Friday, June 23, 2006

Doyle Donor Helped Abramoff

Michael Chapman, the former chairman of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin and a contributor to Governor Jim Doyle's re-election campaign, helped disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff line up a key tribal client and received more than a quarter of a million dollars for his trouble.

Chapman played a role in getting Abramoff together with members of the Agua Caliente tribe of Palm Springs, California, including arranging an introductory meeting. The tribe eventually hired Abramoff as a lobbyist and paid him and associate Michael Scanlon $10 million in fees.

Chapman reportedly received $271,000 in payments – $171,000 from Abramoff's firm, Greenberg Traurig, and $100,000 from Scanlon's Capitol Campaign Strategies.

Governor Doyle received $325 in campaign contributions from Chapman in 2005. There is no record of Chapman making donations to any other candidate for state office in Wisconsin.

The Democracy Campaign reported in January that Doyle received campaign money from another Abramoff associate, Greenberg Traurig attorney Alan Slomowitz. Doyle decided to return the donation from Slomowitz hours after the Democracy Campaign called attention to it.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Peasants Are Restless

The political scandals in Wisconsin continue to grow and the criminal convictions mount. The political bosses keep holding their country club fundraisers and pretend not to notice. But voters are getting ready to deliver a wake-up call to the Capitol.

Some prominent veterans of Wisconsin politics are stirring too. Namely three of the state's most senior Democratic leaders – longtime Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann, former Governor Tony Earl and former gubernatorial and U.S. Senate candidate Ed Garvey – are saying the state's leaders and the governor in particular need to take dramatic steps at once to clean up the corruption at the Capitol or they'll look for someone who will.

Amid hints of a draft movement to fill Wisconsin's leadership vacuum, citizens are being asked to gather this Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Madison Labor Temple to help decide how to respond to the state's growing crisis of leadership. The Labor Temple is located on Madison's south side at 1602 South Park Street.

Friday, June 16, 2006

When Voting Becomes Undemocratic

Representative Dean Kaufert, one of the co-chairmen of the Legislature's powerful budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, wrote in a guest commentary published by the Appleton Post-Crescent yesterday that the recent effort to overcome the actions of legislative leaders to keep the ethics reform measure Senate Bill 1 bottled up in committee was a threat to the democratic process.

Playing by the rules of a democracy, where the will of the majority is supposed to prevail, reform advocates won. Senate Bill 1 passed 28-5 in the state Senate. The governor pledged to sign the legislation. Assembly leaders promised a vote on SB 1 before going back on their word.

Days before the final showdown on SB 1 in the Assembly on May 2, the bill's lead sponsor in the Assembly, Appleton Republican Terri McCormick, announced that conversations she had with colleagues made it clear a majority of state Assembly members would vote for SB 1 if it was brought to a vote.

Knowing the bill would pass if given an up-or-down vote, Assembly GOP leaders twisted arms behind closed doors until they had bullied enough of their fellow legislators into submission. Even Republican sponsors and backers of SB 1 including Kaufert and Representatives Steve Freese of Dodgeville, Eugene Hahn of Cambria and Terry Musser of Black River Falls were persuaded to oppose the effort to pull the reform bill from committee and take it up in the full Assembly.

Now Kaufert is saying such efforts to overcome stonewalling tactics and force votes are "violations of the democratic process meant to embarrass the leadership."

Amazing. Simply amazing.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Another Corruption Bombshell

A jury in Milwaukee convicted state purchasing officer Georgia Thompson of bid rigging late yesterday.

The jury concluded that due to political considerations Thompson illegally used her influence to steer a state travel contract to a Wisconsin-based firm, Adelman Travel, whose top executives made large campaign donations to Governor Jim Doyle.

The verdict is vindication for prosecutors in the case. Allies of the governor had charged that the ongoing investigation – led by a Republican appointee and two elected Democrats – is politically motivated and baseless. The federal, state and local law enforcement authorities involved in the investigation have asked the Democracy Campaign for assistance and are using our database of contributors to state campaigns in their probe.

