Burger Boats responds to allegations of impropriety

MADISON, Wis. – Two months after Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle approved a $1.16 million grant for the state’s Burger Boat Co., company executives helped raise more than $16,000 in donations to his campaign, The Associated Press reported in a story on the Duluth News Tribune Web site over the weekend.

Doyle accepted the donations despite having returned $10,000 in contributions from the same Burger Boat Co. executives months earlier, citing the company’s pending application for the state aid. Doyle, a Democrat running for re-election against U.S. Rep. Mark Green, has said he became aware of the close timing and returned them to avoid the appearance of impropriety, according to the AP story.

The donations Doyle returned were made in November, three days after a Department of Transportation panel recommended Burger Boat for the grant, which helped the company build a ramp to launch oversized yachts into the Manitowoc River, AP reported.

David Ross, president of the 143-year-old maker of luxury yachts, said the latest donations came at a fundraiser he hosted at his home, at which he gave $1,300 while his wife Katherine, also a company owner, gave the maximum $10,000 allowed. Burger vice president James Ruffolo gave $5,000 – the amount that was returned to him by Doyle’s campaign six months earlier. Other executives from Manitowoc firms gave a total of $3,000 on the same day, according to the story.

The fundraiser was in no way tied to the grant, Ross said, describing himself as a huge Doyle supporter. “We want to help him out in his campaign,” Ross told AP. “That’s the bottom line and it really doesn’t get simpler than that.”

Bob Delaporte, spokesman for the state Republican Party, which has repeatedly accused Doyle of rewarding campaign contributors with state business, said Doyle was “tone deaf to the appearance of things.”

“It looks like he got a refund,” he told AP. “If the donations were inappropriate at one time, what made them suddenly appropriate?”

Ross said state aid has been critical for an expansion of Burger Boat that has doubled the size of the firm to 400 employees.

“We need more people in politics that are like Jim Doyle,” he said. “He’s going up against a formidable opponent here and I happen to think he’s doing a wonderful job and would like to see him re-elected.”

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