Earlier this month, Sarah Godlewski wasn’t sure if there would be a treasurer’s office to run for in Wisconsin. But in a landslide, 61 to 38 percent margin, Wisconsin voters decided to keep the office on April 3, rejecting a constitutional amendment that would have eliminated it.
Now, the co-founder of MaSa Partners, a Madison investment firm that invests in socially responsible businesses, is one of seven running for state treasurer. Current treasurer Matt Adamczyk is running for the state Assembly this fall. As of Friday, Democrats Dawn Marie Sass, Paul Boucher, Jake Tulogeski are running alongside Republicans Travis Hartwig and Jill Millies.
Godlewski, a Democrat, is now the only candidate running for that office after her Republican challenger, Tom Hiller, abruptly dropped out the day after the election. Other candidates have until June 1 to officially enter the race. The election for treasurer is Nov. 6.
Godlewski says even without the Legislature restoring powers to the office, it still has the capacity to be an important, independent fiscal watchdog for the state. The Cap Times spoke to her about her background and what she would do if elected.
What is your background? How did you get into investing?
I’m a fifth-generation Wisconsinite. My family has been primarily in western Wisconsin, at least that’s where they started, but I was born and raised in Eau Claire.
I got a degree in peace and conflict resolution and, at the time, the only program offering that was in D.C. I went to D.C. for school and I wanted to come back to Wisconsin, but at the time there were no jobs. But I got a job in D.C. as a management consultant. I worked a lot in national security.
Then I co-founded MaSa Partners. We invest in socially responsible businesses, whether it’s renewable energy or health care, it’s providing the financial capital, but also the human capital, to make those businesses successful. We do investments all over Wisconsin, but our headquarters is out of Madison.
What made you want to run for state treasurer? Were you always aware of the position?
It’s kind of random. I’m personally passionate about economic empowerment work, whether it’s financial literacy or financial exploitation of seniors, and a lot of different treasurers across the country are taking on this economic empowerment role in state government. That’s cool. Because of my background and what I do, I’d love to do something similar in Wisconsin. I started looking at the state treasurer’s office and thought "Oh my gosh, this office has so much opportunity and we’re not even doing anything." This ballot measure, it’s just wrong.
This is an office that is critical to checks and balances of Wisconsin. It should be an opportunity for Wisconsinites to have an advocate for how their money is being spent.
We had that astounding win on April 3, when 61 percent of Wisconsin says this is an absolutely critical position and it’s not just in Madison or Milwaukee, it was literally across the state. Just kind of seeing that and knowing my background, I really have been bothered by how this office has been neglected and I know that I can change that.
I just registered on Friday (March 30). It looked in our favor and the more people I was talking to, (I thought), I am just going to throw my name in the hat.
If you win, what do you plan to do in an office that has had so many powers stripped away?
When you read the statute, there are two key things this office still does today: It helps oversee $1.5 billion. They are the financial experts to help oversee that money that goes to public school and provides financing options for local government. That responsibility alone affects every single Wisconsinite, whether it's public education, this is guaranteed money for them.
Local governments can borrow money from this trust fund. That, to me, impacts communities at the local level. This role helps to oversee and ensure the financial investment of the trust fund of the Wisconsin Boards of Commissioners of Public Lands.
The treasurer was always supposed to be the financial expert on this board. How it’s described in the Constitution, the treasurer is the chief banker in the state, so this is where I am just shocked that the job doesn’t do anything. If you’re managing an investment that was started in 1848 that’s a big deal.
He’s supposed to be the financial voice of that investment. I would argue the most critical person on the board is the financial person because it’s a $1.2 billion investment.
The second piece of the statute goes to accountability. This office literally has the authority to examine and inspect financial transactions. This goes back to being taxpayers’ watchdog.
I would create a taxpayer annual report, so taxpayers could see, at a high level, where their money is going. It shouldn’t be this black box where you have to go online and look through hundreds of pages of expenditures.
Do you favor restoring more responsibilities to the office? If so, how would you work with the Legislature to do that?
There is no doubt about it. When the people of Wisconsin speak and say this office is critical, we need to work to restore its whole power. (The current treasurer) needs to uphold his end of the bargain and restore its powers. We are one of the only states that doesn’t allow its treasurer to manage its cash.
What is the focus of your campaign?
For the last decade, this office has really failed to work for Wisconsinites. My focus is really on three things: one is we need to make sure this office is a fiscal watchdog advocating for accountability for how tax dollars are being spent.
The second most critical piece of this is investment. Not just smart investment, but investing back in Wisconsin. We know we had investments that have gone out of state and overseas, so making sure if we are taking taxpayer dollars, we need to see good financial investment opportunities here at home.
The third piece is really the future and the people themselves. What I mean by that is, there is some consumer advocacy things that this office could be doing to be work for economic empowerment.
This role is the chief banker and investor of the state and so that’s what they should be doing. It should be financially advocating for Wisconsinites, those are their customers.
What sets you apart from a Republican who would seek this office since it’s not particularly partisan?
I don’t think the goal is ever to make this an overly partisan office. I just don’t think that’s necessary. That said, my values align more with progressive values. It’s not about the few, it’s about the many. Some would argue that’s consumer advocacy. I would say I’m leading with my values in this role.