Monday, December 11, 2006

Law Doesn't Matter To 'All Children Matter'

One of the phoniest of the many phony front groups that now dot Wisconsin's political landscape, All Children Matter, is in hot water because of campaign literature it circulated in the 21st Senate District in an unsuccessful attempt to influence the outcome of that key Racine-area senate race.

The group's literature said there are "over $12 BILLION reasons to vote against (Democratic candidate) John Lehman," prompting a complaint to the state Elections Board that All Children Matter engaged in illegal electioneering by explicitly telling people how to vote without first registering as a political action committee and disclosing its fundraising and spending as required by state law.

Everything from a U.S. Supreme Court ruling to the Elections Board's own rules make it plain that using the words "vote against" qualify election lit or other campaign advertising as electioneering communications that are subject to all the disclosure requirements and campaign contribution limits in state law. All Children Matter seemed to acknowledge it stepped over the line when it hastily registered as a PAC in Wisconsin three days after the complaint was filed.

Leave it to Elections Board legal counsel George Dunst to introduce doubt where there is none. In a memo urging board members to take no action against All Children Matter, Dunst wrote: "The statement 'There are $12 BILLION reasons to vote against John Lehman,' is the same as saying: 'Here is why I, and many others, are not voting for John Lehman,' but it is NOT the same as saying: 'You ought not to vote for John Lehman' or 'Don't vote for John Lehman!' The call to action in the first message – the advocacy in the message – may be inferred from my speech, but an inference is not enough. The advocacy must be express."

Fortunately, no one on the Elections Board took Dunst seriously. They agreed across party lines that All Children Matter's literature was indeed electioneering that should be fully disclosed and paid for in a way that is in keeping with Wisconsin's campaign finance laws. And they gave the group until January to fully explain who sponsored the anti-Lehman flier before taking enforcement action.

There is no question that All Children Matter violated state campaign finance laws. The only question is the severity of the violation. At a bare minimum, the group unlawfully engaged in electioneering without the authority to do so under Wisconsin law. The cancelled check the Elections Board has requested showing who paid for ACM's flier will show whether more serious offenses – such as filing a false report or using illegal campaign contributions – were committed that could result in criminal charges.

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