WDC Files Elections Board Complaint on Party ‘Issue Ads’

Both Major Parties Trying to Exploit Loophole Special Interests Use to Escape Disclosure

August 9, 2001

Madison - The state Democratic and Republican parties violated Wisconsin campaign finance laws when they paid for ads attacking clearly identified candidates for state office but did not report the spending, according to complaints filed today with the state Elections Board by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The parties characterized the communications as "issue ads" that do not have to be disclosed. Phony issue ads run by state political parties are the newest campaign finance abuse in Wisconsin and are used to conceal the special interest money in campaigns from public view, said WDC executive director Mike McCabe.

The ads cited in the Democracy Campaign’s complaints include Democratic direct mail communications in several state Assembly districts before last fall’s general election and Republican radio ads focusing on the state school superintendent race aired before this year’s spring election.

Special interest groups in Wisconsin now commonly use issue ads to escape the disclosure requirements in Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws. While the groups contend issue ads should not be subject to the same regulation as campaign ads because they are educational in nature and do not expressly advocate the election or defeat of candidates, the ads disparage or praise named candidates and are plainly aimed at persuading voters how to cast their ballots.

It is disingenuous for special interest groups to pass off blatant electioneering as mere issue discussion or voter education, McCabe said, but it’s an even more egregious abuse when the state parties do it because under Wisconsin law political parties are committees organized exclusively for political purposes.

"Getting people elected is what political parties exist for," McCabe said. "These ads focused on specific candidates, ran within days of an election, and were paid for by organizations under whose names candidates appear on the ballot. To suggest the parties were just discussing issues is ridiculous."

The WDC complaints were necessary because the state Elections Board has not taken action to stop the state parties from squeezing through the issue ad loophole to evade reporting requirements, McCabe said.

"Common sense tells you that ads run by a political party are political, not just educational. A plain reading of state law leads to the conclusion that parties can’t do issue ads," he said. "Instead of being guided by common sense and remaining faithful to the plain meaning of the state law, the Elections Board has tortured the statutes to allow the parties to dance around their obligation to tell the people of Wisconsin who’s really behind these ads. Elections Board members have forgotten they have a duty to serve the interests of the whole state and not just the narrow interests of the people in power who appointed them."

McCabe also said party officials’ claims that parties have a First Amendment right to engage in unreported issue advocacy at the state level is a red herring. By voluntarily organizing as political parties as defined in state law, the parties have agreed to limits on their activities, he said. Among the limits they've voluntarily agreed to is raising and spending money solely for political purposes. The parties also have organized themselves as political committees under a section of state law that requires them to file reports of their fund raising and disbursements with the state Elections Board.

"This has nothing to do with the First Amendment. Requiring the parties to play by rules they willingly agreed to is hardly an infringement on free speech," he said.

Complaint against Democratic PartyCompaint against Republican Party

Complaint Against Democratic Party State of Wisconsin
Before the Elections Board

The Complaint of:
Michael McCabe

Complainant,

vs.

Complaint

Paste date here

Steve Kean, Executive Director,
the Democratic Party of Wisconsin,

Thomas Clement, Financial Manager,
the Democratic Party of Wisconsin,

Respondents.

This complaint is under Wis. Stat. § 11.60.

I, Michael McCabe, allege that:

1. I am an elector of the State of Wisconsin, and reside at 3634 Alpine Road, Madison, WI 53704.

2. I am also Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit corporation headquartered at 210 North Bassett Street, Suite 215, Madison, WI 53703.

3. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin ("DPW") is headquartered at 222 State Street, Madison, WI 53703.

4. The DPW is a state committee registered under Wis. Stat. § 11.05, is organized exclusively for political purposes, and under its name candidates appear on ballots at elections. Wis. Stat. § 5.02(13).

5. Upon information and belief, the DPW’s Executive Director is Steve Kean.

6. Upon information and belief, the DPW’s Financial Manager is Thomas Clement.

7. In the fall election of 2000, Judy Krawczyk was a Republican candidate for State Assembly in the 70th district. She was opposed by Democratic candidate Steve Peggs.

8. In the fall election of 2000, Mary Ann Lippert was a Republican candidate for State Assembly in the 88th district. She was opposed by Democratic candidate Amy Sue Vruwink.

9. In the fall election of 2000, Jerry Petrowski was a Republican candidate for State Assembly in the 86th district. He was opposed by Democratic candidate Sandi Cihlar.

