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Railroad Exec in Wisconsin Pleads Guilty to Illegal Campaign Donations to Scott Walker

A railroad executive in Wisconsin has been charged with making illegal campaign donations to Gov. Scott Walker in 2010. The executive plans to plead guilty, but says he was unaware he did anything wrong.

Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co. president and chief executive officer William Gardner was charged with one count of excessive political contributions and one count of unlawful political contribution. Both charges are felonies that carry a combined maximum sentence of seven years in prison and $20,000 in fines.

Gardner struck a plea bargain calling for him to plead guilty. Prosecutors in exchange agreed to recommend he serve two years on probation. His company, meanwhile, has paid a $166,900 forfeiture, and seven employees have each agreed to pay a $250 forfeiture, state election officials said.

Gardner said in a statement he cooperated with investigators and didn’t realize he had violated the law, which limits individual gubernatorial contributions to $10,000 per election and prohibits furnishing money to others for political donations made in their names.

In Wisconsin, it is also illegal to give corporate money to political candidates.

Perhaps the most amusing – and revealing – part of this sad tale is how Gardner got caught. His ex-girlfriend called up election officials and told them of the donations, after she got mad that Gardner WOULDN’T RETURN HER POSSESSIONS. She told Gardner to give them back or she would go to the authorities about the illegal donations, and he replied, “Knock yourself out. I did nothing wrong and have broken no law.” Now this is a railroad executive, not someone hurting for money. I see no reason for him to deny his ex her things other than just a willful desire to be a jerk.

For once in America, this came back to haunt someone! But not in a way that forces him to serve jail time, of course: Gardner gets two years’ probation and a decent-sized fine, paid for by his company.

Walker says that these illegal donations never affected his stewardship of Wisconsin, because he actually canceled the high speed rail money from which Gardner’s company would benefit. I should mention at this point that formally requested many of the very funds he rejected, all aimed at improving rail service between Milwaukee and Madison, which will have a very real impact on Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co.

Incidentally, Walker’s campaign at the time told a friend of Gardner’s ex-girlfriend that they have methods of detecting illegal contributions and would never accept one.

Walker quietly returned the donations months later.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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