Australian toll operator admits to illegal contributions

| 7/3/2008

Officials with Australian toll road operator Transurban have admitted to making $172,000 in illegal contributions to 90 political campaigns in the state of Virginia.

Michael Kulper, executive vice president for the company’s North American operations based in New York, sent a letter to elected officials and political action committees to apologize and admit to what he called an honest mistake. Since the contributions originated outside the U.S., they should not have been allowed.

“Transurban is aware of nothing to suggest that any candidate or committee knew there was anything improper about the donations,” Kulper wrote in the letter, adding that Transurban’s status as a U.S. company “did not alone make us eligible to contribute to Virginia campaigns.”

Kulper’s apology included a request that the donations be returned. Transurban would, in turn, make a donation to the Court Appointed Special Advocates program to help abused and neglected children.

Charlie Kelly, director of Gov. Tim Kaine’s political action committee Moving Virginia Forward, said there was no way of knowing Transurban’s contributions were illegal until company officials came forward.

“It was our belief that Transurban USA’s contributions were made in compliance with state and federal law at the time they were made,” Kelly said in a statement to Land Line.

“We received contributions from a U.S. company through U.S. representatives. As such, we had no reason to question the contributions.”

Kelly said any out-of-compliance contributions accepted by Kaine for Governor, Kaine Inaugural 2006, or Moving Virginia Forward, will be returned in full.

Transurban’s chief toll road operations are based in Melbourne, Australia. In 2006, the company won a 99-year lease of the 8.8-mile Pocahontas Parkway in Richmond, VA.

A year later, Transurban began working with the federal government and state of Virginia to expand the Capital Beltway from eight lanes to 12 lanes through the implementation of high-occupancy toll lanes.

Transurban and partner Fluor Corporation of Texas partnered to build HOT lanes on the Beltway using $589 million in private activity bonds issued by the federal government, another $589 million in federal grants, $409 million from the state of Virginia, and $350 million in privately raised capital.

The toll operator will build and manage the lanes in exchange for 75 years of toll revenue.

A third tolling proposal involving Transurban has not yet come to fruition. It involves the expansion of Interstate 95 and Interstate 395, also in Virginia.

– By David Tanner, staff writer