Vos Appoints Former Head of Secretive Issue Ad Group to New Elections Board

March 4, 2016

The former leader of a conservative ideological group that secretly raised and spent an estimated $2.8 million on negative ads in statewide and legislative elections was appointed Friday to the state’s new partisan elections board.

Steve King, of Janesville, was appointed by Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, of Rochester, to the Wisconsin Election Commission, which takes over some of the duties of the state Government Accountability Board (GAB) this summer.

King, who is also a former state and national Republican Party leader, ran a group called the Coalition for America’s Families in during the 2006 and 2008 elections. The Virginia-based organization described itself as a coalition of businesses and nonprofit groups, and supported Republican candidates and so-called pro-family policies.

In 2006, the coalition spent more than $1 million in the governor and attorney general races and in support of the state’s so-called marriage protection amendment to ban gay marriage. The group sponsored broadcast ads that attacked Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in his reelection bid and Democratic Attorney General candidate Kathleen Falk. The group also contributed $385,000 to Vote Yes for Marriage, a political fundraising tool used by the conservative Family Research Institute of Wisconsin to support the state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage in Wisconsin.

In spring 2008, the group spent an estimated $480,000 to support challenger Michael Gableman’s successful campaign to defeat incumbent Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler. During the campaign, the group sponsored two television ads that attacked Butler for decisions issued by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in two murder cases.

And in the fall 2008 elections, the coalition doled out an estimated $1.3 million to support Republican candidates in numerous legislative races.

Between January 2005 and June 2015, King, and his wife, Karen, spent about $34,700 on direct contributions to candidates. Topping the list of recipients were former GOP Attorney General candidate Paul Bucher, $14,500; Republican Gov. Scott Walker, $7,434; and $1,500 each to current GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel and 2006 Republican candidate for governor Mark Green.

The new Elections Commission, along with a new Ethics Commission, was created in legislation approved late last year by the GOP-controlled legislature and Walker. The panels replace Wisconsin’s nationally-recognized nonpartisan GAB.

Four members on each commission are chosen by Democratic and Republican Assembly and Senate legislative leaders, and two members on each panel are be appointed by the governor, subject to Senate approval. The appointees will serve five-year terms.