MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board could be opening Wisconsin’s doors to an avalanche of future illegal campaign activity after settling for a miniscule fine of $500 from All Children Matter, ignoring evidence the group possibly funneled Wisconsin corporate contributions through a Virginia political action committee in violation of Wisconsin campaign finance law.
“The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board has utterly failed the people of Wisconsin in its duty to fully investigate campaign wrong-doing,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “The Government Accountability Board has sent a message to the moneyed interests that the penalties for breaking campaign laws in Wisconsin are chump change.”
GAB’s precursor, the State Elections Board, had unanimously determined in 2006 that the group had violated its campaign finance rules on registering and reporting independent expenditures (express advocacy) in a district-wide mailer sent out against then-Rep. John Lehman (D-Racine) during his successful 2006 campaign for State Senate. With just a few months left before the GAB would come into existence, the Elections Board determined an investigation into the money laundering charges should be left to GAB.
After the October 13, 2006 complaint against All Children Matter was filed, All Children Matter scrambled to identify an organization registered in Wisconsin. Campaign finance reports filed in both states showed that the independent expenditures were financed with money from All Children Matter’s Virginia-based PAC. The Virginia PAC had received $90,000 from the Milwaukee-based Alliances for Choices in Education – a corporation prohibited under Wisconsin law from making contributions or sponsoring independent expenditures. The Virginia PAC also transferred $35,000 to the Wisconsin organization and the Wisconsin organizations then spent $33,632 attacking three Wisconsin candidates, including Lehman.
Wisconsin law prohibits corporate contributions. After the complaint was filed with the Elections Board about the Lehman mailing and its status as an unregistered independent expenditure, many questions were raised about the possibility of corporate funds being used to finance the Lehman mailings. Instead of comprehensive pursuit of this serious allegation of wrong-doing, the GAB issued a $500 forfeiture from All Children Matter for “fail[ing] to register with the Board in a timely manner.”
In April 2008, All Children Matter was leveled with a $5.2 million fine by the state of Ohio for illegally laundering $870,000 into the state. The GAB “fine” amounts to one-hundredth of one percent of the fine All Children Matter received in Ohio, despite allegations of similar wrong-doing in Wisconsin and the need for further investigation.
“The Government Accountability Board must do more to educate the people of Wisconsin on the extent of any investigation it conducts or decides not to pursue. In this case, we need to know at what stage of the investigation and for what reasons did the GAB decide not to pursue any further the allegations of corporate money laundering,” said Ross. “The Government Accountability Board owes the people of Wisconsin an explanation for its apparent toothlessness.”
The Government Accountability Board’s action on the All Children Matter case was revealed in a memo distributed to the GAB from its legal counsel in advance of the GAB’s October 5 meeting.