State Elections Board to Act Tomorrow on WDC Complaints Against Governor, Assembly Speaker for Disclosure Violations
Doyle, Gard face up to $123,000 in fines for illegal donations
December 9, 2003
Madison - The state Elections Board could fine Democratic Governor James Doyle and Republican Assembly Speaker John Gard a combined $123,000 when it meets Wednesday to consider Wisconsin Democracy Campaign complaints that the veteran politicians violated state campaign finance laws by failing to fully disclose the source of hundreds of campaign donations.
The complaints and 216 pages of accompanying evidence show Doyle and Gard repeatedly violated the state campaign finance disclosure law requiring candidates to identify the occupation and employer of contributors who give a candidate more than $100 in a year. The law allows the board to levy civil fines of up to $500 per violation.
In responses to the complaints, both Gard and Doyle acknowledged they had failed to report the required information in the cases cited by WDC. However, both said they had acted in "good faith" in seeking the information from contributors but the donors did not cooperate.
Their claim of good faith effort is undercut by the impressive speed with which both Doyle and Gard were able to obtain the missing information upon learning of the complaints after neglecting to do so for more than a year in some cases, WDC executive director Mike McCabe said.
For anywhere from 125 days to as many as 426 days, Doyle failed to identify the special interests behind 207 contributions worth $104,278 to his campaign between August 27, 2002 and June 30, 2003. Within 14 business days of the WDC’s complaint being filed, the Doyle campaign sent the Elections Board eight pages worth of missing donor information.
In Gard’s case, his campaign failed to disclose the required occupational and employment information for 39 contributions worth $10,512 for anywhere from 127 days to as many as 390 days. Gard’s campaign collected and reported nearly all the missing contributor information within five business days of receiving the complaint.
"The speaker and the governor proved our case when they gathered information in a few days that they had neglected to report for well over a year in many cases," McCabe said. "Our complaint held them accountable for obeying the law in a way that the state Elections Board never has. If the Elections Board would enforce this law, the law would be respected."
Under the law, the Elections Board could levy up to $103,500 in civil forfeitures on Doyle’s campaign and up to $19,500 in forfeitures on Gard’s campaign.
McCabe said stiff penalties should be assessed against the governor and speaker because they were by far the worst offenders among 60 current officeholders who had missing information on their reports involving a total of 459 contributions worth $183,963. Between them, Doyle and Gard accounted for 62 percent of the dollar value of the improperly disclosed contributions and 54 percent of the total number of donations with missing occupational and employment information.
In addition, Doyle and Gard have been persistent violators of the disclosure requirement who have received failing grades in past WDC reviews of campaign finance reports filed by candidates for statewide office and the Legislature for January 2001 through August 2002.
Doyle received an F for failing to disclose adequate employment-related data on $96,380 worth of contributions received in the first half of 2001. He received a C for $21,736 worth of poorly reported contributions in the last half of 2001 and a B for missing information on $43,800 worth of 2002 contributions accepted through late August. Gard’s previous grades were a B, an F and a C for missing information on contributions ranging from $800 to $1,650. The grades were based on the percentage of a candidate’s total large individual contributions that had missing information.
The law requiring employment and occupational information for donors who give over $100 is the most important part of Wisconsin’s campaign finance disclosure laws because it identifies the special interests behind the contributions that influence elected officials, McCabe said.
"This law is the heart and soul of campaign finance disclosure. Without it, all you have on campaign finance reports are names on paper and citizens cannot see which interests are influencing their elected representatives," he said.
Of the more than two dozen states that require disclosure of the occupation and employer of donors, at least three - California, Connecticut and Minnesota - take the requirement particularly seriously by requiring candidates to return contributions if the required occupation and employer information is not provided. The Elections Board could and should order all Wisconsin candidates with improperly reported contributions to provide the missing information or return the money to the donors, McCabe said.
Instead, the Elections Board has been lax in its enforcement of the law, a practice that is rooted in the board’s flawed structure, he said. The board is controlled by appointees of the four legislative leaders, the governor and the two major political parties. Board member Donald Goldberg of Milwaukee is an appointee of Governor Doyle. Gard appointed Patrick Hodan of Milwaukee to the board.
Legislation awaiting a vote in the Senate - Senate Bill 11 - would combine the state Elections Board and Ethics Board under the direction of a more politically independent board with increased enforcement powers. SB 11 has received committee approval and awaits scheduling for debate in the full Senate.