MADISON, Wis. — Rick Esenberg, head of the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), today changed his story again in response to questions about how his organization, heavily subsidized by the Bradley Foundation run by Gov. Walker’s campaign co-chair Michael Grebe, is being paid for legal work he is doing for U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. One Wisconsin Now originally filed a complaint in May with the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) alleging U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson improperly failed to disclose incurred obligations and expenditures associated with his lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act, in violation of federal campaign finance reporting requirements.
One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross commented, “Rick Esenberg is changing his story, again. We’re now supposed to believe that bills for legal work magically appeared the day after he denied to the media that there were any bills, and probably wouldn’t be any for some time.”
One Wisconsin Now updated its complaint with federal election regulators after tax records filed by WILL in May 2014 reported over $10,000 in legal fees were, “earned in 2013 but not collected until 2014,” in apparent contradiction to statements from representatives of both Sen. Johnson and WILL that no bills had been submitted or paid.
According to the most recent tax records available, the operations of WILL have been almost entirely funded by the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, headed by Gov. Walker’s campaign co-chair Michael Grebe. In total, WILL reported raising $1,158,128 in gifts, grants, contributions and membership fees in tax years 2011 and 2012. The Bradley Foundation reports having provided or approved $1 million in funding for WILL general operations over the same time.
To cut through the obfuscations and changing stories of the suspects, the following is a timeline in “Rick Esenberg, the Bradley Foundation and the Case of Ron Johnson’s Missing Legal Bills”:
January 6, 2014 – Complaint filed in federal court by WILL on behalf of Sen. Ron Johnson against the Office of Personnel Management over provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
January 6, 2014 – At a press conference, Sen. Johnson indicates legal costs in the case will be paid from his campaign account.
April 22, 2014 – The Washington Post reports Sen. Johnson intends to solicit campaign contributions to fund his legal bills and solicit new donors for his 2016 re-election bid.
April 4, 2014 – Sen. Johnson files his campaign finance report for the first quarter of 2014 (January through March), it does not disclose any expenditures or incurred obligations related to the lawsuit;
May 13, 2014 – Rick Esenberg and spokesperson for Ron Johnson in response to media questions about funding for the lawsuit allege no bills have been issued or paid;
May 15, 2014 – WILL files IRS Form 990 tax form reporting over $10,000 in legal fees were “earned in 2013 but not collected until 2014”;
July 7, 2014 – One Wisconsin Now provides FEC with new information on discrepancy between WILL tax filings and public statements that no legal fees have been incurred or billed;
July 9, 2014 – Via press release, WILL head Esenberg alleges legal bills totaling $51,878.50 were sent to Sen. Johnson on May 14, the day after he claimed in a media report that there were no bills.
Ross concluded, “The latest twist in this case, courtesy of Rick Esenberg’s changing story, does nothing to change the fact that this whole deal stinks. Sen. Johnson and Mr. Esenberg owe a full and truthful accounting of their dealings to the public, and we’re going to make sure the public gets it from them.”