Wisconsin Republicans are questioning Democratic candidate for governor Mahlon Mitchell’s management of funds as president of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, accusing him of using the union as a “political slush fund” to boost his campaign.
On a call with reporters on Wednesday, Republican Party of Wisconisin officials also raised questions about a $38,000 payment listed on a federal filling as a “lawsuit settlement” to Adrienne Belton in 2015. Belton, according to her LinkedIn profile, served as an executive assistant at the union for several years before the payment was made. The union was reimbursed by ULLICO Casualty Group for the payment in a filing listed as “reimbursement for Adrienne Belton issue.”
In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published on Wednesday, Belton said the payment was made “mostly to cover unused paid time off and office equipment.”
Asked last week about the payment, PFFW secretary-treasurer Steve Wilding said ”the only thing that can be said about this is: the PFFW doesn’t comment about personnel matters.”
RPW executive director Mark Morgan said regardless of what the lawsuit payment was for, “it speaks to a broader mismanagement” of firefighters’ union dues. The payment is “further evidence of more misuse of funds, more abuse of those funds and not acting in the best interest of the firefighters,” Morgan said.
Morgan also highlighted $130,000 in payments made by the union to liberal groups including One Wisconsin Now, the Greater Wisconsin Committee and Wisconsin Progress, and more than $40,000 of contributions made by the union to efforts supporting Mitchell’s 2012 recall campaign for lieutenant governor.
“What we’ve seen from Mahlon time and again in his time at the union is that he will consistently put his own personal wellbeing and personal, political interests ahead of his members,” Morgan said.
The party previously criticized Mitchell for a 2015 U.S. Department of Labor audit which found the PFFW did not adequately document expenses including hotels, meals and reimbursements for its leaders.
The review of the union’s 2014 records found that the union did not retain proper documentation for disbursements to vendors, payments to officers and 274 credit card charges totaling about $69,000. Officers and employees also were not required to provide itemized receipts for meal expenses totaling about $32,000 that year. Those records also did not include explanations of the union business conducted or the names of the people whose meals were covered.
Mitchell said earlier this year that the union started using a different accounting firm several years ago and has made all the changes recommended in the audit.
Kirsten Allen, a spokeswoman for Mitchell’s campaign, criticized Republican Gov. Scott Walker in response to the RPW call.
"Again, Scott Walker is rolling out his divide and conquer playbook of the past. He's clearly afraid of Mahlon and the coalition we've built behind a campaign focused on Wisconsin rising together,” Allen said in an email. “While Mahlon runs into burning buildings and responds to medical emergencies, Walker won’t even face corrections officers that he is supposed to support."
Allen was referencing comments Walker made Tuesday when asked whether he would visit any of the state’s prisons if re-elected for a third term. Walker, unlike his most recent Democratic and Republican predecessors, has not visited the prisons as governor.
"No, to me there's no value to me visiting," Walker said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "To me, there's people that we hire to run the corrections system and, certainly, we'll allow them to do their jobs."