Ethics Commission votes to dismiss baseless complaint by WDC

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission yesterday voted to dismiss the baseless ethics complaint filed by WDC against Wisconsin Liberty Fund last month.

A letter explaining the reasoning behind the Commission’s decision was sent to WDC today.  David Buerger, staff counsel for the Ethics Commission, explained that state law “does not prohibit a candidate from forming a separate political action committee.  As your (WDC’s) complaint indicates, an amendment to explicitly prohibit such activity was rejected by the Legislature.  While you allege that its rejection was because legislators believe such conduct was already prohibited under 2015 Act 117, the exchange you cited appears to reference the coordination prohibition of Wis. Stat. 11.1203 as the basis for why the amendment was unnecessary, not that forming a political action committee by itself was prohibited.”

At its October 10, 2016 meeting, the Wisconsin Ethics Commission reviewed the complaint and adopted a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of reasonable suspicion that the law has been violated.

WLF Response to baseless attack by WDC

For Immediate Release
September 2, 2016
Wisconsin Liberty Fund today filed a response to the baseless claims made yesterday by Matthew Rothschild, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy campaign.
Wisconsin Liberty Fund was lawfully established in accordance with state law.  WDC claims that the establishment of a political action committee by a candidate constitutes the illegal establishment of a second campaign committee.  This is patently false.  Wisconsin statute section 11.0101(25)(b) clearly states: “Political action committee does not include a candidate committee”.
Dean Knudson said today in response to WDC’s baseless attack, “The establishment of Wisconsin Liberty Fund is completely legal under the law.  The allegation that a political action committee constitutes a prohibited second campaign committee is entirely false.  By definition in Wisconsin Chapter 11, a political action committee is not a campaign committee. The complaint should be immediately dismissed.  If not, I will welcome the opportunity to further defend myself and Wisconsin Liberty Fund against this false accusation.”
Response Filed with Ethics Commission in Response to WDC complaint
 

Wisconsin Liberty Fund was lawfully established

1)    Complainant notes that state law prohibits a candidate from establishing more than one “candidate committee”.  On this point we agree.  However, Wisconsin statutes clearly define both a “candidate committee” and a “political action committee”.  A political action committee is not a candidate committee.

2)    Chapter 11 clearly states:
“Political action committee” does not include a candidate committee, legislative campaign committee, political party, or recall committee. Section 11.0101(25)(b)

3)    The establishment of the Wisconsin Liberty Fund was completely legal and transparent.

Campaign funds were lawfully transferred

4)    Since I am not seeking re-election and do not intend to be a candidate for another office, I have started the process of terminating my campaign committee.  State law provides a campaign committee may only be terminated after disposal of residual funds.

5)    Campaign committee residual funds may be used for any purpose not prohibited by law. Section 11.0105

6)    Transfer of campaign committee funds to a political action committee is not prohibited by law.  The transfer of the funds was duly reported on campaign finance reports.

Comments on the Legislative History of AB387

7)    Complainant is a registered lobbyist who opposed AB387 which was signed into law as Act 117 in December 2015 .  Much of the complaint’s second section “The Clear Legislative History” reads more like an opinion article than a serious ethics complaint.  The lobbyist and his principal clearly have concerns about both past and future legislation, but an ethics complaint is not the proper venue for those discussions.

8)    Rather than proving current law prohibits the establishment of an express advocacy political action committee by a sitting legislator, the legislative record instead shows that there is no such prohibition.

9)    Senate Amendment 4 sought to amend AB387 by prohibiting candidates from forming express advocacy committees by adding the words: “No candidate may create or operate any committee, other than his or her candidate committee, that engages in issue or express advocacy”.

10)  Senator Erpenbach expressed his belief that unless amended, the bill would allow any candidate or legislator to establish a political action committee.  Senate Amendment 4 was not adopted. Anyone reading the current law will come to this same conclusion.  If that was not the case, there would have been no reason to introduce amendment 4.  The introduction and rejection of Senate Amendment 4 clearly shows that the establishment of Wisconsin Liberty Fund is completely legal under Chapter 11.

Response to unfounded allegations of corruption

11) In the third section, the complainant offers further opinions about imagined corruption under the current law.  With absolutely no facts in evidence, the complainant impugns the reputation and integrity of Wisconsin Liberty Fund, as well as all current and future elected officials in Wisconsin.

12) Wisconsin law prohibits “earmarking” of contributions to political action committees.  A contributor to a political action committee may not direct the committee to make a disbursement to a committee to support or oppose another candidate. Section 11.1202

13) Wisconsin law prohibits coordination of expenditures between a political action committee and a candidate unless in amounts under the regular contribution limits and reported as such by both committees.

14) Contrary to complainant’s  allegations, Chapter 11 states “No political action committee…may make an expenditure for express advocacy for the benefit of a candidate that is coordinated with that candidate, candidate’s committee, or candidate’s agent…in violation of the contribution limits…”.

Conclusion

The establishment of Wisconsin Liberty Fund was completely legal under the law.  The allegation that a political action committee constitutes a prohibited second campaign committee is entirely false.  By definition in Wisconsin Chapter 11, a political action committee is not a campaign committee. The complaint should be immediately dismissed.  If not, I will welcome the opportunity to further defend myself and Wisconsin Liberty Fund against this false accusation.