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Grand jury examines contract

Panel studying whether donations affected state's $750,000 travel deal

By PATRICK MARLEY and STACY FORSTER
pmarley@journalsentinel.com
Posted: Jan. 21, 2006

Madison - Authorities have convened a federal grand jury to review whether campaign donations to Gov. Jim Doyle played a role in the state awarding a $750,000 contract to Adelman Travel.

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As part of the same investigation, officials are looking into political contributions made around the time the state approved the sale of a nuclear power plant, a source familiar with the inquiries said Saturday.

Doyle aide Dan Leistikow said the Democratic governor had not been called before the grand jury.

"The governor has not spoken to any investigators," he said. "We have no idea whether there's a grand jury or not. As the governor has said many times, he's more than happy to talk to anyone who's reviewing this because everything he's aware of, this (Adelman Travel) contract was awarded to a Wisconsin company that was the lowest bidder. That's all he knows about it."

Doyle has refused to say whether he has hired an attorney in the matter.

U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic of Milwaukee convened the grand jury about a month ago, said the source familiar with the investigation. State and Dane County authorities are assisting Biskupic, who did not return calls Saturday.

A member of the committee that awarded the Adelman Travel contract confirmed Saturday that he had testified before the grand jury.

But investigators believe another committee member, Georgia Thompson, has not cooperated fully with their probe, said the source. Thompson is a state purchasing division supervisor. According to state e-mails, at least one committee member felt Thompson was the driving force behind setting up a second round of bids that led to Adelman winning the deal.

Thompson's attorney, Stephen Hurley, declined to discuss the matter.

"I'm not making any comments to anyone," he said.

Initially, Omega World Travel beat out Adelman Travel by 21 points on a 1,200 point scale for the contract, but Department of Administration officials said the deals were so close the two companies should be asked to give "best and final" offers. Some University of Wisconsin-Madison officials who were on the review committee said they believed Omega was the clear winner and that they did not need to solicit another round of bids.

Adelman was selected after the second round of bids.

Over a 10-month period, Craig Adelman, the company's chief executive, gave Doyle $10,000, the most allowed under state law. Doyle and Adelman have said the donations were not linked to the state contract.

So far, the grand jury is looking only into the contract with Adelman Travel. But investigators are also reviewing donations made by utility executives shortly before and after the Public Service Commission approved the sale of the Kewaunee nuclear power plant, the source said, adding that officials haven't yet decided whether to forward that matter to the grand jury.

The existence of the grand jury was first reported Saturday by the Capital Times newspaper in Madison.

Employees of Madison-based Alliant Energy Corp. and Green Bay-based Wisconsin Public Service Corp. donated $43,650 to Doyle around the time the commission approved the sale of the plant to Dominion Resources Inc. of Richmond, Va. Alliant Energy and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. were joint owners of the plant.

Many of the donations were made at a Nov. 18, 2004, WPS-sponsored fund-raiser. The next day, the commission rejected the sale 2-1, but spelled out the terms of a deal that would be acceptable.

After the utilities changed the deal to meet those terms, the PSC approved the sale March 17, 2005. Nearly $16,000 of the donations from employees of those utilities came between March 9 and April 8, according to campaign figures compiled by the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The Democracy Campaign disclosed this month that investigators had asked for details on donations from employees of utilities made around that time.

The non-profit group has a more detailed database on campaign filings than the state Elections Board.

Leistikow, the aide to Doyle, said the nuclear power plant sale was approved properly.

"The PSC is an independent agency run by people of tremendous integrity," he said.

Frank Kooistra, associate dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at UW-Madison, was a member of the evaluation committee for the travel bids and said he had been in front of the grand jury last week.

Kooistra said investigators had asked him not to talk about what had been discussed. He said he didn't know if Thompson or other committee members had also been asked to answer questions.

Kooistra said he didn't have a problem with the Department of Administration's decision to seek final bids from the top contenders.

"The scores were close enough that there was certainly reason to do that," he said.

But other members of the evaluation team indicated they didn't agree with the decision to put the bids out for a best-and-final offer, which ultimately favored Adelman.

"I think that the team agreed to the best and final simply because Georgia wouldn't back down," wrote Lisa Clemmons, a UW purchasing agent, in an e-mail to other team members. "All the scores clearly defined the winner."

Asked if she had appeared before the grand jury, Clemmons said the U.S. attorney's office had told her not to comment.

In an e-mail to other evaluation team members, UW-Madison travel manager Terri Gill wrote that Ian Thomas of Academic Travel Consulting of Temple City, Calif., didn't agree with the decision made by state Department of Administration officials - who had hired him - to seek final bids on the travel contract.

Thomas told Gill the "scores speak for themselves and that if we went ahead with a 'cost only' best and final process, we'd be taking a request for proposal, throwing out the difference in service levels, and turning this whole process into a request for bid," Gill wrote in an e-mail.

Gill also wrote that Thomas "would appreciate that we not share his comments with Georgia and Dave (Webb, then a procurement manager for the state Department of Administration)" because they had hired him to work on other projects.

Doyle and the two Republicans running against him have proposed ethics reforms in recent weeks.

Doyle wants to ban all fund raising during the time the state budget is being drafted; ban lawmakers, governors and political appointees from lobbying on bills for a year after leaving office; and ban the use of state funds and campaign contributions to defend politicians charged with violations of ethics and campaign finance laws.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who is running against Doyle, has proposed a ban on donations from political appointees; a ban on donations from employees of companies while they are vying for state business; and a ban on all fund raising during budget deliberations.

U.S. Rep. Mark Green of Green Bay, another Republican gubernatorial candidate, said he wants to see a ban on contributions from those trying to open off-reservation tribal casinos and from those involved in negotiating casino compacts with the state. Wisconsin's Indian tribes supported Doyle when he was elected in 2002.







From the Jan. 22, 2006 editions of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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