Last night, we wrote a story about news broken by the Washington Post
that Rep. Ryan (R-WI) , the newly-minted Republican vice presidential selectee, took nearly $60,000 from a now-convicted businessman to push for a project he personally felt was bad for his district and his constituents.
When his benefactor, Dennis Troha was indicted and later convicted on campaign finance charges over an Indian casino he sought to open, at first Ryan said he would keep the donation because it was a legal campaign contribution. He relented and donated the money to charity.
The Post also reported that Ryan supported a bill in Congress that benefited Troha and his trucking company, legislation that drew the interest of federal prosecutors because of the contributions Ryan and other congressmen had accepted from Troha and his family.
To us, the truly egregious part of this story is that Ryan took the donation, made a phone call in support of the casino project to the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, while being personally opposed to the project.
According to the Post:
Troha said Ryan “made it very clear to me” that he opposed the project and felt it was “not appropriate” for the district.
But that's not what he told the Bureau of Indian Affairs. According to a JS Online column on March 8, 2006:
Records show that Troha and Co. poured its money into Ryan's account in the spring and then again at a November fund-raiser, for which Troha was a host.
In between, on Sept. 16, Troha wrote a Ryan staffer a lengthy e-mail defending the project and responding to criticisms leveled by the Potawatomi tribe, which has its own money-making machine in the form of an off-reservation casino in Milwaukee. The Kenosha power broker expects to pocket at least $88 million in fees during the first seven years of operation if the feds and governor bless the project.
"Also, thank you for arranging the call this morning from the Congressman to me regarding the Land Into Trust and Environmental Impact Study matters regarding the Kenosha Casino," Troha wrote in September, "and Bureau of Indian Affairs status of their review of both items."
Just days later, Ryan did exactly what Troha wanted. The fourth-term congressman dialed up the BIA in Minneapolis to get the lowdown on the application and to lean on the bureaucrats.
The Troha/Ryan connection goes even deeper.
According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
report written by Daniel Bice on March 25, 2007, the father of Ryan aide Cletus Willems III happened to be the executive vice president and general counsel for trucking conglomerate JHT Holdings, who signed, on behalf of the company, a secret deal to pay former JHT owner Troha on the side through 2010 if Congress passed legislation that benefited the firm by easing federal truck-hauling regulations.
As Bice wrote at the time:
Ryan has defended his actions, saying he was performing a "routine and appropriate constituent service" by helping a business in his district. The Janesville Republican has said he had no idea that Troha would cash in if the provision became law.
Of course not.
Ryan was aware that the elder Willems was his aide's daddy. Bice wrote that In 2005:
Ryan had the lead signature on a letter urging two other congressmen to fight for the Troha provision in a conference committee. Last year (2004), Ryan wrote then-Acting Transportation Secretary Maria Cino urging her agency to adopt rules based on the legislation that were favored by JHT. But Ryan's office said he was not acting in response to his aide or his aide's father - just as he earlier said he wasn't influenced by Troha's cash. Ryan then leaned on fellow congressmen and federal officials in support of this measure.
As Bice summarized:
So Ryan was not pushing special-interest legislation that helped a firm tied to a major donor and the father of a staffer.
Instead, he was simply serving his constituents.
According to this morning's Washington Post:
When John W. Erickson, a top Troha associate, pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations in September 2007, court documents said he, Troha and other alleged conspirators had directed illegal contributions to more than 20 politicians. Troha and others had “identified public officials who supported Indian gaming and/or the relaxation of restrictions on interstate trucking,” prosecutors wrote.
The only politician identified by name in the documents as having received contributions from Erickson was Ryan.
So, in retrospect, did Ryan do anything illegal? Nothing anyone has proved. Did he violate his own principals for campaign dough? Sure seems that way.
What else can you say about a politician who takes money from a donor and then makes a phone call to support a project that he feels is bad for his district? Someone who claims he didn't know an aide's daddy stood to profit from legislation he pushed and pushed hard?
"Hello, Mr. Vice President"?