Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Ho-Chunk dangled $500,000 donation, McCallum aide says

Ho-Chunk dangled $500,000 donation, McCallum aide says
Last Updated: Feb. 22, 2003
Cary Spivak & Dan Bice

The campaign manager for then-Gov. Scott McCallum says the Ho-Chunk dangled a $500,000 contribution for whichever gubernatorial candidate agreed to allow the tribe to run its casinos for as long as the wind blows and the grass grows.
Darrin Schmitz, now the executive director of the state Republican Party, said his guy wouldn't extend the gambling agreements beyond 15 or so years, and ended up not getting a nickel from the tribe. Officials with new Gov. Jim Doyle denied that they cut any pre-election deals with the Ho-Chunk. But the tribe did drop a $500,000 soft-money donation with the Democratic National Committee just days before the gubernatorial runoff - certainly the largest political gift by a Wisconsin tribe. The DNC then dumped nearly $1 million in Wisconsin in the final week of the increasingly tight race to help elect Doyle and the rest of the party's slate. Last week the Doyle team announced, to nearly everyone's surprise in Madison, that it had reached a tentative deal with the Oneida tribe that would allow it to offer a full slate of casino games 24/7 forever and a day - an incredibly generous agreement that was expected to be a model for the other 10 tribes. "It was very clear to me, given the conversation I had with (Ho-Chunk lawyer) Mike Rogowski, what the end result would be," Schmitz said. "Whoever agreed to perpetual compacts and secondly, more games, could end up being the recipient or the party would be the recipient of vast amounts of money." Here is what happened about a month before the November general election, according to Schmitz: Rogowski, McCallum's former chief of staff who now represents the Ho-Chunk, called Schmitz to set up an endorsement interview with McCallum. Then, in a second phone conversation, Rogowski got down to business, telling Schmitz that the tribe was planning to drop a half-million-dollar donation on either McCallum or Doyle.
"He basically said that the Ho-Chunk was going to endorse a candidate and write a check to support the candidate," Schmitz said. "And he said the exact amount, which was $500,000." Surprisingly, Rogowski, a lawyer with Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek in Madison, offered a squishy response to the charge. Did he attach a $500,000 string to the endorsement? "Not that I recall," he said. Later in the interview, Rogowski, who was axed by McCallum last April, suggested that Schmitz may have jumped to a conclusion about the donation. "If I were a campaign manager, I might assume that," he said. "That would be a logical assumption." Schmitz said he told a team of campaign advisers and other staffers about the offer but inexplicably decided not to let the Republican governor in on the secret. "I saw no reason to advise the candidate - that was my decision as the manager," Schmitz said. McCallum sat down for an endorsement interview with a handful of Ho-Chunk leaders and their California attorney Lester Marston in the second week of October. The former governor said he was asked repeatedly during the interview if he would agree to compacts that never expire. The tribes, who now operate under five-year deals, have pushed hard for longer agreements so they can secure financing to expand their operations and improve life on the reservations. "Ninety percent of the meeting was spent on more games and perpetual compacts," Schmitz said, noting that the length of the compact received the greater attention of those two issues. "Les pushed and pushed and pushed him."
McCallum, however, said he would not approve compacts that run forever. "They knew that I wouldn't go in that direction," the ex-gov said. Showing the best defense is a good offense, Marston tried to turn the tables on Schmitz, who he said tried to shake down the Indians during the session at the governor's mansion. "(Schmitz) actually raised the issue of money, and we were so surprised . . . we had to tell them that we weren't going to discuss it," Marston said. Pressed for what exactly Schmitz said, the attorney backed off his initial statement. "My recollection of what occurred in that meeting was that he broached the subject - again he didn't mention money or any dollar amount - I think he broached the subject in terms of what could the nation do to help the governor get elected," Marston said. Marston also contended the issue of whether compacts should run forever was discussed only briefly. So, now we have a classic case of "he said, she said," with each party having something to gain in making his allegation. In the first case, Marston is getting paid good money by the Ho-Chunk. And Schmitz, of course, ran the campaign that lost to Doyle and now heads the party that is working to oust him at the end of this term. But Schmitz said he can point to some facts to back up his charge. "The money did exchange hands. They wrote a $500,000 check - a half-a-million dollar check," Schmitz said. "No one just does that out of the goodness of their hearts."


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