Friday, February 24, 2006

Falk Sends Back Cash

Kathleen Falk, a Democratic attorney general candidate, returned $5,000 to the wife of a Madison developer shortly after WDC blogged that the contributor violated campaign contribution limits in 2005.

Falk's year-end campaign report said the November 28 contribution came from Marc Vaccaro, who had previously contributed $9,500 to Democratic Governor Jim Doyle in June. The $14,500 in total 2005 contributions meant Vaccaro violated the $10,000 annual contribution limit.

The Falk campaign said later that the $5,000 contribution was not made by Vaccaro, but by his wife, Astrid Van Zon. That let Vaccaro off the hook, but the campaign said it would return the money anyway because Miss Van Zon had previously made a $10,000 contribution in 2005 - to Doyle.

Atta Boy, Don

Republican Representative Don Friske of Merrill filed a corrected campaign finance report Friday, two days after WDC blogged about substantial differences between fundraising and spending between his electronic and paper campaign finance reports (see "So Which Is It, Don?).

His amended electronic report now agrees with the higher fundraising and spending figures in his paper report.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

So Which Is It, Don?

WDC regularly finds simple math errors on campaign finance reports filed by candidates for the legislature. Mathematical mistakes involving the amounts candidates raised or spent or have in their campaign accounts usually range from a few dollars to a few hundred dollars.

What is rare to find is a huge discrepancy between the paper version of the candidate's report filed with the State Elections Board and the electronic version, which is the one the public can more readily access, filed on the board's web site.

Both reports should be identical but that's not the case with Republican Representative Donald Friske of Merrill.

Friske's electronic report shows he raised $850 and spent $22.62 between July and December 2005. His cash balance as of December 30 was listed at $7,406.62.

However, a check of Friske's paper report shows he raised $5,315 and spent $5,784.25 between July and December 2005. His cash balance was listed at $6,109.99.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Developer Violates Contribution Limit

Newly filed campaign finance reports show a Madison developer violated contribution limits in 2005 by donating $14,500 to two candidates for statewide office.

Records show Marc Vaccaro contributed $9,500 to Democratic Governor Jim Doyle in June 2005 and $5,000 to Democrat Kathleen Falk, a candidate for attorney general, in late November.

Vaccaro, owner of Great Lakes Companies, may be better known for the five Great Wolf Lodge indoor water parks he has built around the country since the late 1990s.

State law limits to $10,000 a year the amount an individual can contribute to state and local candidates and committees.

Let's see what the State Elections Board does with this one.

Stay tuned.

Friday, February 03, 2006

If They Admit, You Must Acquit

Scott Jensen's legal defense against felony charges of criminal misconduct in public office has taken a sharp turn down Surreal Boulevard. With his trial scheduled to begin February 21, the former Assembly speaker and current member of the Legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee appears to be pinning his legal hopes on a story everyone who has passed through adolescence knows all too well: "Everybody was doing it."

Well, maybe not everybody, but at least some pretty big somebodies. Another former speaker who now is a sitting state Supreme Court justice, David Prosser, is prepared to testify that he stole from Wisconsin taxpayers by engaging in the same illegal campaigning that Jensen is accused of orchestrating. So is Joe Strohl, a former Senate majority leader turned Capitol lobbyist. Lucky for Prosser and Strohl that the crimes to which they are confessing took place more than six years ago, the statute of limitations for prosecuting felonies in Wisconsin.

Unlucky for Jensen that the offenses he is accused of committing are plenty recent enough to prosecute. And as District Attorney Brian Blanchard has told the court: "A claim that 'other guys were doing it' is a confession, not a defense." Something every parent has said to a child, in so many words, at one time or another.

If by some temporary loss of sanity a judge or jury fails to apply this basic common sense in response to Jensen crying selective prosecution, you have to think that motorists in every corner of the state who've been ticketed for speeding will be interested in having the likes of Prosser and Strohl testify that they too have speeded.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The Blind Leading The Bland

Even his closest political allies concede Jim Doyle lacks pizazz. What's more, some have taken to calling the charismatically-challenged governor "Velcro Jim" because bad news seems to stick to him as easily as it slid off "Teflon Tommy" Thompson. And while Tommy was a darling to his right-wing base, Doyle has done little to inspire and much to alienate his.

One thing Doyle has in common with his hated rival is uncommon skill at raising money. The governor and his handlers obviously are betting that he can buy his way out from under any ethical cloud and at the same time overcome his drabness with a blizzard of feel-good TV ads about him and feel-scared ads about his opponents.

Tommy Thompson still reigns as Wisconsin's undisputed king of campaign fundraising, having raised more money than any other candidate in state history over his more than three decades in public office and four terms as governor. But Doyle is catching up fast, raising money at a considerably faster clip than Tommy ever did . . . even in his last and most expensive campaign.

So far, Doyle has raised more than $5.9 million for his re-election bid, compared to the $3.2 million Thompson raised at the same point in his last campaign. At every stage, Doyle has outpaced Thompson. In the first six months after taking office, Doyle raised $562,954 compared to the $151,090 Thompson raised in the first half of 1995. Thompson stepped up his fundraising in the second half of that year, raising $441,681. But Doyle took in $944,904 in the comparable period. Doyle then raised $907,870 in the first half of 2004 and another $878,042 in the second half, compared to $383,307 and $536,712, respectively, for Thompson in the two 1996 reporting periods.

As he headed into 2005, Doyle really kicked his fundraising machine into high gear, accepting $1,442,315 in the first half of the year and $1,164,865 in the last six months covered in the report he filed yesterday. Thompson's comparable fundraising figures in 1997 were $868,460 in the first half of the year and $851,854 in the second half.

On top of direct donations to his re-election campaign, big donors are ponying up "soft money" to groups that will run their own ads benefiting Doyle. The flood of soft money is coming from an array of corporate interests and especially Indian tribes.

A total of nearly $23 million was spent on the 2002 governor's race by candidates and special interest groups, almost triple the $8 million spent on the 1998 race. With Doyle's record-breaking fundraising and with just one Indian tribe reportedly budgeting a staggering $7.2 million for political spending in 2006, the pricetag on the governor's office will surely far exceed 2002's.

In a conventional political year, Jim Doyle would hold a commanding advantage over his Republican rivals, neither of whom has half as much cash on hand as the governor and neither of whom is able to lay claim as Doyle can to the support of Wisconsin's dominant new political force – the tribes and other casino gaming interests.

But 2006 is shaping up to be anything but a conventional political year, what with mushrooming corruption scandals and a growing majority of voters feeling the state and nation are headed in the wrong direction. Doyle's formulaic, paint-by-numbers handlers appear blind to this year's potential unconventionality. They seem almost blissfully unaware that they may yet find themselves holding a strong hand, only to discover the game they're playing isn't cards.