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Doyle won't rebid travel contract

State lawmakers to vote on 'sunshine' bill as prosecutors investigate deal

By PATRICK MARLEY and STACY FORSTER
pmarley@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Oct. 21, 2005

Madison - Gov. Jim Doyle has no plans to reopen bidding on a travel contract given to a firm owned by a Doyle contributor while prosecutors investigate how the deal was reached.

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The state cannot put the contract with Glendale-based Adelman Travel back out for bid because it was awarded properly, Doyle said.

"There are legal obligations here," he said.

The controversy about the Adelman contract puts new scrutiny on the Doyle administration and the state's procedures for soliciting bids and awarding contracts. By early November, state lawmakers are expected to vote on a "contract sunshine" bill that would introduce more transparency to the process.

Doyle made the comments about sticking with the Adelman contract Thursday, just hours before U.S. Attorney Steven M. Biskupic announced that he was investigating the contract along with state and Dane County authorities. Adelman officials donated $20,000 to Doyle's re-election campaign in the months surrounding the awarding of the contract.

Doyle was traveling Friday, but aide Melanie Fonder said he stood by the position that the contract could not be reconsidered. Doyle also said he had no plans to return $10,000 in donations from company owner Craig B. Adelman.

"The contributions were perfectly appropriate," Doyle said.

Mitchell Fromstein, a member of Adelman's board of directors, also gave Doyle's campaign the maximum $10,000 allowed around the time the contract took effect, state campaign finance filings show.

Adelman Travel won the three-year state contract worth up to $250,000 a year in March. Competitor Omega World Travel of Fairfax, Va., led the bidding earlier in the process, but state officials asked both firms to give "last, best offers."

Adelman then won, though Omega Vice President Diane Bozicevich contended this week that her firm's offer matched or beat Adelman's.

But Omega never formally contested the contract award, Doyle noted. He said that the state followed standard procurement policies and that the Adelman deal was about $30,000 lower than Omega's.

Donation should be returned

Jay Heck, executive director of campaign finance reform advocate Common Cause in Wisconsin, said Doyle should return Adelman's donations.

"You should always return money that's in question because the longer you hang onto it, the worse it's going to be," he said.

Heck dismissed as "window dressing" proposals by Doyle's Republican opponents - Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and U.S. Rep. Mark Green of Green Bay - to deal with the issue. Green wants to bar employees, directors and owners of companies bidding on state contracts from donating to a governor's political committee from the time the bid process starts to 60 days after contracts are awarded.

Walker said state government should adopt a ban like one he signed into law in Milwaukee County that says no one seeking a contract with the county can contribute funds to an official who has "final authority" over the contract while it is being negotiated.

Walker and Green should be careful about pointing fingers at Doyle because they have also collected money from special interests, Heck said.

"All of them are taking money that at some point will compromise public policy because they have to raise so much of it and it almost all comes from special interests and it all comes with strings attached," he said.

State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Wineke called Green's idea hypocritical given that he accepted nearly $54,000 in donations from insurance and pharmaceutical interests around the time he voted for the Medicare prescription drug benefit in 2003.

Change proposed

Assembly Speaker John Gard (R-Peshtigo) said reforming the contracting process would do more to fix the problem than Green's proposal. Gard wants to require the Department of Administration to post an online list of companies seeking state contracts worth more than $10,000. The list would remain online for 90 days after the contract is awarded and would include information on no-bid contracts.

"There will be a lot more public scrutiny while the process is going on," Gard said.

The bill is expected to come up for an Assembly vote in November, and fallout from the Adelman situation is likely to elevate the issue among lawmakers, he said.

It's too soon to tell what impact the inquiry will have on next year's race for governor.

An independent poll released Friday by a Strategic Vision, a private Atlanta-based firm, showed that 48% of respondents approved of Doyle's job performance, while 40% disapproved and 12% were undecided.

Against Green, Doyle had support from 47% of the respondents, compared with 43% for Green and 10% undecided. In a matchup with Walker, Doyle was favored by 47%, compared with 39% for Walker and 14% undecided.

The survey of 800 likely Wisconsin voters, conducted by telephone Oct. 17-19, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The sample was 34% Democratic, 27% Republican and 39% independent or claiming a third party affiliation.


From the Oct. 22, 2005 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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