State Elections Board Does It Again

Nothing, that is

December 10, 2003

Madison - The state Elections Board remained true to its see-no-evil track record today when it dismissed complaints and over 200 pages of accompanying evidence that Democratic Governor James Doyle and Republican Assembly Speaker John Gard repeatedly violated state campaign finance disclosure laws by failing to reveal the occupations and employers of hundreds of big campaign donors.

Both Gard and Doyle acknowledged failing to report the legally required information cited in the complaints filed by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. But the board accepted the two veteran politicians’ excuse that they acted in "good faith" in seeking the information from contributors but the donors did not cooperate.

The Elections Board overlooked the fact that while Doyle and Gard neglected to disclose the donors’ employment information for well over a year in some cases, they were able to obtain and report the missing information in a matter of days after the complaints were filed.

The state campaign finance disclosure law requires 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. The board could have fined Doyle and Gard a combined total of $123,000 for the violations cited in the complaints.

For 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.

Gard failed to disclose the required occupational and employment information for 39 contributions worth $10,512 for 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.

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 during the timespan the complaints covered.

"To say that the governor and speaker showed 'good faith' in reporting their campaign finances stretches the definition of 'good faith' way past the point where it has any meaning," WDC executive director Mike McCabe said. "Dismissing these complaints shows once again that this board will go to extreme lengths to avoid taking action against the politicians they answer to."

The Elections 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.

McCabe said this latest example of board unwillingness to enforce Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws underscores the need for reform of the board’s flawed structure.

"The lesson here is simple. If you hold elected officials accountable for obeying the law, they’ll obey it. If you don’t, they won’t," he said. "The Elections Board has shown time and time again that it will not enforce the law. That’s because the structure of the board makes it a classic example of the fox guarding the henhouse."

WDC supports legislation awaiting a vote in the Senate - Senate Bill 11 - that would combine the state Elections Board and Ethics Board under the direction of a more politically independent board with increased enforcement powers.