Three Already Violate Annual Contribution Limit

Repeat offender shows past Elections Board actions useless

October 17, 2005

Madison -Three wealthy contributors already have violated the annual $10,000 limit on campaign contributions to state political candidates and committees, including a Milwaukee attorney who violated the limit in 2002, according to a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign analysis.

The repeat violation shows the State Elections Board’s practice of leveling paltry fines on rich contributors in a so-called effort to “educate” them about the law is a farce.

The violators who exceeded the $10,000 calendar year limit during the first six months of 2005 are James Connelly, a Foley & Lardner lawyer; Edward Martin, owner of HJ Martin & Sons; and Kailas Rao, president of Indus Inc.

All three are veteran contributors to state campaigns and committees and cannot plead ignorance about contribution limits, particularly Connelly. The trio faces fines of up to $4,950 because state campaign finance laws allow the Elections Board to levy civil fines of up to $500 per violation plus triple the amount of the illegal portion of the contribution .

Connelly, who lives in the well-to-do Milwaukee suburb of River Hills, contributed $10,800 between January and June of 2005. Those contributions included $5,000 to Republican Mark Green, a candidate for governor, and Republican Paul Bucher, an attorney general candidate; $500 to Assembly Speaker John Gard; and $300 to Assembly Majority Leader Michael Huebsch.

Connelly, who has contributed to state candidates and committees since at least 1993, was one of 39 individuals WDC filed complaints against in 2003 for violating the $10,000 annual contribution limit in 2002. He contributed $17,500 and could have been fined $23,000, but the Elections Board levied a meager $250 penalty.

Connelly faces $2,900 in fines for his latest violation.

In addition to low fines, the board routinely dismisses public complaints by allowing violators to reallocate a portion of their illegal contributions to their spouses to bring them under the limit. But that will be difficult to do in Connelly’s case since his wife, Christine, already has contributed the legal maximum of $10,000 this year – $5,000 each to Bucher and Green.

Martin, a Green Bay contractor who has contributed to state campaigns since 1996, contributed $10,250 between January and June, including $10,000 to Green and $250 to Republican Representative Gregg Underheim of Oshkosh who ran unsuccessfully last spring for state school superintendent.

Martin faces $1,250 in fines for the violation.

Rao, a telecommunications systems and equipment provider who lives in upscale Whitefish Bay outside of Milwaukee, contributed $10,100 in the first six months of 2005. He gave Democratic Governor Jim Doyle $10,000 and Republican Representative Alberta Darling $100. Rao has contributed to state candidates and committees since at least 1993.

Rao faces $800 in fines for the violation.