10. Upon information and belief, the DPW mailed printed materials ("the mailings") to electors of each of these Assembly districts criticizing candidates Krawczyk, Lippert and Petrowski. Copies of the mailings are attached hereto as Exhibits A, B and C.

11. Upon information and belief, the Krawczyk mailing (Exhibit A) was received by electors in the 70th Assembly district within 30 days of November 7, 2000 ("Election Day").

12. Upon information and belief, the Lippert mailing (Exhibit B) was received by electors in the 88th Assembly district within 30 days of Election Day.

13. The Petrowski mailing (Exhibit C) was received by electors in the 86th Assembly district within 30 days of Election Day.

14. Each mailing clearly and separately identified candidates Krawczyk, Lippert and Petrowski.

Claim One

15. The Complainant realleges ¶¶ 1-14.

16. By voluntarily organizing as a political party as defined in Wis. Stat. § 5.02(13) and registering as a political party committee under Wis. Stat. § 11.05, the DPW has agreed to limit its disbursements and solicit contributions solely for political purposes.

17. Because the speaker, the DPW, is organized voluntarily and exclusively for political purposes, and because the mailings occurred within 30 days of an election and clearly identified candidates Krawczyk, Lippert and Petrowski, the disbursements made for the mailings were for a political purpose.

18. Because no reasonable person could construe the mailings as intended for any other purpose other than that of expressly advocating the defeat of clearly identified candidates Judy Krawczyk, Mary Ann Lippert and Jerry Petrowski, the disbursements made for the mailings were for a political purpose.

19. The DPW failed to file an oath for independent disbursements against Judy Krawczyk, Mary Ann Lippert and Jerry Petrowski in violation of Wis Stat. § 11.06(7)(a) and therefore its disbursements for the mailings were contributions to the campaigns of Steve Peggs, Amy Sue Vruwink and Sandi Cihlar, respectively.

20. The DPW failed to report the disbursements made for the mailing ads as contributions to the campaign committees of the candidates opposing Krawczyk, Lippert and Petrowski in violation of Wis. Stat. §§ 11.06(1) and 11.12(3).

Claim Two

21. The Complainant realleges ¶¶ 1-20.

22. The DPW failed to obtain the proper authorization to make an in-kind contribution and therefore made an in-kind contribution in violation of Wis. Stat. § 11.16(1)(b).

Claim Three

23. The Complainant realleges ¶¶ 1-22.

24. Upon information and belief, the amount of money disbursed for purposes of the mailings exceeded $20.00 in each instance, and such disbursements were made no later than 15 days prior to Election Day.

25. In the event that the Elections Board determines that disbursements made for the mailings were independent expenditures, Complainant requests that the Board find and conclude that the DPW:

a. Failed to file a statement under oath that it acted independently of candidates Steve Peggs, Amy Sue Vruwink, and Sandi Cihlar in violation of 11.06(7);

b. Failed to report to the State Elections Board within 24 hours of making the disbursements required to effect the mailings in violation of Wis. Stat. § 11.12(6).

c. Failed to disclose on a separate schedule showing for each disbursement required to effect the mailings, the name of the candidate or candidates on whose behalf, or in opposition to whom, the disbursement was made and indicating whether the purpose was support or opposition in violation of Wis. Stat. § 11.06(1)(j).

Claim Four

26. The Complainant realleges ¶¶ 1-14 and ¶ 16.

27. In the alternative that the Elections Board finds the mailings were not made for a political purpose, the Complainant alleges upon information and belief that the DPW has paid for the mailings from funds solicited for political purposes in violation of Wis. Stat. §11.25(2)(a).

Requested Relief

WHEREFORE, Complainant requests the imposition of civil penalties against the Democratic Party of Wisconsin for each violation alleged herein and such further relief as the Board may provide in the interest of fair, honest and open elections.

Michael McCabe, Complainant

Complaint Against Republican Party State of Wisconsin
Before the Elections Board

The Complaint of:
Michael McCabe

Complainant,

vs.

Complaint

Paste date here

Darren E. Schmitz, Executive Director,
the Republican Party of Wisconsin,

Buck Schilling, Treasurer,
the Republican Party of Wisconsin,

Respondents.

This complaint is under Wis. Stat. § 11.60.

I, Michael McCabe, allege that:

1. I am an elector of the State of Wisconsin, and reside at 3634 Alpine Road, Madison, WI 53704.

2. I am also Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit corporation headquartered at 210 North Bassett Street, Suite 215, Madison, WI 53703.

