Thursday, February 02, 2006

Doyle Gives Back Some Dirty Marina Money


Posted February 2, 2006
Doyle returns Burger Boat donations
Governor sends back $10,000 to avoid appearance of influencing a major state grant
By Charlie Mathews
Herald Times Reporter


MANITOWOC - Gov. Jim Doyle has returned $10,000 in campaign donations from Burger Boat owners David Ross and Jim Ruffolo, according to a campaign finance document filed Tuesday.

Two days after each man made a $5,000 donation, a Department of Transportation advisory committee accepted the company's $1.1 million grant proposal for a boat ramp.

Larry Kieck, a DOT harbors and waterways analyst, said the advisory committee was not aware of the company's donations and unanimously endorsed the project.

Ross said the donations were not meant to influence the grant award, but acknowledged "the timing was not right."

He said he understood the return of the donations.

"We were in the middle of the application for the HAP grant ... (Doyle) wanted to make sure there were no improprieties so the funds were returned," Ross said.

"I am very supportive of the governor and always have been. He has been so pro-business," said the company president. "When our entire community was hit hard with loss of jobs he stepped right up to the plate. He's my kind of guy ... I wanted to continue to show my support."

If Doyle approves the grant, the company would become the first private firm to receive a Harbor Assistance Program (HAP) grant.

The grant would cover 80 percent of the $1.4 million construction costs of a sloped ramp allowing Burger to launch megayachts, up to about 160 feet in length, into the Manitowoc River. It also would help underwrite repair to the docks and seawall.

Ross said the project would help keep about 400 Burger employees' jobs viable.

The Harbor Assistance Grant program has existed since 1979, but private companies weren't eligible until a change in state law in 2004.

Kieck said the committee thought Burger's plan "was one of the best ones they had seen in a long time."

Doyle's office is expected soon to announce the grant for Burger Boat, Kieck said. The state transportation secretary already approved the award, he said.

Doyle's campaign will not return $5,000 donations that Ross and Ruffolo made in 2003, spokeswoman Melanie Fonder said.

Those donations came six months after Burger Boat won $2.1 million in state grants and loans for a company expansion and two months before Doyle appeared at the company's groundbreaking on the project.

The move comes against a backdrop of intense scrutiny over campaign donations. Doyle and the two Republicans hoping to defeat him in November, Mark Green and Scott Walker, each has returned contributions they considered tainted this month.

Doyle, however, has refused calls to give back $20,000 in donations tied to a travel agency that won a state contract.

Mike McCabe, director of the campaign finance watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, called the cash return "an important step for the governor." But he said Doyle was "splitting hairs" by refusing donations in this case while accepting them from others that get state business.

Earlier this week, Republicans called on Doyle to return $20,000 from executives of a company that won a travel contract after prosecutors say a state employee manipulated the bidding process to favor the company, Adelman Travel Group.

Doyle canceled the contract but said he would keep the donations because they were made legally and neither donor — the company's CEO and a board member — had done anything wrong.

Doyle said those contributions were different than the Burger Boat case because they came "well before and well after the contract was given."

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