When the Democracy Campaign raised questions about money Mark Green raised in Washington as a member of Congress and later transferred to his campaign for governor, we set out to expose illegal donations. We also ended up further exposing what's wrong with the state Elections Board. This whole episode has shown what a kangaroo court the Elections Board is.
We initially pointed out that Green was accumulating too much money from special interest political action committees (PACs) and then questioned whether federal PACs in Washington could legally contribute to a candidate for governor in Wisconsin. We found that a large number of PACs that had given Green close to a half million dollars could not make lawful donations to a state race. On those grounds, we challenged that portion of the nearly $1.3 million Green's congressional campaign committee donated to his state campaign for governor. The Elections Board ordered Green to get rid of nearly $468,000 in illegal donations.
Later, when it was revealed by state Justice Department attorneys in circuit court last week that federal law prohibits a federal committee like Green for Congress from donating more than $43,128 to a candidate for governor in Wisconsin, the Democracy Campaign filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission challenging the rest of the illegal funds.
How this all will ultimately play out, only time will tell. But what already is well established is that the Elections Board has thoroughly discredited itself.
Back in 2001, the Democracy Campaign objected to then-Congressman Tom Barrett's transfer of money he raised in Washington to the state campaign committee he used to finance his 2002 run for governor. The Elections Board permitted the transfer. We objected to Green's transfer on the same grounds and the Board chose to enforce the law.
Both transfers were plainly illegal. Barrett moved $346,545 in PAC money from his congressional account to his state campaign, including $267,300 from PACs that were not registered in Wisconsin and could not legally donate to a candidate for governor here. Barrett also proceeded to raise more PAC money in Wisconsin, bringing his total haul from special interest committees to $676,796 – well over the $485,190 cumulative limit in state law on PAC donations to candidates for governor.
The law is clear. It was illegal for Barrett to try to use all that money he raised in Washington for his campaign for governor in 2002, and it is illegal for Green to use $1.3 million in Washington money now. But the Elections Board has succeeded in removing the focus from the law and clouding the issue because of its habit of making decisions based on politics and not the law.
The Elections Board has been horribly inconsistent in how it has handled federal-to-state transfers and has done a generally miserable job of enforcing Wisconsin's campaign finance laws. This latest performance has provided a very vivid illustration of why the Board needs to be reformed.