MADISON, Wis. — One Wisconsin Now has filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) alleging U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson has improperly failed to disclose any incurred obligations and expenditures associated with his lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, in violation of federal campaign finance reporting requirements. In early January 2014 Johnson announced he was filing a lawsuit to block implementation of the Affordable Care Act. He also publicly announced he intends to use campaign funds to pay legal bills and will use the suit to expand his fundraising list with an eye towards his 2016 election. Yet nearly six months later, Johnson has disclosed no spending associated with the lawsuit.
“Federal campaign disclosure requirements are quite clear, actual or estimated expenditures must be reported once there is a written agreement to make a campaign expenditure,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Sen. Johnson has crossed that threshold, admitting that he has a retainer agreement with counsel and will use campaign funds to pay bills.”
According to news reports, Johnson has signed a retainer agreement with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), and its lawyer Rick Esenberg, for legal services. WILL receives generous funding from the right-wing Bradley Foundation, headed by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign co-chair Michael Grebe. Johnson’s lawyer said there is no set timetable for when they might bill for legal services.
FEC campaign finance reporting guidelines indicate that, “a written agreement to make an expenditure, such as a media contract, constitutes an expenditure.” The guidelines further require that, even if the amount of the debt is unknown at the time a report must be filed, a committee must report an estimated amount and amend it when the actual amount is known.
Sen. Johnson has indicated that he believes he is under no obligation to make any disclosure until he receives a bill for services. Ross noted that under Johnson’s interpretation he could hide information from the public, potentially for years, and undermine the very purpose of requiring campaign finance disclosure.
He concluded, “Sen. Johnson is getting a sweetheart deal from a right-wing funded legal outfit to sue to take away people’s health care and eliminate protections from insurance company abuses, and he’s trying to fatten his campaign account while he’s at it. He at least owes the public the proper disclosure, not excuses.”