The Republican Party of Wisconsin has filed a complaint against a liberal group accused of election bribery in a get-out-the-vote scheme to elect liberal Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
The GOP’s complaint, however, alleges Wisconsin Takes Action and Organizing Empowerment PAC failed to file as a political action committee in the the state of Wisconsin, a violation of campaign finance law.
During a recent Wisconsin Takes Action training session, an organizer said the group is “focused on putting forth progressive ideas and implementing progressive laws, so, you know, we really are looking forward to her [Protasiewicz] as the candidate for this upcoming election.”
On the zoom call, officials from the group said organizers would offer gift cards to community mobilizers if they contact a minimum of 60 friends and family about voting for Protasiewicz.
Campaign finance experts tell The Wisconsin Daily Star those activities don’t appear to be a violation of election bribery law, but the group could be in violation of campaign finance registration laws.
The Wisconsin Republican Party asserts the PAC did not register with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. A political action committee that “makes or accepts contributions, makes disbursements, or incurs obligations to support or oppose a candidate in a calendar year in an aggregate amount in excess of $2,500 shall file a registration statement,” Wisconsin statute states.
RPW Executive Director Mark Jefferson says the liberal groups have “undoubtedly violated state law through their shady scheme to elect liberal activist Janet Protasiewicz.
“Wisconsin law clearly requires third party groups that have spent over $2,500 to register with the Ethics Commission,” he said. “Transparency and ethics are vital to our elections, and we will continue to ensure that election laws are followed.”
The Wisconsin Ethics Commission has no record of Wisconsin Takes Action in its database.
Organizing Empowerment PAC is listed as an unregistered organization. It reported independent expenditures of $525,000 on Feb. 24, just three days after the Supreme Court primary election. The group was listed as located in McFarland, WI, and its treasurer was listed as Michael Pfohl, according to the Federal Election Commission.
A message left at a phone number listed on the organization’ tax filing was not returned.
A provision in the law allows unregistered PACs to make expenditures, but they do have to file separate campaign finance reports.
Organizing Empowerment spent more than $300,000 in the 2022 midterms, $250,000 of it supporting Nevada Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto election to the U.S. Senate, according to Open Secrets. They spent another $35,000 against Masto’s opponent, Republican former Nevada attorney general Adam Laxalt, who narrowly lost. Organizing Empowerment also dumped $14,000 into Democrat Mandela Barnes’ losing U.S. Senate campaign in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin GOP Chairman Brian Schimming tweeted, “Both groups are in violation of state law — failing to file as a PACs with WI Ethics Committee.”
As The Wisconsin Daily Star reported Thursday, State Representative Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) said the liberal group could face legal action for its get-out-the-vote scheme to elect the “progressive candidate” in Wisconsin’s nationally watched Supreme Court election in April.
Wisconsin Takes Action claims it’s “working towards a progressive majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.” The organization’s Twitter page calls on interested Badger Staters to “[j]oin us and earn $250+ to mobilize your friends” in favor of the liberal Protasiewicz against conservative former Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly.
The election will decide whether conservatives or liberal scontrol Wisconsin’s high court. Protasiewicz has a massive spending lead over Kelly in what already has become the most expensive judicial race in U.S. history.
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M.D. Kittle is the National Political Editor for The Star News Network.
Photo “Janet Protasiewicz” by Janet Protasiewicz.