Kapanke admits ethics breach

2010-08-26T00:05:00Z Kapanke admits ethics breachBy SAMANTHA MARCUS smarcus@lacrossetribune.com La Crosse Tribune

State Sen. Dan Kapanke admitted to unintentionally violating state ethics codes by paying off personal debt with money from a charity funded through organizations that employ lobbyists.

The Republican lawmaker said Wednesday the payment to the city of La Crosse for new lighting at the Loggers’ baseball park was “inappropriate.”

Kapanke is challenging U.S Rep. Ron Kind for the 3rd District Congressional seat. He and his wife, Ruth Kapanke, own the La Crosse Loggers, a summer collegiate baseball team that plays at La Crosse’s Copeland Park.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin  filed a complaint Wednesday with the Government Accountability Board alleging Kapanke effectively funneled lobbyist dollars through La Crosse Loggers Foundation Inc. for personal gain.

Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate characterized it as a money laundering scheme that gives the foundation the appearance of being a “slush fund to benefit Dan Kapanke.”

In the wake of Kapanke’s admission, Tate called for Kapanke to resign his state Senate seat and suspend his Congressional campaign. Kapanke has represented Wisconsin’s 32nd Senate district since 2005.

“How many times is Dan Kapanke going to continue to claim innocent mistakes when he gets in trouble for unethical behavior,” Tate said. “This aw-shucks routine just doesn’t play anymore.”

In 2009 Kapanke admitted his office mishandled an open records request filed by the Democratic Party and voluntarily paid the party’s legal fees and a $100 statutory fine.

The foundation was set up in March 2006 to make charitable donations with money contributed by organizations directly tied to lobbyists.  In 2007 the Ethics Board, now the Government Accountability Board, threw out a complaint by the Democratic Party that Kapanke was collecting income  through that charity.

But Internal Revenue Service records show in June 2009 the foundation paid a $16,930 installment due on a $225,000 loan from the city of La Crosse to the Kapankes for improved lighting at Copeland Park.

Kapanke said the charity then believed it complied with IRS allowances for donations made for the “erection or maintenance of public buildings, monuments or works.” Any improvements made to the baseball park belong to the city of La Crosse.

“If we wanted to hide something we certainly wouldn’t hide it on IRS forms,” Kapanke said Wednesday. He announced also he’d transferred the nearly $17,000 back to the foundation from La Crosse Loggers Inc.

AGovernment Accountability Board  spokesman said it had received the complaint but couldn’t comment further. Copies also were forwarded to the La Crosse County district attorney, the IRS and the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke said the Government Accountability Board  would take the lead on any investigation.

A phone call placed to the Kind campaign Wednesday evening was not immediately returned.

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