloads at right.
In Epic's case, the software innovator says it chose to take a stand against WMC because it believes the group's politicking undermined the integrity of the high court.
For WMC this was more bad news. The business group increasingly finds itself under fire from liberal groups accusing it of extremism, character assassination and open hostility to Wisconsin's political traditions.
As Isthmus reported, Faulkner is a political liberal who contributes to Gov. Jim Doyle, County Executive Kathleen Falk and other Democrats. She and her husband also gave $24,000 to One Wisconsin Now Action, an issue-advocacy group that has torn into WMC with the sort of relish that WMC's political affiliates display in attacking Democrats.
Hiding behind anonymity, one of the combatants asked how fair was it for Epic to pressure its vendors to toe the company's anti-WMC line. Of course, fairness is seldom a factor in today's politics.