State Agency in Wisconsin Gave Thousands to Liberal Think Tank

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development is currently awarding $130,000 to the Center on Wisconsin Strategy, a liberal think-tank housed at the University of Wisconsin. The DWD is a state agency that is supposed to report to Governor Scott Walker. The Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), although housed at the University of Wisconsin, is a heavily ideological organization led by Professor Joel Rogers, who has advised the Obama Administration on so-called green policies.


COWS receives free office space from the University of Wisconsin despite the ideological nature of its work.

In August of 2012, Secretary Reggie Newson of the Department of Workforce Development signed off on a multi-year grant from the agency to COWS, offering the liberal group $130,000 to conduct research on a state partnership program designed to encourage workforce education. The state of Wisconsin obtained money for the grant from the Joyce Foundation in Chicago. The Joyce Foundation has previously awarded grants to liberal groups who have done work to oppose policies implemented by Governor Walker.

According to the terms of the grant, Laura Dresser, the associate director of COWS, is the one responsible for making sure the think-tank fulfills the research it is being asked to conduct. Specifically, DWD is relying on COWS to provide vital information about the Regional Industry Skills Education II – RISE II – program.

Dresser is hardly a fan of the Walker administration, and as the second in command at COWS she has had ample opportunity to make sure her work on economic policy communicates her distaste for Walker. “The more people look at it the more it stinks,” Dresser said in February 2011 of Act 10, the governor’s collective bargaining reform legislation. Asked to explain what Act 10 was all about, Dresser declared it was, “A breathtaking, and extreme, and radical move to deny collective bargaining rights to public sector workers.”


At the same time that the DWD and COWS were finalizing the grant last year, Dresser went on the radio on WTDY in Madison to complain about how the DWD released certain jobs data, although she did admit that the data released was accurate and positive news for Wisconsin. In the same interview, Dresser complained Governor Walker’s polices led to a decrease in government workers and that is “a big drag on the Wisconsin economy.”

The state budget this year actually hired new state government employees, but local government workforces have shrunk in some parts of Wisconsin.

Dresser’s opposition to Walker isn’t confined to just collective bargaining reform. She took the opportunity on Labor Radio to praise Wisconsin Jobs Now! and Citizen Action of Wisconsin for their efforts to orchestrate fast food worker strikes in Milwaukee this year. “In Milwaukee, Wisconsin Jobs Now! and Citizen Action and others have been leading the way,” Dresser praised. Both of those groups actively opposed Governor Walker during the 2012 recall election and have aligned themselves with liberal interests opposed to many of the policies the Governor has been putting forward.

A believer in government stimulus programs, Dresser chastised Walker in the same interview for turning down federal funds. “At every turn when there is a chance to get federal money…we keep saying no to the money,” she complained. Walker’s policies are a move to austerity, she said and have led to a contraction of the Wisconsin economy.


But in the past few months Wisconsin has seen an increase in the number of jobs created, meaning the state’s job market is doing slightly better now under Democrat Governor Jim Doyle.

In a recent op-ed that she penned for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Dresser belittled the MacIver Institute, a conservative free market think tank based in Madison.

When DWD was asked about the grant and why the money had been channeled to a liberal organization, and apparently outside of the normal grant making process, Nancy Eikls of the agency responded by comparing COWS to a “state agency.”

Since COWS, A UW affiliate, is a state agency, there is no RFP or procurement that is needed, by Chapter 16 procurement rules.

The grant is neither training, nor Convening, but is for $130,000 for research and data analysis.

While it is true that COWS is housed at the UW Madison, the organization pushes a number of liberal agenda and policy items very clearly aligned with liberal ideological causes. The organization functions in the shadows of the University’s Sociology Department budget, but its funding mechanism as it appears now is murky as private funds merge with taxpayer funds and tuition fees in the departmental budget.

In addition to leading the project for which DWD awarded COWS a grant, Dresser and Sigrid Peterson, a graduate project assistant at COWS, sit on the DWD’s Wisconsin Industry Partnership Leadership Team.


Aaron Nutting contributed to this report. It originally appeared on


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