Gary Goyke probably should have known better.
A former lawmaker turned career lobbyist, Goyke was convicted in 1990 on four felony counts of illegal campaign contributions. But in 2009, he ran afoul of campaign finance rules once again, paying a $6,449 fine for exceeding the $10,000 annual individual limit on contributions to all Wisconsin campaigns.
“He’s been around for like 30 years. How could he have not known there was a limit?” asked Mike Buelow, research director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan campaign finance advocacy group.
Goyke is one of 110 people or groups that paid fines for violating Wisconsin’s campaign finance and ethics laws in the past three years. The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism procured the list from the Government Accountability Board through an open records request.
The violator list reads like a Who’s Who of Wisconsin politicians and includes some noteworthy outsiders as well.
The fines totaled $273,390. They ranged from $20 for an improper corporate contribution all the way up to the biggest ethics fine in Wisconsin history — the $166,900 paid by Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co. owner and president William Gardner for laundering campaign contributions to Gov. Scott Walker through associates, employees and a relative.
Many of these offenses already made news, but the full list of violators from 2009 to 2011 had not been compiled before.
The board’s investigations are secret by law, though complainants sometimes publicize their complaints. And the board rarely announces its enforcement actions.
Goyke explained that he didn’t realize the limit applied to local and judicial races as well as state campaigns.
“We didn’t try to sneak one in. It’s just not worth it,” he said.
A total of 28 people, including Goyke, were fined for donating over the limit.
Not everyone claimed to be ignorant of the law. Robert Habush, a prominent trial attorney, explained in a succinct email: “Bad arithmetic.”
Gardner leads the pack
Nobody’s violations come anywhere close to those of Gardner, the subject of a joint investigation by the GAB and the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office resulting from an ongoing John Doe investigation. Seven Wisconsin & Southern employees also paid $250 fines for laundering contributions.
After Gardner, the next highest fines went to those who, like Goyke, donated more than $10,000 in a year. Most fines were one and a half times the overage.
Among these violators:
• Grant Abert, a philanthropist who has donated to clean-government groups. He paid $7,500 in 2010 for exceeding contribution limits in both 2008 and 2009.
• Jerry Frautschi, who funded Madison’s Overture Center with a $205 million grant. Frautschi drew a $3,375 fine in 2009 for a $1,500 overage.
• Two payday lenders. Kevin Dabney of Waukesha, president of Speedy Loan Corp., and Robert Reich of Deerfield Beach, Fla., owner of Wisconsin Auto Title Loans. Dabney paid a $6,000 fine in 2010, and Reich paid $4,500 in 2011. The payday loan industry has donated tens of thousands of dollars to Wisconsin politics in recent years and has successfully beat back efforts to regulate it.
Robert Fettig, president and CEO of metal fabricator Tankcraft Corp. in Darien, paid his $9,225 fine without disputing it. But he complained about it in a letter to the GAB. Fettig said he donated his first dollar to a Wisconsin campaign more than 30 years ago and had never heard of the $10,000 annual limit on his donations.
Asked whether he thought the cap was reasonable, Fettig said, “No, I think it’s stupid — but more importantly, it’s one that no one knows about.”
Buelow said the $10,000 cap limits undue influence by individuals. He noted that less than 1 percent of the adults in Wisconsin donate to campaigns, and the average small donor gives about $20.
“Everybody else is pretty much already drowned out,” Buelow said.
The nonprofit, nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org) produced this story as part of the State Integrity Project, assessing corruption risk in all 50 states: www.stateintegrity.org/wisconsin.