Sunlight, Tougher Enforcement Yield Sharp Drop in Violations
March 24, 2004
Madison - A dog track owner and a gasoline station magnate were among four individuals who violated state law in 2003 by contributing more than $10,000 in a year to state political candidates and committees, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis shows.
The number of contributors flagged by WDC for exceeding the legal limit dropped 90 percent from the previous year’s total. Last year, the state Elections Board responded to formal complaints filed by the Democracy Campaign by fining 19 wealthy donors and former Governor Scott McCallum a total of $7,761. Before that action, there had been more than a fivefold increase in the number of donors violating the $10,000 annual limit from 2000 to 2002.
Campaign finance reports for 2003 filed by candidates for statewide office, the Legislature and political committees show three of the four contributors who exceeded the limit donated the maximum $10,000 to Governor Jim Doyle’s campaign in addition to making contributions to other candidates and political committees (see Table).
The four individuals and their total 2003 contributions were:
- Allen Meisler, Birmingham, Ala., owner of Dairyland Greyhound Park in Kenosha, $11,500;
- Richard Mazess, Madison, founder of Bone Care International, $11,000;
- Darshan Dhaliwal, Mequon, reportedly owns more than 100 gasoline stations in 10 states, $10,750;
- Dennis Troha, Kenosha, owner of ATC Leasing who has sought to bring casino gambling to Kenosha, $10,500.
Dhaliwal is a repeat offender, having been publicly identified by WDC for making $11,800 in contributions in 1999. No action was taken by the Elections Board in that case.
WDC has notified the Elections Board about the latest batch of violators and submitted copies of pages from candidate and committee campaign finance reports detailing the contributions made by each of the contributors.
The number of 2003 violations is the lowest since 1999 when WDC began publicly identifying violators. Dhaliwal was the sole violator that year. After that, the number of violators rose to seven in 2000, 21 in 2001 and 39 in 2002. The annual increases prompted WDC to file formal complaints last year against the 2002 violators. The Elections Board levied fines against 19 of the 39.
"When the law is enforced, it is obeyed. When it’s not, it is ignored. Our complaints and the resulting fines clearly have had a deterrent effect. Under Shane Falk’s leadership in the last year, the Elections Board has started to put teeth in its enforcement of this contribution limit. We hope this has the makings of a trend," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said.