MILWAUKEE (AP) Campaign contributions to Gov. Tommy Thompson often correlate with success for donors in winning state contracts, direct aid and other favorable treatment, according an investigation by a state newspaper.
Road builders and other groups who have contributed to Thompson's campaign fund frequently are on the inside track with the governor's administration, the report stated.
For example, executives of four top road-building companies that have won $218 million in state contracts since mid-1995 also have donated at least $119,000 to Thompson, according to state records.
An Associated Press review in June of road builder contributions to the Transportation Projects Commission found that at least $363,987 was contributed over the past decade to Thompson, the commission's chairman.
The TPC has been criticized by state auditors for spending more on new roads than Wisconsin can afford.
The newspaper also reported that the Department of Justice is conducting an ongoing investigation of influence peddling in the Thompson administration.
The investigation has focused on whether state favors have been granted in exchange for political donations, according to the report. That probe started early this year with utility deals but has broadened to include other areas of state government, sources close to the case told the newspaper.
The justice department itself declined to comment to the paper and did not immediately respond to a call from The Associated Press.
Thompson said in an interview that he had almost no role in fund-raising and that the state favors are never granted for contributions.
“My whole state government… is a (model) of best practices," he said.
The paper said its investigation also found that:
m Green Bay-area entrepreneur Ron Van Den Heuvel and his wife donated a total of $10,000 to Thompson's campaign fund last May a day before Van Den Heuvel won state approval for $9 million in tax-free bonds to build a De Pere factory.
Van Den Heuvel and two partners also each gave $500 to the governor three days before the state's five-member Volume Cap Allocation Council voted on the financial aid.
Three other partners gave a total of $2,100 between late April and June.
An hour after the newspaper asked Thompson about the donations, Thompson's press secretary, Kevin Keane, said the Van Den Heuvels' donations would be returned because “we are just not comfortable about" the timing of the cash gifts.
Van Den Heuvel later told the paper that $10,000 of his donations were returned.
Thompson, Van Den Heuvel and other administration officials say the project was approved on its merits and there was no link between the campaign cash and the state aid.
m Thompson may take a much more active role in raising campaign money than he says.
The governor's Capitol phone records, dating to January 1996, show 32 calls to paid fund-raiser Phil Prange's line at the governor's campaign office, 26 calls to the state Republicn Party or its chairman Dave Opitz, and 60 calls to the four businessmen who coordinate Thompson's fund-raising strategy, the paper reported.
Thompson said others in his office have access to his phone lines and might have made some of the calls. He added none of the calls from his lines to his fund-raisers was about fund raising.
Some calls likely would have been made to schedule events for the governor, which is allowable under state ethics rules, the governor's aides said.
Thompson also denied personally making calls to Prange.
As governor, Thompson has raised record sums, more than $6.5 million in his last run for governor and almost $15 million overall since his first gubernatorial bid in 1986. He has not said whether he would run for an unprecedented fourth term.
m Prange called large Wisconsin firms to request their attendance for a price when Thompson allowed the governor's mansion to be used for a charity event on Nov. 15 last year for the Camp Five Timber Museum.
That price was a large donation to the lumber museum in Laona, where Prange's mother is spearheading a drive to upgrade it, said one Wisconsin executive, who works for a firm with major issues pending before the state.
The newspaper did not name the executive.
Prange, responding only to written questions from the paper, denied promising access to Thompson in exchange for a donation to the museum. He also said the museum group did not use “political fund-raising lists" to identify potential donors.
The paper said it interviewed more than 120 people for a series of investigative stories about influence in Thompson's administration. Many had direct experience on how insiders do business with the Thompson administration, the newspaper said.
Reporters also examined records from eight state agencies and created or expanded computer databases of Thompson's telephone records, state contracts, campaign donations and campaign spending.