Utilities gave Doyle cash as projects
Some say money was aboveboard; others are critical
By Patrick Marley
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published November 18th, 2004
Madison - Gov. Jim Doyle received more than $50,000 in
donations connected to three utility interests around
the time the state approved their projects, a campaign
finance watchdog reported Thursday.
Political action committees for and employees of Wisconsin
Energy Corp., Wisconsin Public Service Corp. and American
Transmission Co. gave Doyle $50,660 just before or after
their projects received key approvals, according to figures
collected by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a non-partisan
group pushing for campaign finance reform.
State Sen. Mike Ellis (R-Neenah), who has been unable
to get a campaign finance reform bill to the Senate floor
for a vote, said Thursday's report showed why changes
"I don't care how they massage it, how they cover
it; this is absolutely selling of policy determinations
for campaign donations," Ellis said.
Doyle was in Green Bay Thursday and unavailable for comment.
His press secretary, Melanie Fonder, noted that the Public
Service Commission, an independent agency, makes decisions
on proposals from utilities.
The governor appoints the three-member commission, but
Doyle did not enjoy a Democratic majority on the panel
until this September, when he appointed former state Sen.
Between 2002 and June 30, 2004, people affiliated with
the state's gas and electric utilities gave Doyle $133,323,
a 17-fold increase over the $7,911 such individuals gave
Doyle from 1995 to 2001 when he was attorney general,
the report found.
Since Doyle took office - but before a Democratic majority
sat on the PSC - the commission approved plans by Wisconsin
Energy subsidiary We Energies to build a controversial
$2.15 billion coal-fired power plant in Oak Creek.
Wisconsin Energy executives gave Doyle $23,050 in the
seven months after the approval, the report found.
Margaret Stanfield, a spokeswoman for Wisconsin Energy,
said there was no connection between the donations and
"Our employees, whether they are acting as individuals
or whether making contributions through the Wisconsin
Energy political action committee, are free to make their
own decisions," she said.
The commission signed off in December 2003 on more than
doubling the project cost to $420 million of a transmission
line that will stretch across northern Wisconsin. Wisconsin
Public Service and American Transmission are building
Together, the employees of the two companies gave $27,610
to Doyle between October 2002 and January 2003 and between
August 2003 and December 2003. The timing of the donations
coincided with key periods in the commission's decision
Maripat Blankenheim, a spokeswoman for American Transmission,
said there was no link between donations and the company's
"I resent the dotted line the Wisconsin Democracy
Campaign is trying to fill in," she said.
A chance to talk
Tom Meinz, a Wisconsin Public Service Corp. executive
vice president, said giving to incumbent politicians has
long been a practice of that firm's employees.
"All I can say is, I think the candidates know who
we are," Meinz said. "(Making donations) provides
you an opportunity to talk to the candidate, and it makes
your employees aware. Just as our employees need to be
technically aware, they need to be politically aware.
"If (politicians) know who you are based on the
fund-raiser, you can knock on their door and say who you
are and 'I have some issues.' "
Mike McCabe, executive director of the Democracy Campaign,
said the behavior smacked of quid pro quo.
"The pattern is unmistakable, and we've seen it
on so many different issues it's impossible to buy the
rationalizations anymore," he said. "They've
become too lame.
"The donations pour in, and the favors are doled
out, and of course everybody says it's all just a big
coincidence. It's a very suspicious pattern of giving.
Jim Doyle has held statewide elective office since 1990,
but the utilities were never interested in his political
fortunes until he was in a position to control the Public
Service Commission. Then all of the sudden, he sees a