Sen. Ron Johnson is Suing over Health Care, But Who’s Paying?

Questions Abound Over Sen. Johnson's Lack of Campaign Finance Disclosure, Legal Representation by Tax-Exempt Organization in Anti-Affordable Care Act Lawsuit

MADISON, Wis. — Tea Party U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act has been termed a “political stunt” by fellow Republicans, but is it more than just a case of far right-wing political pandering? Despite declaring he could use campaign funds to cover legal costs, a review of Sen. Ron Johnson’s campaign finance reports covering October 2013 through April 2014 reveal no incurred obligations or expenditures related to the suit. And Johnson may have also strayed onto questionable legal ground by having his legal representation be provided by a tax-exempt, non-profit organization.

One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross commented, “Sen. Johnson’s rabid opposition to helping people get life-saving health care and stopping insurance industry abuses like denying coverage raises questions about his judgment. The fact that he is using the lawsuit as a fundraising ploy for his campaign, yet discloses no campaign expenditures, and is utilizing the services of a tax-exempt organization also raises questions of ethics and legality.”

In January 2014, Sen. Johnson held a press conference announcing he was filing a lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. He said Rick Esenberg from the 501(c)(3) Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) would be providing his legal representation in the case. A second attorney, Paul Clement, also appeared at the press conference and was identified as being retained to handle any appeals in the case.

According to news reports, Johnson went on to say, “I’m hoping to be able to you know, quite honestly, raise funds through my campaign committee.” However, the federal tax code prohibits a 501(c)(3) organization from engaging in partisan election activities and from providing something of benefit to a political campaign.

Ross noted that Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, fronted by Attorney Esenberg, is largely underwritten by the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation. In addition to spending over half-a-billion dollars over the last decade on right-wing causes, Bradley head Michael Grebe serves as the co-chair of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign.

This is not the first controversy involving Sen. Johnson and his campaign fund. In 2010 Johnson made a $9 million “loan” to his election campaign. Almost immediately after the November 2010 election, he received a $10 million payout, that he termed “deferred compensation” from PACUR, Inc., a plastics business started by his father-in-law.

“There is no doubt that Sen. Johnson’s lawsuit is a political campaign stunt, even generating scorn from fellow Republicans. The question now is whether or not Sen. Johnson’s stunt has strayed beyond the bounds of the law. As Sen. Johnson said, this is an operation of his campaign, so why is there no record of it in his campaign finance reports?” concluded Ross.

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