State Elections Board to act tomorrow on WDC complaints alleging illegal campaign contributions
July 29, 2003
Madison - (Actual fines levied.)
The list of accused violators, many of whom substantially exceeded the $10,000 contribution limit in 2002, is dominated by owners, executives and employees of corporations that are among the state’s most generous special interest campaign contributors including the construction industry, the legal profession and road builders (Table).
The calculation of the fines was based on penalties provided in state campaign finance laws which allow the board to levy civil fines of up to $500 per violation plus triple the amount of the illegal portion of the contribution. The Elections Board also can pursue criminal penalties of up to six months in prison if it determines a violation was intentional.
WDC filed 43 complaints in May after the board refused to take any action against donors publicly identified by the Democracy Campaign who exceeded the $10,000 contribution limit in 2000 and 2001. The number of violations identified by WDC for 2002 represents a six-fold increase over the number in 2000 and double the number in 2001.
The board is comprised of political appointees chosen by the Democratic and Republican leaders in the Legislature, the governor, Supreme Court chief justice and the state Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties, most of whom benefited from large individual donations made by the accused violators during the election year.
In response to the WDC complaints, many of the accused violators invoked the state’s marital property law and claimed half of their total contributions should be attributed to their spouses since the contributions were made from a joint checking account, even though they were reported as individual donations by the recipients. This claim runs contrary to a state appeals court ruling and the Elections Board’s own policy. The 1999 Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision in Katzman v. State Ethics Board held that campaign contributions made from joint accounts are made by an individual - not a couple - from his or her portion of those shared funds. Elections Board policy states that the way a campaign donation is characterized on the campaign finance report determines how the money is assigned for the purpose of determining whether a violation of the annual contribution limit has occurred, "with no exceptions."
About a quarter of the accused violators admitted to exceeding the contribution limit but asked that the complaint be dismissed because they were not aware of the law. In formal responses filed with the Elections Board, WDC argued that ignorance of the law has never been an acceptable defense for breaking the law.
A handful of the accused violators simply admitted they violated the limit and asked the Elections Board for lenience.
"The violations are clear cut. Some of the donors have fessed up, some are pleading ignorance, and some are blaming their spouses," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "To let them off the hook, the Elections Board will have to overlook its own policy, ignore a state appeals court ruling and stretch the definition of 'benefit of the doubt' past the breaking point."
McCabe added: "There are a growing number of illegal campaign contributions in Wisconsin because the Elections Board has failed to enforce the law in the past. The board’s track record of inaction sends a message that you don’t have to obey the law because nothing will happen to you if you don’t."
In addition to the contributors, WDC also filed a complaint against former Republican Governor Scott McCallum whose campaign received $11,000 worth of contributions from Carol Hanson of Delafield. Campaign finance laws prohibit a candidate for statewide office from accepting any more than $10,000 from an individual during a four-year campaign cycle.
Shortly after WDC filed its complaint against McCallum, his campaign admitted the violation and sent back $1,000 to Hanson. But McCabe said the board should fine the campaign even though it returned the money because it did so seven months after the contribution and only after a complaint was filed. Enforcement action also is necessary to send a message to other campaigns and their donors that illegal campaign donations will not be tolerated, he added.
Unlike contributors who violate the law, candidate fines are less costly. Candidates, like McCallum, face only civil fines of up to $500 per violation.
It appears likely that complaints against three of the 42 contributors will be legitimately dismissed. In two cases involving Sheboygan businessman Terry Kohler and former University of Wisconsin regent San Orr contributions returned by a candidate to both Kohler and Orr appear to have reduced the total amount they contributed in 2002 to under $10,000. A third complaint involving Michael A. Pitts of Kenosha may be dismissed after he presented evidence to WDC and the board that the $100 contribution that was believed to put him over the limit was made by his son, Michael J. Pitts.
