The Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint against a state senator Monday for using $32,000 from the La Crosse Loggers Foundation to pay off debts from his privately owned baseball team.
The La Crosse Loggers Foundation, which was founded in 2007, gives financial support to educational, charitable, religious and scientific organizations as well as individuals and families in La Crosse.
Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, used money from the La Crosse Loggers Foundation to pay for the construction of lights in the Logger’s stadium where his baseball team plays, Kapanke campaign manager Brian Chatwin said.
“[The Loggers’ stadium] isn’t owned by Sen. Kapanke,” Chatwin said. “It is owned by La Crosse.”
Despite this, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed the complaint against Kapanke because his actions violated the law, said Graeme Zielinski, a spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
The construction of lights in Loggers’ stadium benefits other teams who use the stadium in addition to Kapanke’s baseball team, Chatwin added.
“The La Crosse Loggers Foundation does a lot of things for the community of La Crosse including park improvements, which is completely legal according to the IRS tax codes,” Chatwin said.
Kapanke acknowledged violating the law by using this non-profit as a slush fund, which he personally benefited from, Zielinski said.
“[The La Crosse Loggers Foundation] was created specifically to create a buffer between Sen. Kapanke and lobbyists,” Zielinski said.
According to Zielinski, the U.S. attorney and investigators from the IRS will play a role in handling the complaint.
“There will be a lot of investigative resources wasted in order to arrive at the conclusion we already know,” Zielinski said.
Legalities aside, some believe Kapanke may not have fully thought through his actions when he used the money for the baseball team.
If Kapanke did not know his actions would be against the IRS regulations, he should have had someone look into it beforehand, said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.
“Any time you are in public office, you have to be very careful about the public perception of how you are managing your affairs,” Heck said.
Still, this complaint may not prove Kapanke was involved in illegal activity but instead made a careless mistake he did not look into carefully enough, Heck added.
While Kapanke’s actions may not have been illegal, they are relatively unusual in Wisconsin.
Mike McCabe, spokesperson for the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said it is not common for politicians to use outside funds to pay for personal expenses, and if the allegations are true, it would be especially unusual for Wisconsin.
People in public office or candidates running for public office are not caught in these kinds of situations often, if ever, McCabe added.
“We are just going to have to wait and see how this complaint is handled and what the outcome is going to be,” McCabe said.