By Kevin Binversie | Wisconsin Reporter
Now that Mitt Romney has picked U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Janesville as his Republican vice presidential running mate, we can begin the traditional Opposition Campaign to Define Him.
And I anticipated the claim that Catholic nuns on a bus hate him and his budget. Only the liberal ones want to rap his hands with a ruler.
But I was surprised to encounter — around noon Sunday in the Washington Post online — the oft-told and discounted story of Dennis Troha.
Troha was a Kenosha businessman convicted in 2007 for violating Wisconsin campaign laws, when he was found guilty of creating a system to skirt the state’s $10,000-per-person limit for donations to a gubernatorial campaign. Troha fronted family members and even his own employees, so they could make donations to former Republican President George W. Bush, former Gov. Jim Doyle, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and Ryan, who represents District 1.
Troha was attempting at the time to seek approval of a new casino — owned and operated by the Menominee Tribe of northeastern Wisconsin — on the grounds of the Dairyland Greyhound Park near Kenosha. Final approval only would happen if the Doyle administration gave the green light.
Historical revisionists will tell you that it was Troha pushing on Ryan to get federal approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs — the final hurdle to casino approval. They cite the $58,000 Troha and his associates contributed to Ryan’s campaigns from 1998 to 2006.
That would hardly make sense. Almost all the levers of approval for new tribal casinos in Wisconsin rest in the governor’s mansion — in Doyle’s hands. Doyle received more than $200,000 from Troha and his associates for his gubernatorial races in 2002 and 2006.
Doyle’s campaign knew what was at stake and exploited it well.
A new casino in Kenosha upset the balance of power in Native American-run casinos in Wisconsin. Chiefly it threatened the monopoly of the Forest County Potawatomi Band in operating the Potawatomi Bingo and Casino — and soon a $150 million, 382-room hotel — in Milwaukee’s Menomonee River Valley. With Kenosha a stone’s throw from the Illinois border and Chicago, any competition hurts the Potawatomi.
So Doyle’s campaign started a bidding war over who would give him more — those who wanted a new casino versus those hoping to maintain the status quo. It worked wonders for Doyle’s 2006 re-election, and many speculated would continue into his 2010 re-election since Wisconsin’s governor hold sole veto or approval over any new casino in Wisconsin.
That plan ended in March 2007 when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Milwaukee indicted Troha.
Ryan’s campaign gave its donations from Troha to the Kenosha County Boys and Girls Club. Doyle, by contrast, refused to return any of it. Doyle’s chief campaign fund raiser in 2007 was Mike Tate, now Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman. Calls to Tate and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin for comment were not returned.
In the end, Troha agreed to a plea agreement to avoid jail time and paid a $200,000 fine.
In the meantime, other developers and Kenosha city officials still hope they can build a casino in the area.
But how does the Post report l’Affaire Troha?
The newspaper presents the story as a Ryan-centric scandal. It never was. The first mention of Doyle — the politician who actually triggered it — comes in the 12th paragraph of a 20-paragraph story.
That isn’t just sloppy journalism. It’s a hit piece. Stories like that one might comfort the anti-Ryan demographic, and might sell papers or increase click rates on websites. But it doesn’t provide the public with accurate information.
Veteran political blogger Kevin Binversie is a Wisconsin native. He served in the George W. Bush administration from 2007-2009, worked at the Heritage Foundation and has worked on numerous state Republican campaigns, most recently as research director for Ron Johnson for Senate. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.