|Daniel McKeithan Jr.||Milwaukee||Tamarack Petroleum||$25,600.00||$47,300|
|Harvey Hammond Jr.||Mequon||HNTB Corp.||$18,500.00||$26,000|
|James Connelly||Milwaukee||Foley & Lardner||$17,500.00||$23,000|
|Bryce Styza||Chenequa||Harmony Homes||$17,350.00||$22,550|
|Jere Fabick||Oconomowoc||Fabco Equipment||$17,345.69||$22,537|
|Paul Gehl||Hilbert||Lunda Construction||$17,050.00||$21,650|
|Thomas Radtke||Winneconne||Radtke Contractors||$15,000.00||$15,500|
|Richard Blomquist||Milwaukee||Blomquist Benefits Consulting||$14,900.00||$15,200|
|Carlene Ziegler||Mequon||Artisan Partners Limited||$14,000.00||$12,500|
|D Edward Bolton||Milwaukee||Bolton Corp.||$13,100.00||$9,800|
|William Kennedy||Janesville||Rock Road Companies||$12,245.69||$7,237|
|Donald Layden Jr.||Milwaukee||NuEdge Systems||$12,100.00||$6,800|
|Keith Mardak||Milwaukee||Hal Leonard Publishing Corp.||$12,000.00||$6,500|
|Herbert Kohler Jr.||Kohler||Kohler Co.||$12,000.00||$6,500|
|Michael White||River Hills||Rite Hite Corp.||$11,750.00||$5,750|
|Jack Waterman||Wisconsin Dells||Great Wolf Lodge||$11,650.00||$5,450|
|Diane Hendricks||Janesville||ABC Supply Co.||$11,500.00||$5,000|
|Karl Rajani||Greendale||Genesis Health Care USA||$11,050.00||$3,650|
|James Coburn||Whitewater||Coburn Co.||$11,000.00||$3,500|
|George Prescott||West Bend||Prescott’s Supermarkets Inc.||$10,950.00||$3,350|
|Robert Starshak||Fox Point||Advanced Health Care||$10,900.00||$3,200|
|James F. Miller||Appleton||Retired||$10,500.00||$2,000|
|Alexander Alcocer||Lake Geneva||Mann Brothers Construction||$10,500.00||$2,000|
|Daniel Bader||Milwaukee||Helen Bader Foundation||$10,500.00||$2,000|
|Yogi Bhardwaj||Wadsworth, IL||National Petroleum Inc.||$10,500.00||$2,000|
|John Brogan||Green Bay||Wisconsin Converting Co.||$10,500.00||$2,000|
|Ralph C. Stayer||Fond du Lac||Johnsonville Sausage||$10,500.00||$2,000|
|Joseph Madrigrano Jr.||Kenosha||CJW Distributors/Madrigrano, Zievers et al||$10,450.00||$1,850|
|John Bergstrom||Neenah||Bergstrom Automotive||$10,382.19||$1,647|
|Lucille Rosenberg||Milwaukee||Sinai Samaritan Medical Center||$10,350.00||$1,550|
|Randall Knox||Jefferson||WD Hoard & Sons||$10,300.00||$1,400|
|Ronald Fedler||Dodgeville||Gold Leaf Development||$10,250.00||$1,250|
|Vishal Lal||Greenfield||Advanced Pain Management Group||$10,250.00||$1,250|
|Mary Waterman||Wisconsin Dells||Great Wolf Lodge||$10,200.00||$1,100|
|Susan Mitchell||Whitefish Bay||American Education Reform Council||$10,100.00||$800|
|TOTAL CONTRIBUTOR FINES||$ 316,321|
|Scott McCallum||Madison||Candidate for Governor||(4)||$500|
|TOTAL CONTRIBUTOR AND CANDIDATE FINES||$ 316,821|
(2) Totals represent allowable fines under Chapter 11.60(1) and 11.60(3), which call for civil fines of up to $500 per violation of Chapter 11 and triple the portion of the contribution that was illegally contributed.
(4) McCallum’s potential fine results from $11,000 worth of contributions he accepted in 2002 from contributor Carol Hanson, and failing to return the excess $1,000 until late May, 2003 after WDC filed a complaint against him.