One Senator Admits Receiving Meals from Individuals He Doesn’t know
MacIver News Service | February 23, 2011
[Madison, Wisc…] The State Republican Party says it remains unclear if union bosses and liberal donors from across the country will be able to pay for the lodging, meal and travel expenses for the so-called “Fugitive 14” Democratic state senators if a new ruling by the Wisconsin Accountability Board stands.
According to a memo to State Senators obtained by the MacIver News Service, the GAB issued a convoluted ruling as to whether the personal expenses of lawmakers can be considered a legitimate political expense, for which campaign contributions can be used.
However, the beginning of the memo was quite definitive.
“The Government Accountability Board staff has been asked whether campaign funds may properly be used by the 14 Democrat Senators currently absenting themselves from the State to pay for hotels and other expenses incurred as a result of their decision to leave. In te opinion of the Board’s staff, campaign funds may be used for this purpose,” the memo states.
Citing Section 11.01(16) of the Wisconsin Statues, the GAB notes that campaign funds can be used for acts considered to be for ‘political purposes.”
In a memo to State Senators, GAB Director and General Counsel Kevin Kennedy uses two press releases from Governor Scott Walker’s office—which indicated the Dem Senators were raising campaign monies while on the run—as evidence that their trip to Illinois was for political purposes.
But does that mean the Senators can fund their Illinois excursion, done while the Wisconsin State Senate is in session, with campaign funds?
As protesters from around the country converge on Madison, the 14 Democratic state senators remain away from Madison. All have participated in photo ops and interviews from various locations in Illinois.
For now, it appears, their activities may have been sanctioned by the controversial GAB as reimbursable campaign expenses, which will now allow lawmakers to use their campaign accounts to cover personal expenses if they correspond with activities that constitute a political purpose.
In previous media interviews, Senate Democrats, including State Senator Jon Erpenbach, asserted that they alone were paying their own bills while staying in Illinois and elsewhere. Fourteen Democratic state senators left the State Capitol in Madison last week to prevent a vote on Governor Scott Walker’s budget repair bill.
While Democrats may be pleased with the news, Republicans dispute that the GAB’s ruling is clear.
“So far it appears the GAB has sidestepped the issue of whether a Senator can refrain from voting on an issue in order to raise campaign cash, but that is exactly what’s happening here,” said Mark Jefferson, the Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. “The Senate Democrats have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for themselves, and have coordinated with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and WEAC, by refusing to do their duty on behalf of the people so everyone on the left– even the person Governor Walker just defeated– can raise mountains of cash.”
Jefferson was referring to a new fundraising solicitation by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the 2010 Democratic nominee, defeated by Walker last November.
Despite the GAB’s memo indicating campaign funds can be used during the hold out in Illinois, one lawmaker, State Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) may have violated state ethics law.
Larson told the Associated Press that the group has accepted donated meals and food.
“Let’s just say the senators have friends over here who’ve been more than generous in sharing with us,” Larson told the AP.
In a moment of clarity, the memo from the GAB’s Kennedy expressly indicates that is violation of state law.
“Finally, we note that the Senators may not accept personal gifts of money, or anything else of substantial value, to facilitate their stay. This would violate the Code of Ethics for State Public Officials, 19.45, Stats.”
The GAB’s position appears to be that campaign funds can be used by the 14 Democratic senators, but that lawmakers remain prohibited from receiving direct contributions of money, goods or services regardless of where they are.
This is just the latest development in an unprecedented week in the history of the Wisconsin legislature. While the Stae Assembly continues to debate amendments to the Bill, the Senate can not act on the measure. Because the Budget Repair bill has a fiscal impact, Senate rules require 20 senators be present to form a quorum. There are 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats in the Wisconsin State Senate.
When under a Call of the House, state law enforcement officials are empowered to retrieve truant lawmakers and return them to the legislative chambers. Their authority ends, however, at the state line.
Opponents of Walker’s proposal say the bill unfairly changes collective bargaining laws, which have governed government union activity in Wisconsin beginning in 1959.
So the question of who is paying for the expenses of the 14 absent State Senators and whether or not it is legal for them to do so, remains.
“Most of us presumed the A in GAB stood for Accountability but perhaps it stands for Appeasement,” said Jefferson. “That lawmakers could use a campaign slush fund to cover their expenses while they have fled the state and their constitutional responsibility to be in the Capitol is unbelievable. Then again, so are doctors giving out fake sick notes to teachers who lied about being sick and hundreds of schools closing, and hippies camping out in the Capitol.”