From my email inbox comes a hit piece Kyle Maichle of the right-wing Wisconsin Election Watch doesn’t want you to see until tomorrow.
Tomorrow morning, Wisconsin Election Watch will break a story regarding a Super PAC (Independent Disbursement Committee) in support of Susan Happ has had a history of campaign finance issues in Arizona dating back to 2010. The group called the Committee for Justice and Fairness registered with the GAB on September 19th. The group has already placed ad buys on TV stations in Green Bay, Madison, and Milwaukee. In Arizona, the CJF was found to violate campaign finance law when they failed to register with elections authorities after running campaign ads that were clearly expressed advocacy against eventual incumbent Attorney General Tom Horne four years ago. We will have the article up on our website first thing tomorrow morning, but in the mean time I wanted to give you the article and supporting documentation now to assist in your preparations.
EMBARGOED UNTIL 7 AM CST-SEPTEMBER 30, 2014
MADISON – The race for Wisconsin Attorney General is beginning to attract Super PAC’s that are attempting to influence a competitive race for top cop in the Badger State.
Records from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board show that that the Wisconsin Committee for Justice and Fairness’ have registered as an independent disbursement committee on September 19th. The Wisconsin Committee for Fairness and Justice filed an oath of independent disbursements indicating that they would run political communications in support of Democrat Susan Happ (D-Jefferson).
In recent years, the committee has set-up state level Super PAC’s and ran television advertisements in the States of Arizona, Vermont, Washington State, South Carolina, and Kentucky. The Wisconsin Committee for Justice and Fairness main point of contact is Carla McDonald who has served as a former Administrative Assistant for Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha).
However, the Committee for Justice and Fairness has been under scrutiny for its practices in the State of Arizona since the end of the 2010 general election. The Arizona Secretary of State received a complaint on October 22, 2010, from the campaign of Republican Tom Horne alleging that committee failed to register with elections authorities and engaged in expressed advocacy by running ads that identified the GOP candidate. The ads issued by the committee accused Horne of refusing to support tougher penalties for statutory rape while as a state lawmaker along with voting to a reinstate a teacher’s license after being caught viewing child porn. However, the Arizona Republic disputed the claims of the ad in a fact check. The newspaper said: “Technically, the ad’s assertions are true, but they lack context” on whether Horne committed the alleged actions. The ads did not stop Tom Horne from defeating Democrat Felecia Rotellini 51.9 to 48.1 percent.
The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office civil division handled the investigation upon referral from the Secretary of State before later issuing an enforcement action on May 23, 2011. The action stated that the Committee for Justice and Fairness had to register as a political committee with the Arizona Secretary of State along with handing over all financial records indicating how much money they spent on campaign ads. The findings of the Maricopa County Attorney’s office found that the campaign ads issued by the committee against Horne were expressed advocacy because the candidate was clearly identified. Arizona law defines express advocacy as any identification of a candidate in a campaign ad aimed to target voters. The committee immediately appealed the decision to an administrative law judge which upheld the findings of the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office on September 23, 2011.
After being unsuccessful with the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and a separate hearing with an administrative law judge, the Committee for Justice and Fairness took their case to the Arizona Court of Appeals. Attorneys for the committee argued to the three judge panel that their ad against Tom Horne was not designed to be express advocacy. On August 7th, a three judge panel unanimously ruled that independent expenditure groups can be required to disclose the source of their campaign funding even if they are not engaged in expressed advocacy. Judge Lawrence Winthrop, who wrote the opinion, said that campaign disclosure helps the public interest: “by exposing large contributions and expenditures to public light.”
In 2012, the Committee for Justice and Fairness at the federal level has received $2.255 million from the Denver-based Democratic Attorney Generals Association along with an additional $1.835 million in 2010 according to records obtained from the Internal Revenue Service. This year, the committee has already received $50,000 from the Democratic Attorney Generals Association.
The Wisconsin Committee for Fairness and Justice has not yet filed a campaign finance report in Wisconsin. When asked about the Committee’s role in Wisconsin, Spokeswoman Dana Byowski said: “Committee for Justice and Fairness-Wisconsin is an independent expenditure committee, advocating on behalf of the Democratic candidates running for state attorney general in 2014 and promotes policies important to the safety and well-being of America’s middle-class families. Committee for Justice & Fairness – Wisconsin will file with Wisconsin Secretary of State on October 27 and then file within 48 hours of making an independent expenditure throughout the October 21- November 3 reporting period. “
Associate Professor of Political Science at Marquette University, Dr. Amber Wichowsky, said that special interest groups getting involved in statewide races such as Attorney General is continuing a trend across the nation. She said: “These are important statewide races, there is a joke that A.G. stands for almost Governor, and historically lots of attorneys general go on to be Governors and have ambitions for higher office.” Wichowsky also said about the motivations of 527 groups that: “If you are opposed to this candidate, you want to make sure they don’t have that much of a political career, therefore you want to see them defeated.”
Wichowsky also pointed out that some major legal developments over the last twenty years such as the federal tobacco class action lawsuit settlements in the late 1990’s as another reason why outside groups get involved in Attorney General’s races. She said: “This is an office that office that has teeth…Attorney Generals are responsible for consumer protection lawsuits. If you are an industry that maybe affected or a consumer group that maybe affected therefore you have an interest in these races.”
Johnny Koremenos, the Campaign Manager for Brad Schimel, said: “Susan Happ has been evading the press and the public, and recently broke her promise to release a list of debates in which she’d participate….Is she hiding from the press’ growing list of questions about her record? Is she outsourcing her campaign to the outside interest groups? Or both?”
Wisconsin Election Watch contacted Josh Lease, the Campaign Manager for Susan Happ on Friday, but he did not return our request for comment.
No doubt we can expect to see more of these kinds of hit pieces from right-wingers desperate to smear Democratic Attorney General candidate Susan Happ leading up to election day, because she poses a very real threat to beat Republican candidate Brad Schimel.