Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind’s Dirty Money

On Monday, Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that two doctors had offered sworn affidavits accusing Wisconsin Democrat Ron Kind’s staff of charging them money in order to meet to discuss legislation:

Another surgeon at the physician-owned facility maintains in his sworn statement that an unnamed Kind aide in his Eau Claire office explained that the veteran politician “typically requires a contribution of $10,000 for a 1-2 hour personal meeting and $25,000 for a half day meeting.” …

In his affidavit, the surgeon claims he agreed to raise $10,000 for a morning face-to-face meeting with Kind, something he relayed to the other physicians with an ownership stake in the hospital in a memo on Sept. 19, 2007 – two days before the visit.

“I ask that you help us in supporting Rep. Kind,” the note says. “We need your financial involvement. Campaign contributions are part of participation in the political process and critical to gaining the access and influence we need.”

The Kind campaign has denied the charges and cast doubt on the doctors’ statements by pointing out that the doctors, who have supported his opponent, could be motivated by partisan interests. But then on Tuesday, ProPublica, an independent public interest investigative journalism outlet, produced a report on the suspicious fundraising practices of Ron Kind and other “New Democrats”:

Wisconsin Rep. Ron Kind, one of the New Democrats’ vice-chairs, was among those who campaigned for ethics reform in 2006. “Pay-to-play politics have no place in Congress,” he said at the time. …

Over the past two years, [the New Democrats] members have helped biotech companies win lucrative patent extensions during healthcare reform, fought to ensure that banks receiving TARP money didn’t have to trim executive bonuses, and helped block a proposal to allow bankruptcy judges to adjust home mortgages—a step many experts believe would have reduced foreclosures. As they gathered for their May retreat, the New Democrats were working on what would become their biggest victory yet: weakening key components of financial-services reform legislation.

At a Saturday session at the retreat, Rep. Kind acknowledged what had brought the lobbyists and lawmakers together. In these busy legislative times, he said, the New Democrats had become a “powerful voice in policy making,” and the business interests in the room were playing a crucial role in informing that voice.

“We’re working hard with you to get the policy right,” Kind told lobbyists for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and others.

ProPublica contacted the offices of every New Democrat named in this story, but none would agree to an interview. Specifically, they refused to discuss how they separate their lawmaking from the fundraising activities conducted by the group’s political action committee, the NewDemPAC, and also by their individual campaigns. The group’s chairman, New York Rep. Joe Crowley, is currently being investigated by the Office of Congressional Ethics for collecting checks from financial-industry lobbyists in December, just hours before voting against several measures that Wall Street opposed.

In a review of data collected by the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation, ProPublica found that at least 16 other New Democrats also held fundraisers in the days leading up to the December vote on Wall Street reform. Several explicitly mentioned their membership in the New Democrat Coalition or their seat on the Financial Services Committee on invitations distributed to lobbyists.

Even left-wing blogger Matthew Yglesias at the Center for American Progress found Kind’s fundraising tactics “pernicious.” Perhaps some intrepid local reporter in Wisconsin will ask Kind the questions he refused to answer for ProPublica.

Kind has won reelection by maintaining a clean image–his TV ads last cycle focused on how much he loves the Green Bay Packers–and quietly voting like a liberal on most issues other than guns. The Cook Political Report says the district “leans” Democrat this year. Obama carried the district by 17 points in 2008, but Kerry and Gore each carried the district by only 3 points. Kind’s seat in Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District was held by Republican Steve Gunderson from 1981 until Gunderson retired in 1997, when Kind took the seat. Kind is facing a credible challenger, state senator Dan Kapanke, and the NRCC just made a $150,000 ad buy in the district. There’s a decent chance Kapanke can win.