Green Bay business executive John Brogan says the Democracy Campaign is "smearing" him by pointing out that campaign finance reports filed by candidates for state office show that he made more than the legal limit of $10,000 in campaign contributions in 2007.
And Brogan says the Democracy Campaign also "falsely accused" him in 2003 of exceeding the $10,000 limit, because the Elections Board ruled back then that his use of a joint checking account to make the donations meant that no violation occurred.
Some pertinent facts . . . .
When the Elections Board let Brogan and 16 others off the hook in 2003, the board ignored a 1999 state appeals court ruling that campaign contributions made from joint accounts are made by an individual – not a couple – from his or her portion of those shared funds.
The candidates who received contributions from John Brogan in 2007 reported them as coming from him alone, not as joint contributions from him and his wife. We frequently see candidates report split or joint donations from a married couple, but did not see it in Brogan's case.
Both John Brogan and his wife, Gisela, are active donors. They often give to the same candidates but not always. For example, in 2007 Gisela gave Tom Nelson a $500 contribution on June 4 while John made a $500 donation on the same day to Jim Soletski. Governor Jim Doyle's campaign reported receiving separate $2,500 donations from both John and Gisela Brogan on January 5, 2007.
We did not count any part of Gisela Brogan's $2,500 donation to Doyle among the $12,500 in total campaign contributions John Brogan gave to various candidates in 2007. But John Brogan now says the donations that candidates reported receiving from him alone should be considered as coming from both him and his wife.
Over the years, the Brogans have given to 25 different candidates or campaign committees. Only one candidate reported a donation as coming from them jointly. The other 24 candidates or committees all reported receiving donations from either John or Gisela, but not both of them jointly. Maybe it's a coincidence that two dozen campaigns all considered these individual donations coming from just one of them, but it's a hell of a coincidence.
Looking at Gisela Brogan's giving history, on at least eight different occasions she's made contributions on days when her husband did not make any donations. On other occasions, she made donations on the same day as her husband did, but not always to the same candidate.
When all this evidence is considered, we believe John Brogan's argument that his donations were all jointly made with his wife is very weak. The Elections Board bought this argument in the past (and even encouraged donors to use it to appear to be in compliance), but hopefully the new Government Accountability Board that replaced the Elections Board will not allow the law to be gamed in this way.
We believe Brogan is in violation of the law now and was in violation of the same law when he made more than $10,000 in donations in 2002, but as I made clear in remarks to the GAB at the board's January 28 meeting, the old Elections Board's approach to enforcement of this particular section of Wisconsin's campaign finance laws left a great deal to be desired. We are hopeful that the new board will take a stronger stand and faithfully enforce the law.
Finally, it's worth noting that the other violator we identified, Patricia Kern, can't make the argument that her donations were jointly made because her husband, Robert, maxed out for the year when he gave $10,000 to Annette Ziegler in 2007. So if any portion of Patricia Kern's donations are considered to be from her husband, that would put him over the legal limit.
Now the question is whether there will be a double standard with respect to enforcement of the law in these two cases, with one donor punished because a reallocation of some portion of the excess amount of donations to a spouse is not an option while the other donor is again let off the hook. We obviously hope the new board will not repeat the mistakes of the old board, and will develop a more consistent and defensible approach to enforcement.