Why A Northern Wisconsin Brewery Owner Started A Super PAC
In October of 2020, Minocqua Brewing Company owner Kirk Bangstad put up a large Biden-Harris sign outside of his brewery. Doing this in conservative northern Wisconsin quickly led to some pushback.
Bangstad is certainly no stranger to pushback — or politics. He most recently ran for the State Assembly District 34 as a Democrat in reaction to, what he calls, the "disastrous" statewide elections at the beginning of the pandemic in April. Bangstad lost to Republican Rob Swearingen, but he says it was never about winning.
"There was no way that a Democrat was going to win up here, so my goal wasn't to really win the race but it was to raise money to be able to be a big voice," he explains. "Saying that [the Republicans] were ignoring COVID, were ignoring science, were ignoring public health warnings — the entire Republican party of Wisconsin was following Trump and not doing anything about COVID and people were getting sick and dying."
Bagnstad's Biden-Harris sign went up at the brewery shortly after he decided to temporarily close in-person dining for the season in September of 2020 as the weather got colder and COVID-19 continued to tear through Wisconsin.
"Science is how breweries work ... We live and die by science and our country has to live and die by science. [And the Republicans] weren't using science and were anti-science and anti-fact. And it just blew my mind and so I said I'm going full for Biden because I've been hurt by Trump and I've been hurt by the Republicans in this state and ... I'm not going to be shy about it."
After being asked to take the sign down, as Oneida County claimed it violated a law regarding signs on buildings, Bangstad was informed that he could be fined up to $250 every day he didn’t remove the sign.
Although a 2015 Supreme Court decision made it illegal to regulate the size of political signs as it infringes on the right to free speech, Bangstad decided to share his predicament on Facebook to raise awareness and ask for support in order to raise $8,500 to keep his sign up until Election Day.
“I sold over $100,00 worth of t-shirts in four days from people all over the United States,” Bangstad notes. “Something [was] going on here in northern Wisconsin because of what I posted. And I’m like, this is giving me hope that maybe we can actually make the Northwoods of Wisconsin a more progressive place with just a little [political] attention.”
"Maybe we can actually make the Northwoods of Wisconsin a more progressive place with just a little [political] attention."
Bangstad's story quickly went viral and was featured in the New York Times and Washington Post, gaining national attention.
He decided to take that momentum further by creating the Minocqua Brewing Company SuperPAC, where 5% of profits will be dedicated to politcal action.
"I hated super PACs," Bangstad admits. “Part of why I think America is in such a dark place right now is because of dark money but I was like, 'I’m a corporation. Minocqua Brewing is a corporation, so why can’t I start a super PAC just like the Koch Brothers?' I call it ‘dark money for good’,” says Bangstad.
Over $10,000 was raised in the super PAC's first 24 hours. As of Jan. 23, $85,000 has been raised, according to Bangstad.
To combat the fact that super PACs can allow for money to be donated with little paper trail, Bangstad says he's committed to transparancey and regularly shares how much money is raised and what it will be spent on. His first sights are on defeating Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Tom Tiffany, who are up for election in 2022.
“Hopefully we can have fact-based conversations up here for the next two years that make people make good American northern Wisconsinites vote for fairness and vote for good government and clean government and stop being so Republican or Democrat. Even though people think I'm the most partisan guy in the world, ultimately all I want is fair and clean government," says Bangstad.
He also hopes his story and example will encourage other small business owners to take a stand to share their views and values. "America's too weak right now for small business owners not to stick their necks out ... I'm just being honest about what I believe and people somehow like that," Bangstad notes. "They want to buy products from people who they agree with, so I don't think it's necessarily a terrible idea to be political as a small business owner."