Friday, March 02, 2007

Top Doyle Donor Indicted

Kenosha multimillionaire Dennis Troha, who made a fortune in the trucking industry before heading an effort to locate a casino in Kenosha and becoming Governor Jim Doyle's biggest financial supporter, was indicted by a federal grand jury yesterday on charges of illegally funneling contributions through family members to the governor's campaign and other political committees and then lying to the FBI about the scheme.

Troha's attorney told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Troha acknowledges furnishing funds to his children so they could make political contributions, but insists he did not direct them to donate to any particular candidate. That's a hard argument to sell when you look at the pattern of giving to Doyle by Troha family members. If they were all making independent decisions, then it's one hell of a series of coincidences that they all repeatedly decided to give to the same candidate on the same day and often in the exact same amount.

It's obvious what Troha was after. It's equally obvious why he'd think giving heavily to the governor might be a way to get what he wanted. What's more mysterious is why someone approaching retirement age who has publicly claimed to be worth more than $33 million would risk prompting the feds to start sniffing around by resorting to money laundering to get around the state's $10,000 limit on campaign contributions to a candidate for statewide office. After all, Wisconsin's campaign finance laws are in such disrepair that Troha could have exploited loopholes in the law to go as far above the $10,000 limit as his heart desired and his bank account permitted.

Troha appeared to figure this out, although too late to avoid scrutiny by the FBI and U.S. Attorney. He made two $50,000 contributions – the first on December 23, 2005 and the second on September 8, 2006 – to the Democratic Governors Association, a so-called "527" group, which in turn helped bankroll pro-Doyle electioneering by the shadowy Greater Wisconsin Committee. Around the time of those gifts to DGA, contributions directly to Doyle from Troha family members were pretty much drying up.

Troha and his wife also took advantage of another way to lavish more than $10,000 on the governor. They donated $25,000 to the governor's 2003 inaugural party and another $50,000 to help pay for 2007 inaugural festivities. Inaugural donations are not counted as campaign contributions.

This latest dismal episode in the soap opera of Wisconsin politics not only illustrates the lengths wealthy interests will go to buy elections and influence government officials, but also underscores how utterly broken our campaign finance system is.

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