GAB investigation results in indictment of major Walker campaign donor
Post by Emily Mills on 4/11/2011 5:00pm
The Government Accountability Board on Monday announced that its investigation into illegal campaign contributions made by Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Company and its owner, William Gardner, have resulted in two felony charges and a record $166,900 forfeiture by the company.
Gardner admitted to directing the railroad company to reimburse employees (and himself) for contributions to various political campaigns after specifically requesting that the workers make those donations. "My actions were against the law and wrong, and I take full responsibility," Gardner said in a statement. The two felony charges are for making excessive political contributions and for making unlawful political contributions crime.
Seven employees of the railroad have also been ordered to pay forfeitures of $250 each. Only two workers refused to take part in the scheme, and one accepted reimbursement for contributions never actually made.
Two years of probation, but no incarceration, have been recommended for Gardner by the District Attorney. Gardner will not be allowed to vote while serving probation.
According to information released by the GAB obtained during the investigation, nearly $50,000 of a total $53,800 in illegal contributions were made to the Friends of Scott Walker committee, during both his campaign for governor in 2005 and again in '09.
In May of 2010 the Walker campaign, upon public notice of the criminal complaint against and investigation into those contributions, returned approximately $43,800 of that money.
Of the total given, the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee received $3,500 which it subsequently gave back to the GAB. Former Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan's campaign received $500, of which $300 has so far been donated to charity. The Alberta Darling and Ted Kanavas campaigns each received $500, which have not yet been returned. In 2005 the Doyle campaign received $5,000 which has not been returned.
Several thousand dollars in illegal contributions made too long ago to meet the statute of limitations were not factored into Gardner's punishment.
The illegal contributions were only brought to the GAB's attention when Gardner's then-girlfriend, since identified as Stacie Long, tipped off the organization to his activities.
"We rely on reporting by the contribution recipients as well as contributors so that if there is something improper it can be discovered," explained GAB director Kevin Kennedy. "Campaigns are not going to, nor should we expect them to, investigate every time they get unusual contributions, though."
The GAB called the press conference to announce the specifics of the charges and took several questions both related to this investigation, as well as a few about the new investigation into vote reporting procedures in Waukesha County after last weeks' election.
The investigation there, they said, has been broken into two parts: The first will be to verify the integrity of election results in the county, making sure that the votes that were certified by the Board of Canvassers matches the official totals certified by poll workers on election night. So far, they said, "the Brookfield numbers look correct."
Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus announced last week that she had forgotten to include the city of Brookfield's votes in the final tally she released to the press Tuesday evening. The mistake reversed the results of the election, putting incumbent Justice David Prosser over 7,000 votes over challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg.
Though the GAB doesn't "see at this point any criminal activity," they did stress that "practices do need to be changed to bolster public confidence."
The second part of their investigation will be to work through Nickolaus' processes and making sure they're corrected and transparent by the next election.
The final vote count cannot be officially certified until two outstanding county canvasses are completed and returned. They are Sauk County, which should be in within the day, and Milwaukee County, which may not come in until Friday - "They're being very careful with the processing, since they have the highest number of reporting units in the state at over 300."
Once the vote is certified, candidates have three businesses days to file a motion for a recount if so desired. The state would pay the cost of a recount if the difference in the final vote is less than 0.5 percent of the total number cast.
Emily Mills is Editor-At-Large for Dane101, as well as Editor of Our Lives Magazine. She is also a freelance writer, photographer, actor, and musician (drummer and singer in local band Little Red Wolf). Originally from several states up and down the Midwest Emily has called Madison home since 2000. Contact her at