3. The Republican Party of Wisconsin ("RPW") is headquartered at 148 East Johnson Street, Madison, WI 53703.

4. The RPW is a state committee registered under Wis. Stat. § 11.05, is organized exclusively for political purposes, and under its name candidates appear on ballots at elections. Wis. Stat. § 5.02(13).

5. Upon information and belief, the RPW’s Executive Director is Darren E. Schmitz.

6. Upon information and belief, the RPW’s Treasurer is Buck Schilling.

7. The election for Wisconsin’s State Superintendent of Public Instruction occurred on April 3, 2001 (the "Spring Election"). Elizabeth Burmaster and Linda Cross were candidates for State Superintendent of Public Instruction in that election.

8. Upon information and belief, the RPW purchased air time on certain Wisconsin radio stations to broadcast an advertisement which is the subject of this Complaint and which is hereinafter referred to as the "Student Safety Ad." Attached hereto as Exhibit A is a transcript of the Student Safety Ad.

9. The RPW purchased air time to run the Student Safety Ad on the following radio stations from March 26 to April 2, 2001: WIBA-AM, WTSO and WMLI in Madison from March 26 to April 1, 2001. Attached hereto as Exhibit B is a copy of the broadcast order contract/confirmation ("Order") with these radio stations. The Order indicates that the ads were purchased on behalf of the RPW.

10. The Student Safety Ad clearly identified a candidate, Elizabeth Burmaster.

Claim One

11. The Complainant realleges ¶¶ 1-10.

12. By voluntarily organizing as a political party as defined in Wis. Stat. § 5.02(13) and registering as a political party committee under Wis. Stat. § 11.05, the RPW has agreed to limit its disbursements and solicit contributions solely for political purposes.

13. The Student Ad clearly referenced the pending election: "Elizabeth Burmaster, then principal of the school, is now running for Superintendent of Public Instruction and she wants to be in charge of Wisconsin schools-including yours." (Exhibit A).

14. Because the speaker, the RPW, is organized voluntarily and exclusively for political purposes, and because the speech, the Student Safety Ad, clearly identified a candidate and ran on radio within 30 days before the election involving that candidate, the disbursements made for the Student Safety Ad were for a political purpose.

15. Because no reasonable person could construe the Student Safety Ad as intended for any other purpose other than that of expressly advocating the defeat of a clearly identified candidate, the disbursements made for the Student Safety Ad were for a political purpose.

16. The RPW failed to file an oath for independent disbursements against Elizabeth Burmaster as required in violation under Wis. Stat. § 11.06(7)(a) and therefore its disbursements were contributions to the Linda Cross campaign.

17. The RPW failed to report the disbursements made for the Student Safety Ad as a contribution to the Linda Cross campaign in violation of Wis. Stat. §§ 11.06(1) and 11.12(3).

Claim Two

18. Complainant realleges ¶¶ 1-17.

19. The RPW failed to obtain the proper authorization to make an in-kind contribution and therefore made an in-kind contribution in violation of Wis. Stat. § 11.16(1)(b).

Claim Three

20. The Complainant realleges ¶¶ 1-19.

21. Upon information and belief, the amount of money disbursed for purposes of the Student Safety Ad exceeded $20.00, and such disbursements were made no later than 15 days prior to Election Day.

22. In the event that the Elections Board determines that disbursements made for the Student Safety Ad were independent expenditures, Complainant requests that the Board find and conclude that the RPW:

a. Failed to file a statement under oath that it acted independently of candidate Linda Cross in violation of 11.06(7);

b. Failed to report to the State Elections Board within 24 hours of making the disbursements required to effect the Student Safety Ad in violation of Wis. Stat. § 11.12(6).

c. Failed to disclose on a separate schedule showing for each disbursement required to effect the Student Safety Ad, the name of the candidate or candidates on whose behalf, or in opposition to whom, the disbursement was made and indicating whether the purpose was support or opposition in violation of Wis. Stat. § 11.06(1)(j).

Claim Four

23. The Complainant realleges ¶¶ 1-10 and ¶ 12.

24. In the alternative that the Elections Board finds the mailings were not made for a political purpose, the Complainant alleges upon information and belief that the RPW has paid for the mailings from funds solicited for political purposes in violation of Wis. Stat. §11.25(2)(a).

Requested Relief

WHEREFORE, Complainant requests the imposition of civil penalties against the Republican Party of Wisconsin for each violation alleged herein and such further relief as the Board may provide in the interest of fair, honest and open elections.

Michael McCabe, Complainant

Complaint against Democratic PartyCompaint against Republican Party