La Crosse Tribune | Company suing to overturn Unfair Sales Act has history of violations

WILL attorneys have been hard at work this week after announcing they will be challenging Wisconsin’s minimum markup law in court. The depression era law dates back to 1939 and has been a discussion of debate ever since. Opponents of the law argue that it is anti-competitive and anti-consumer, resulting in artificially high prices for everyday goods. Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel at WILL, shared “It’s important that the State of Wisconsin publicly stand up and argue how Wisconsin’s constitutional guarantee to earn a living is secondary to ensuring that protected special interests shouldn’t have to be subject to competition and that consumers should pay higher prices than market forces would call for.”

Matthew DeFour wrote an article for the La Crosse Tribune, in which he shares the burden the law places on business owners, including WILL’s plaintiffs, who are struggling to make a profit in competitive markets:

“In Wisconsin, the law means gasoline includes a 9.18 percent markup over cost. The price also can’t be changed for 24 hours after being posted. There are some exceptions to the law that allow for lower pricing, though the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, which polices the law, receives hundreds of complaints each year of alleged violations.

Almost all of those complaints are filed by gas stations against competitors. In 2014, Krist Oil filed the most, according to an analysis by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, a conservative think tank.

But Krist Oil, which owns and operates more than 70 gas stations in northern Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, has been the subject of several complaints as well, according to public court records and memos from DATCP Secretary Ben Brancel to Gov. Scott Walker’s office, which the State Journal obtained under the state open records law.

In 2007, Krist Oil agreed to pay nearly $4,000 after the state charged the company with changing the price of gas more than once in a 24-hour period. Nine months later, the company committed more violations for which it agreed to pay more than $2,100 in 2009.”

Wisconsin is one of only sixteen states that still use minimum markup laws. As a result of the law, Wisconsin consumers pay significantly more for their goods than in neighboring states and it places burdensome regulations on business owners.

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