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Ethics Board finds no wrongdoing in WisDOT fund-raiser

Wisconsin Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Ruben Anthony Jr. was
cleared of any potential wrongdoing by the Wisconsin Ethics Board Wednesday.

Questions
were raised when it came to light that Anthony had hosted a Sept. 8 fund-raising
event at his home for Gov. Jim Doyle to which he had invited a number of members
from engineering firms negotiating a multimillion contract for work on the Interstate
94 North-South reconstruction project with WisDOT.

Two of those firms, HNTB
and CH2M, would join to form Milwaukee Transportation Partners, the group that
ultimately signed the $8 million contract for design and study services for the
project. Both HNTB and CH2M had representatives at the fund-raiser who made contributions.

“While it may seem objectionable to some that a state official would
organize and sponsor a fund-raiser and invite to that fund-raiser individuals
who do business with the state agency with which the official is associated, Wisconsin
statutes do not prohibit or restrict that practice,” Ethics Board Chairman
James Morgan said in a statement.

Anthony told Ethics Board investigators
he phoned or e-mailed engineers to gauge their interest in the fund-raiser but
did it from home during evenings and weekends.

Engineers at the fund-raiser
told investigators no one ever suggested a contribution would affect a firm’s
business with the state.

Call to return money

The Citizens Allied
for Sane Highways, meanwhile, has gone on the offensive, saying that Doyle should
return the campaign funds he received that evening, in spite of the board’s
ruling.

“We’re not judging the legality of this,” said Gretchen
Schuldt, co-chairwoman of CASH. “We’re just saying it looks bad.”

Construction work on the corridor is slated to begin in 2011, but the state
could begin acquiring property along the route for expansion purposes by 2009.
CASH has voiced its opposition to the possibility of people losing their homes
to the project on a number of occasions in recent months, and Schuldt said they
are growing increasingly frustrated with the project.

“People stand
to lose their houses, there are a lot of safety concerns, and residents are complaining
that they can’t get a straight answer from WisDOT on anything,” she
said. “There is just no faith in WisDOT at this point on the south side of
Wisconsin.”

Robert Trimmier, a CASH co-chairman, said in a statement
Wednesday that if Doyle kept the funds, it would raise more suspicions among those
who already see the reconstruction as controversial.

“Residents of
the south side of Milwaukee already are concerned about losing their homes and
their health to the project,” he said. “They should not have to worry
that their interests are secondary to political campaign cash.”

But
Schuldt said residents may be past worrying about where their interests fall.

“They feel like they’ve already been sold out,” she said.
“People are so cynical about this whole process now that I don’t know
if there’s any chance of them holding a favorable view of WisDOT or the governor.
He can’t hurt himself any further by returning the money, but he definitely
can by not returning it.”

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