Kansas Democrats tied to Wisconsin scandal

The Kansas Democratic Party is mentioned in a 67-page criminal complaint accusing Wisconsin’s Senate majority leader of extortion, money laundering and circumventing the state’s limits on campaign contributions.

The complaint also mentions Dennis Langley, chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party from 1993 to 1999.

Filed by the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office, the 20-felony complaint alleges Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, a Democrat, advised a Madison, Wis., Gas & Electric Co. lobbyist to route $25,000 to Independent Citizens for Democracy, a Chvala-controlled political action committee, through the Kansas Democratic Party.

Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws prohibit corporate treasuries from influencing the outcome of an election.

According to the complaint, the lobbyist forwarded three checks totaling $25,000 to the Kansas Democratic Party on Oct. 20, 1998.

The checks changed hands at the time Wisconsin’s utility lobby a group that included Madison Gas and Electric was pushing a bill designed to ease regulations on the industry. The bill later passed.

Wisconsin records show that Langley gave Future Wisconsin, another Chvala-controlled PAC, $4,000 on April 1, 1998.

Chvala, 47, last week said he intended to fight the charges. His preliminary hearing is set for Dec. 16.

Charges of threats, extortion

Chvala’s dealings with Langley and the Kansas Democratic Party constitute a small portion of the charges filed against him. In the Oct. 17 complaint, he’s repeatedly accused of threatening and extorting lobbyists, assigning state employees to political and fund-raising campaigns, laundering money, filing false reports and dodging contribution limits spelled out in the state’s campaign finance laws.

Criminal charges also were filed against Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, Assembly Majority Leader Steven Foti, a Foti aide, and a state representative, all Republicans. They, too, have denied wrongdoing.

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Kansas is not mentioned in the charges against either Foti, Jensen or the others.

“This is the our worst scandal ever,” said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause of Wisconsin. “It’s huge. It’s really shaken people up.”

It’s also triggered a few potshots at Kansas.

“Oh, yeah, as soon as people saw the references to Kansas there were all kinds of comments related to the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ You heard people saying things like ‘Apparently, Chuck Chvala isn’t in Kansas anymore,’ ” Heck said.

“We’re also wondering what the connection is with Kansas,” he said. “I mean, you know, why not Nebraska? It’s closer. Why Kansas?”

Kansans puzzled

The scandal has Kansas Democrats scratching their heads.

“We’re really puzzled as to why we’re even mentioned at all,” said Tom Sawyer, chairman of the Kansas Democratic Party.

“We’ve had calls from reporters, but not from an investigator,” Sawyer said. “Our books don’t show any checks going to the groups mentioned in the complaint the complaint says the $4,000 came from Langley. We don’t know anything about that.”

Adding to the confusion, Sawyer said, is the complaint’s claim that Madison Gas and Electric and two subsidiaries contributed $25,000 to the Kansas Democratic Party.

“Our books show we got $45,000,” Sawyer said, noting that under Kansas law the contributions were legal.

Also, the complaint states that copies of the three Madison Gas and Electric checks sent to the Kansas Democratic Party were found in Independent Citizen for Democracy records. Attached to the checks was a note bearing the name Steve Martino and the Kansas Democratic Party Headquarters’ Topeka address and telephone numbers.

Contacted by the Journal-World, Martino said in 1998 he was working on several Democratic campaigns but was never employed by the party itself.

He said he had no idea why his name was on the note. He’s not been contacted by anyone associated with the Wisconsin investigation.

Martino is working for Democratic insurance commissioner candidate Jim Garner.

Dan Lykins, a Topeka lawyer who’s running against U.S. Rep. Jim Ryun, R-Kansas, was treasurer of the Kansas Democratic Party in 1998.

“I was running for attorney general back then,” he said. “I never heard a word about Wisconsin; this is all news to me.”

No answer, no comment

Langley now lives in South Dakota, where he serves on the executive board of the South Dakota Democratic Party. He did not return telephone messages left at his Rapid City, S.D., home.

Milwaukee County Dist. Atty. E. Michael McCann did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests for comment.

Common Cause of Wisconsin’s Heck, who’s studied the charges against Chvala, said McCann’s office was aware of the Kansas Democratic Party’s receiving $45,000 rather than the $25,000 cited in the criminal complaint.

“What we’re being told is that what’s listed in the criminal complaint is only a partial list and that a more complete list will come out later on,” Heck said.

Langley is no stranger to moving money from one state’s Democratic party to another.

In 1997, the Kansas Commission on Governmental Standards and Conduct investigated reports that Democratic parties in 17 other states each contributed either $14,990 or $15,000 to the Kansas Democratic Party in the final weeks of the 1996 general election. Records showed that most of the money was spent on television commercials for then-State Treasurer Sally Thompson and Jill Docking, who were challenging U.S. Reps. Pat Roberts and Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, for the U.S. Senate seats vacated by Nancy Kassebaum and Bob Dole.

In Kansas, contributions to political parties are limited to $15,000 per calendar year.

An investigation found that the state parties’ contributions coincided with money each received from the Democrat National Committee.

Langley argued the arrangement was neither improper nor illegal. The ethics commission later issued a formal opinion, saying such an arrangement was legal as long as there was not a three-way understanding that the national party’s money was to be passed on to Kansas.

Langley said there was no such understanding.

‘Lots of smoke’

Democratic National Committee money also found its way to the Kansas Democratic Party through contributions forwarded by Democratic parties in 12 Kansas counties and by Democratic candidates incumbents and newcomers running for the Kansas House and Senate.

Then-Rep. Henry Helgerson, D-Wichita, told the ethics commission he’d received a telephone call from the Democratic National Committee, letting him know that he’d been sent $500 and asking him to pass at least $300 on to the Kansas Democratic Party. Helgerson said he thought the instructions constituted “giving in the name of another” and was illegal. He returned the check.

Campaign finance records showed that, unlike Helgerson, several Democratic legislators shared their contributions with the state party.

Langley insisted the contributions, too, were legal. The ethics commission declined to cite Langley or the Kansas Democratic Party of any wrongdoing.

Helgerson in 2000 ran unsuccessfully for the Kansas Senate. He’s now in private business in Wichita.

“Basically, there was a lot a smoke, but we couldn’t find the fire,” Helgerson said. “I guess that fire was burning in Wisconsin, too.”