Evidence came to light during the Thompson trial that raises new questions about the role of political appointees within the Doyle administration in the travel contract case. In particular, former Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, who now is Doyle's campaign chairman, told the media in October that he had no contact with Adelman officials while bids were being evaluated. Phone records introduced as evidence in the trial appear to contradict that claim. Those records show phone calls were exchanged between Marotta's office and Adelman travel during the process.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Where There's Smoke....

The case against Georgia Thompson is hardly open and shut. But even if the mid-level state purchasing officer isn't convicted of bid rigging, the circumstances surrounding the state travel contract that is at the heart of the federal charges against Thompson look more and more suspicious as the trial wears on.

Even before the first witness testified or the first document was offered as evidence, it was known that the contract was given to the Wisconsin-based Adelman Travel even though an out-of-state competitor, Omega Travel, actually received the higher score from the committee evaluating the bids. And it was known that Adelman executives contributed $20,000 to Governor Jim Doyle's campaign.

Now consider the smoke Marc Marotta is blowing. The former Administration Secretary who now is Governor Doyle's campaign chairman told the media in October that he had not had any contact with anyone at Adelman Travel after the bid process officially started in December 2004. But records introduced as evidence in the trial show phone calls were exchanged between Marotta's office and Adelman Travel while the bid evaluation process was ongoing.

It is possible Marotta himself did not participate in the phone conversations. The phone records do not prove otherwise. But when asked about it now, he does not offer that defense. He just refuses to comment.

At best, it now appears Marotta misled the public about his and his office's role in the travel contract saga. At worst, he outright lied.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

'Travelgate' Trial Starts

The Georgia Thompson trial got started yesterday. Federal prosecutors accuse Thompson, a mid-level state purchasing officer, with bid rigging. She was indicted by a federal grand jury on two felony charges of fraud and misapplication of funds. The indictment alleges Thompson steered a state travel contract to Adelman Travel, a company whose top officials contributed heavily to Governor Jim Doyle's campaign.

Thompson is widely considered a small fish caught in a net designed to ensnare much larger targets higher on the political chain of command. But in opening remarks yesterday, federal prosecutor Steven Biskupic made it clear the trial would focus on Thompson, saying his case "is not about the politicians you're going to hear about" during testimony.

The Georgia Thompson-Adelman Travel case is not by any means the only recent example of state government decisions made amidst suspicious circumstances involving large campaign donations. Nor is it the biggest or arguably the best example. We know the scope of ongoing investigations by federal, state and local law enforcement authorities is much broader than just the state travel contract. What remains to be seen is if these investigations will lead to further criminal charges.

Friday, June 02, 2006

'Good Lord'

Wisconsin Public Television's Frederica Freyburg asked Congressman Mark Green if he would pardon his old friend Scott Jensen if he were to be elected governor this fall. Green's answers – yep, he took more than one stab at the question – were as telling as they were awkward.

At first, Green simply muttered, "Good Lord." It went downhill from there.

When he served in the Legislature, Green was part of Jensen's leadership team in the Assembly and he was implicated in the caucus scandal during the former speaker's recent trial. Former caucus graphic artist Eric Grant testified that Mark Graul asked him to do campaign work for Green while Green was in the Legislature. Graul was a Green aide in the Legislature and now is his campaign manager. Among the tasks Grant said he performed for Green on state time was producing Wisconsin Badgers and Green Bay Packers football schedules for campaign use.

Grant also testified that Chris Tuttle signed off on state workers' campaign assignments and approved production of campaign materials. Tuttle was the caucus media director in 1998. Green was caucus chairman from 1994 to 1998. Yet Green lamely contended that Tuttle "didn't work for me in those days and he wasn't mentioned in any of the stories" about the caucus scandal. Tuttle went on to become Green's congressional chief of staff. It was announced yesterday that Tuttle is resigning his post in Green's office to take a job with the U.S. State Department.

Also unearthed during the Jensen trial were two memos distributed in the fall of 1998 to legislative offices seeking campaign help for legislative races and Green's first run for Congress. The memos were prepared by a group called Staff Working for an Assembly Republican Majority, or SWARM.