One Wisconsin Now Seeks Attorney General Schimel Opinion On Elected Official’s Use of ‘Public Figure’ Facebook Page to Fundraise for Personal Expenses
Case of Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander Provides Opportunity for New Attorney General to Take Strong Stand, Clarify Law on Political Corruption
MADISON, Wis. — Should an elected official be allowed to use a “public figure” Facebook page to help solicit contributions to cover personal, family expenses? That’s what Milwaukee County Supervisor Deanna Alexander did late last year, and it’s why One Wisconsin Now has requested an opinion on the legality of such solicitations from Attorney General Brad Schimel.
“We believe state law is absolutely clear — elected officials cannot use their public position, be it a meeting in their office or a social media page, for their private benefit,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “It certainly seems Supervisor Alexander crossed that line in using her Facebook page to help solicit contributions to help pay for personal family expenses.”
One Wisconsin Now filed an ethics complaint in Milwaukee County after Supervisor Deanna Alexander used her “public figure” Facebook page to link to an online donation page soliciting contributions to help Ms. Alexander cover personal expenses. A review of donations made via the fundraising page found that Ms. Alexander and her family received significant funds, including at least $7,000 from two ostensibly anonymous contributions. The Milwaukee County Ethics Board refused to act in the matter or provide an opinion on what conduct may or may not be allowable.
Ross noted that Wisconsin Statute 19.59 (1)(a)(a) also clearly bans public officials from using their position to raise money to cover personal expenses, stating in part, “No local public official may use his or her public position or office to obtain financial gain or anything of substantial value for the private benefit of himself or herself or his or her immediate family, or for an organization with which he or she is associated.”
He concluded, “Elected officials take an oath of office and agree to abide by certain rules to prevent the appearance or existence of actual corruption, one of which is using their position to raise money for their personal expenses. Hopefully Attorney General Schimel will take a strong stand against political corruption and weigh in to clarify this for Ms. Alexander and provide clear guidance for others in the future.”