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Kapanke cleared of wrongdoing in Copeland Park lighting funding

LaCrosse LoggersWisconsin State Sen. Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse) — also the owner of the La Crosse Loggers (summer collegiate; Northwoods League) — was cleared of any wrongdoing by a state ethics board after he was accused of illegally accepting contributions from lobbyists to pay for new lights at Copeland Park.

This is a complicated story, made more complicated because of the way politicians must do business in today’s society to avoid accusations of illegal benefits. Here’s the deal.

Kapanke was elected to the state Senate in 2005 — after he became owner of the Loggers — and was subject to state laws regulating interactions between legislators and lobbyists. Basically, Kapanke was barred from doing business with firms directly employing lobbyists on their behalf to the Wisconsin State Legislature, which immediately impacted the Loggers’ bottom line: gone were deals with local unions and corporations like CenturyTel.

The solution: Kapanke set up a charitable foundation to accept and administer these deals. Money ($17,000) from this foundation went toward ballpark improvements, and one could argue the ballpark improvements directly benefited the Loggers and Kapanke.

This was fine until Kapanke ran for U.S. Congress against Ron Kind, and ethics charges were filed against him at the state level, saying the charitable foundation did not provide sufficient distance between the senator and the supporters. Kapanke lost the race, but the charges moved forward with the Government Accountability Board (GAB).

The GAB ruled yesterday that the foundation did not run afoul of state ethics guidelines, though Kapanke did admit using foundation money for the lighting was inappropriate.

Still, things won’t get easier for him any time soon: he’s one of the four Republican state senators who will face a recall election after local Democratic activists gathered enough signatures to trigger an election. The recall may not matter much anyway: Kapanke says he’s not running for reelection in 2012.

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