Students Donations Raise Ethical Concerns

This story was written by Britney Tripp, The Daily Cardinal
A nonpartisan watchdog group recently showed students have contributed almost $100,000 to political campaigns from 2002 to June 2007 in Wisconsin, with some of the larger donations raising ethical concerns.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found students made $86,243 in contributions during the period. This is an atypical amount of money, according to Mike McCabe, director of the WDC.

"I don't think most students could make a $5,000 political contribution, or a $1,000 or $500," McCabe said.

Most students seem to be struggling enough as it is, McCabe stated. He said he sees these results as suspicious and wonders if they are making the contributions themselves, or if their parents are furnishing money to them.

State Rep. Terese Berceau, D-Madison, said she agrees that students do not have a lot of money, so they do not generally contribute to state candidates. Students focus on national elections instead, according to Berceau.

According to state law, it is illegal to make contributions in the name of another person or to reimburse someone for making campaign contributions. WDC notes that some of the students are making contributions when their parents are reaching or have already reached the maximum amount of money a contributor can give to a candidate.

One student, Vikram Saini of Elm Grove, contributed $5,000 to Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle March 8, 2002. That same day, his father Bhupinder Saini also contributed $5,000 to Doyle, the report stated.

Student Matthew Troha also gave contributions totaling $4,000 from 2002 to June 30, 2007. Earlier this year, Mathew's father, Dennis Troha, was charged with two felonies accusing him of supplying more than $100,000 to family members who then used this money for campaign contributions. The elder Troha later plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges.

The family members donated to various state and federal campaigns in order to win the approval of an $800 million casino in Kenosha that Troha wanted, according to the WDC report.

The case of Matthew Troha led WDC to investigate further if the behavior was more widespread, according to McCabe. WDC found dozens of other students in similar situations.

Student involvement can greatly affect the outcome of an election, like in the case of state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, who was elected with strong student support in the 2006 election. Vinehout's election was due more to student activism than large campaign donations, McCabe said.

"This story appears courtesy of UWIRE, a news service powered by student journalists at more than 800 universities. To learn more, visit UWIRE.com."
© 2007 The Daily Cardinal via U-WIRE
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