WDC Calls on Ethics and Elections Boards to Investigate Legislative Caucus Scandal

May 23, 2001

Madison - The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign today called on both the state Ethics Board and Elections Board to investigate apparent violations of state ethics and campaign finance laws by state employees working in the four taxpayer-funded legislative caucuses.

A Wisconsin State Journal investigation unearthed hundreds of records showing caucus staffers engaged in secret, illegal campaigning. The newspaper probe also features dozens of on-the-record descriptions of how state offices and resources are used to assist legislative candidates.

"It’s obvious laws have been broken," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. Both the Ethics Board and the Elections Board have responsibility in the matter because the newspaper’s documented evidence points to violations in areas overseen by both agencies, he said.

McCabe said the caucuses represent both an abuse of taxpayer money and an abuse of the democratic process.

"The caucuses are profoundly anti-democratic," he said. "They are the engine of the corrupt political machine that legislative leaders have used to consolidate power. Only current office holders and hand-picked challengers get their help. Taxpayer money is being used illegally to get favored insiders elected and keep them in office once they’re there."

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign has publicly called for the abolition of the legislative caucuses, which cost an estimated $3.9 million annually, since 1999.

Ethics Board LetterElections Board Letter

Letter to Ethics Board

May 22, 2001

James R. Morgan, Chairperson
State of Wisconsin Ethics Board
44 East Mifflin Street, Suite 601
Madison, WI 53703-2800

Dear Jim:

I am writing on behalf of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to urge the Ethics Board to investigate and take appropriate enforcement actions concerning apparent violations of Wisconsin campaign finance laws detailed in the Wisconsin State Journal investigation of the legislative caucuses.

The State Journal probe revealed widespread use of state offices, equipment and resources by state employees - on state time - to assist candidates. Based on the evidence documented by the State Journal, we conclude there have been numerous and repeated violations of state ethics laws governing campaign activities of state employees and legislators and prohibiting the solicitation of "any contribution or service for any political purpose" from state employees "while the officer is engaged in his or her official duties." We urge the Board to thoroughly review and evaluate the records the State Journal has acquired as well as the statements of involved state employees, for it appears the activities described by the newspaper are not only are a gross misuse of taxpayer funds, but also are in clear violation of state ethics laws.

We call on you to immediately investigate the apparent violations and quickly move to severely punish those who are found to have broken the law. A strong response from the Ethics Board is critical if the laws prohibiting the use of state offices and resources for political purposes are to have any meaning and offer any protection against corruption of the political process.

I look forward to hearing from the Board about its plans in this matter.

Sincerely,

Mike McCabe
Executive Director

Letter to Elections Board

May 22, 2001

John P. Savage, Chairperson
State of Wisconsin Elections Board
P.O. Box 2973
132 East Wilson Street, 2nd Floor
Madison, WI 53701-2973

Dear Mr. Savage:

I am writing on behalf of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign to urge the Elections Board to investigate and take appropriate enforcement actions concerning apparent violations of Wisconsin campaign finance laws detailed in the Wisconsin State Journal investigation of the legislative caucuses.

Based on the evidence documented by the State Journal, we conclude there have been numerous and repeated violations of the state law pertaining to unlawful political contributions. The State Journal probe revealed widespread use of state offices, equipment and resources by state employees - on state time - to assist candidates. These documented activities not only are a gross misuse of taxpayer funds, but also are in clear violation of section 11.24 of the state statutes which, as you know, says "No person may, directly or indirectly, make any contribution other than from funds or property belonging to the contributor."

The State Journal probe also unearthed plentiful evidence of collusion between a purportedly independent political group, Project Vote Informed, and state employees who were working on behalf of 12 candidates in the 2000 election. As you are well aware, section 11.06 (7) makes it illegal for any group making independent disbursements to "act in cooperation or consultation with any candidate or agent or authorized committee of a candidate." or to "act in concert with, or at the request or suggestion of, any candidate or agent or authorized committee of a candidate.." The records obtained by the State Journal as well as the statements of involved employees show a high level of interaction and collaboration between Project Vote Informed and state employees who were actively working on behalf of candidates who were aided by PVI’s activities.

I know the Board has traditionally been reluctant to take action on apparent campaign finance law violations absent a formal complaint filed by a citizen. This case is different and you should treat it differently. We are not in a position to readily obtain the documented evidence the State Journal has acquired. You are. We call on you to immediately investigate the apparent violations I referenced as well as any others that may surface, and quickly move to severely punish those who are found to have broken the law.

A strong response from the Elections Board is critical if the laws dealing with unlawful political contributions and prohibiting collaboration between legislative campaigns and independent

groups are to have any meaning and offer any protection against corruption of the political process.

I look forward to hearing from the Board about its plans in this matter.

Sincerely,

Mike McCabe
Executive Director