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Organization files ethics complaints against national, state Democratic groups

Organization files ethics complaints against national, state Democratic groups


A state elections watchdog group has filed ethics complaints against three political groups, alleging one contributed more than legally allowed and the other two misreported funds.

The complaints, filed by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, allege that the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee donated three times the allowable limit to a state committee and that some of those funds may have been misused and misreported, according to a Tuesday news release.

“One of the primary missions of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign is to track and expose money in politics,” the group’s executive director, Matt Rothschild, said in a statement. “We don’t care if it’s a Democratic group or a Republican group that is not following the rules. We’ll blow the whistle no matter who it is.”

Rothschild is a former editor of The Progressive magazine and his predecessor at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Mike McCabe, ran for governor last year as a Democrat. But unlike other groups that have formed to boost one party, the Democracy Campaign has stuck to tracking political donations and campaign spending, and advocating for less money in politics.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee works to get Democrats elected into U.S. state legislatures.

While state law limits the amount of allowable annual donations from groups like the national campaign committee to $12,000 per year in corporate contributions, WDC reports the group gave three donations in that amount — totaling $36,000 — to the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee last year.

In addition, donated funds cannot be given to candidates or used for express advocacy and should be placed in a segregated account. WDC alleges the Wisconsin State Senate Democratic Committee placed two of the $12,000 donations into the committee’s regular campaign account, rather than a segregated account.

Katie Iliff, executive director of the State Senate Democratic Committee, said in an email the committee is in full compliance with state campaign finance laws.

“While we share the WDC’s concerns with the corporate finance laws passed by Gov. (Scott) Walker and Republican politicians, the allegation made by the WDC fails to include critical information regarding refunded contributions,” Iliff said in an email. “A DLCC contribution was refunded in 2019 and we will work with the Ethics Commission to ensure that refund is properly reflected in their reporting system.”

The third complaint alleges that a $12,000 donation to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin was misreported as a PAC contribution. The funds also did not get placed in a required segregated account.

“Corporate contributions to political parties and legislative campaign committees are an invitation to corruption,” Rothschild said in a statement. “That’s why the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign opposed the horrendous change in our campaign finance laws in 2015 that allowed corporations, for the first time in 100 years, to donate to political parties and legislative campaign committees.”

WDC also on Tuesday reported that state Democratic and Republican parties, along with four legislative fundraising committees, accepted more than $1.1 million in corporate contributions in 2019.

The state Republican party and two GOP committees accepted about 78% of those funds, while the state Democratic Party and two Democratic committees took in about 22% of corporate contributions.

Corporate contributions amounted to nearly $1.7 million in 2018, more than $1 million in 2017 and more than $1.2 million in 2016.

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