Democrats have wasted little time blasting Republican vice presidential pick Rep. Paul Ryan over his blueprint for the federal budget, but a more obscure part of his record could also draw attention: his relationship with a convicted Wisconsin businessman.
Ryan accepted nearly $60,000 in contributions from businessman Dennis Troha and his family, records show. Troha was later indicted on campaign finance charges over an Indian casino he sought to open. During the casino application process, Troha said, Ryan, R-Wis., called federal regulators at his request.
Ryan also 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 congressman had accepted from Troha and his family.
The Wisconsin congressman was not found to have violated any laws, nor was he a target or key figure in the federal investigation, people familiar with the probe said. He was among more than 20 politicians of both parties who benefited from Troha’s largesse. Troha was convicted of funneling illegal donations to other politicians, not Ryan, and Ryan donated Troha’s contributions to youth programs when the businessman was indicted.
When a Troha associate pleaded guilty in the campaign finance scheme, the only political figure specifically named in court documents for receiving contributions from the associate was Ryan.
A Romney campaign official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not an authorized spokesman, said the campaign looked into the Troha matter and concluded it was a complete non-issue.
In an interview Saturday, Troha said he supported Ryan’s opponent when Ryan first was elected to Congress, but he soon gravitated toward the young politician.
Paul is a very bright, energetic and talented young man, said Troha, who sold his shares in the company in 2006. My family was blessed financially, and I thought, My goodness, this is someone, if he wins, we should support him.’
Franklyn Gimbel, the lawyer who represented Troha in the criminal case, described him and Ryan as friends but said Troha was a generous guy to people from all parties.
Between 1999 and 2005, Troha and his family members contributed $58,102 to Ryan’s campaigns, according to campaign finance records. At the time, he was seeking support for his proposal to open an $808 million Indian casino in Ryan’s district.
Although state officials had final approval, Ryan agreed to call the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was reviewing environmental impact studies. He stated that his constituents are in favor of the application, according to an email written by a bureau staffer and obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which wrote extensively about the Ryan-Troha relationship.
In a 2006 interview with the newspaper, Ryan described the call as a routine inquiry on behalf of a constituent and said he was neutral on the casino project. But Troha said Ryan made it very clear to me that he opposed the project and felt it was not appropriate for the district.
I just asked him to make contact to see where things stood, he said.
A spokeswoman for Ryan’s congressional office, Smythe Anderson, said Saturday that Ryan, just as he has done for tens of thousands of constituents in southern Wisconsin, placed an inquiry with a federal agency. It is a simple example of casework, and there was never any allegation of impropriety.
In March 2007, a federal grand jury indicted Troha on charges that he funneled illegal contributions in violation of campaign limits through family members to Wisconsin’s Democratic governor, Jim Doyle, in an effort to win approval for the casino. Troha pleaded guilty to reduced misdemeanor charges four months later and was sentenced to probation.