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Another Wisconsin Multimillionaire Wants A U.S. Senate Seat

July 4, 1992 GMT

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Wisconsin, already represented by one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. Senate, now has another multimillionaire businessman who wants to pay his own way to Washington.

Joseph Checota is seeking the Democratic nomination for the seat held by Republican Sen. Bob Kasten. He says he has spent $2 million of his own money on his campaign thus far, and expects to spend three times that by the fall elections.

″People don’t care that I’m a millionaire. I think people recognize that I can relate to them,″ said Checota, chairman of Universal Medical Buildings, which designs, builds, finances and leases medical buildings.

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″And I think the voters of Wisconsin would rather have me finance my campaign with money I spent a lifetime earning than with contributions I received from special interests.″

Four years ago, Democrat Herb Kohl used the same tactic, spending $5 million of his own money to win a vacant Senate seat. His slogan: ″Nobody’s senator but yours.″

Texas billionaire Ross Perot has sounded similar themes in his independent presidential candidacy.

Checota, 53, has hired the same campaign advisers who helped Kohl, the 57- year-old heir to a department and grocery store fortune and owner of the Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball team.

Checota, who has never held elected office, faces U.S. Rep. Jim Moody, state Sen. Russell Feingold and three other candidates in the Sept. 8 primary. Kasten is seeking a third term, and has attracted one primary opponent so far. The filing deadline is July 14.

″You can’t hold it against someone for being a millionaire,″ said Norman N. Gill, political research scholar at Marquette University. ″I think people are more concerned that their record is clean.

″For instance, Kohl has shown he can’t be bought and sold. That’s more important than how many millions he has,″ Gill said. ″And I think people are also less interested in how much money these men have than how it was amassed.″

That could be a problem for Checota, whose former employees and associates have called him unethical and power-hungry.

While the candidates have clashed over taxes, the budget deficit, term limits and other issues, the major issue has been the business record of Checota, who has earned more than $7 million since starting the firm almost 10 years ago.

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Checota was ousted in 1983 from a company he founded in 1966, accused by the board of directors of misusing company funds for personal purposes.

He has been sued more than 20 times in the last decade on allegations such as forcing partners or top executives out of his businesses; breaching written contracts; committing securities violations; enlisting partners in a form of real-estate racketeering; and misleading shareholders.

More than half of the suits were settled out of court, often with the terms undisclosed. Some of the rest are still pending. Checota has denied all the allegations made against him.

Employees accused Checota this year of strong-arming them into donating to his campaign. He denied the claims and returned all employee contributions.

Checota acknowledges that he has ″been known to step on a few toes″ during his business career, but says the accusations are unfair and politically motivated.

″About the only way professional politicians can beat a credible outsider like me is to smear me with negative attacks,″ he said.