Breaking : Paul Ryan’s Big Campaign Finance Problem

A story first reported on “Politicker” is picking up steam and has been confirmed. Paul Ryan appears to have violated FEC laws on campaign finance by paying for Republican National Convention expenses out of his Congressional Campaign account. By FEC law, candidates running for two offices simultaneously must keep separate accounts for each campaign.

According to the latest Ryan for Congress campaign finance report , Ryan’s Congressional campaign spent $59,603.41 specifically itemized as Convention Expenses (beginning on page 1219 of the report pdf).

The Ryan Campaign expenses include multiple rooms at multiple hotels during the convention, including the largest single expense of $34,854.35  at the Marriott Tampa Waterside, the Romney campaign’s base at the convention.

Ryan’s Campaign also paid $4,183.20 for hotel rooms at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, while the Wisconsin delegation was staying in a different hotel operated by the same chain, the Hyatt Regency Tampa. From the article on Politicker:

When we responded asking why so many rooms were purchased, Mr. Seifert sent another email claiming the additional rooms were for “other staff members.” He also provided initial information about the campaign’s spending at the Hyatt.

“As I said when we spoke, the 5 members of the Ryan for Congress staff were there for the full convention. Other staff members of Congressman Ryan’s attended parts of the convention–most notably Congressman Ryan’s keynote address,” Mr. Seifert wrote. “Ryan for Congress reserved 20 rooms at the Marriott and had a couple rooms at the Hyatt, where the Wisconsin Delegation was staying.”

Based on their own disclosure reports Mr. Seifert’s claim Mr. Ryan’s congressional campaign purchased rooms at the hotel where the Wisconsin delegation was staying is untrue. Mr. Seifert has also not responded to a request asking for an explanation of this discrepancy.

Unless Ryan can prove these expenses were clearly for his Congressional Campaign use at the RNC, these discrepancies could be a significant issue – particularly in his local campaign for Congress. The race for the 1st CD has taken a back seat to the Presidential ticket, and challenger Rob Zerban is mounting a considerable challenge to Ryan.

Badger Democracy has emailed both Zerban and Ryan campaigns at this late hour for comment. Updates will be posted as available.


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US Supreme Court decision in support of “Citizens United”…descent into Constitutional Crisis

The US Supreme Court issued a rare, landmark decision last week that went largely unnoticed and heavily under reported. The decision in “American Tradition Partnership v. Bullock” (ATP v. Bullock) overturned a Montana State Supreme Court ruling that the state law regulating independent corporate expenditures in elections is constitutional. The decision was rare because it was made without hearing any oral arguments (per curiam). Also rare was the Court overturning a century – old constitutional amendment in a state (Montana) which had been duly passed by its citizens, without hearing oral arguments. The case will have longstanding and grave impact on functional democratic elections, in that it expanded “Citizens United” to apply to state and local elections.

The shocking action taken by the 5 conservative justices, and the 4 “liberal” minority justices’ lack of fortitude to press for full hearings went virtually unreported in the media. It is rare for the Court to issue an opinion without hearing oral arguments, because under the Court’s own rules, only 4 of the 9 Justices are required to vote to accept a case. In this case, the minority “liberal” justices of the Court could have demanded to hear the full case on the merits, before expanding the scope of “Citizens United.” Instead, they wrote in dissent of the unsigned opinion:

Were the matter up to me, I would vote to grant the petition for certiorari in order to reconsider Citizens United or, at least, its application in this case. But given the
Court’s per curiam disposition, I do not see a significant possibility of reconsideration. Consequently, I vote in­stead to deny the petition.

“The matter” was up to the four moderate Justices. Had they held to their constitutional principles and pushed the Court into hearing the case, much of the argument to allow states to regulate local campaigns would have been heard. Public opinion may have turned on the Court (Citizens United is already largely unpopular), and the Fall elections would have proceeded with state laws in place. As it stands post-decision in this case; the rush to opine with no resistance from the Court’s Moderate Justices has opened the floodgates to corporate spending in this election cycle – and puts our representative form of democracy in crisis. The arguments to hear the case were compelling, and bi-partisan.

An Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) brief submitted by 8 of the 11 living Retired Montana Supreme Court Justices argued that taking the case, and hearing full oral arguments was necessary to insure a fair and impartial judiciary at the state level:

Preserving an independent, fair and impartial judiciary, as well as avoiding the appearance of impropriety, is a compelling state interest of the “highest order.” The constitutional right to due process is fundamental, and in the context of campaign finance laws, must be balanced against free speech. The constitutional tension between these countervailing rights cannot be denied, and cannot be ignored.

The retired justices argued that ATP v. Bullock was separated from Citizens United in that ATP is a law governing state and local elections – whereas Citizens United governs only federal elections. In addition, the Montana law does not prohibit independent expenditure, merely establishes reporting and registration standards. The justices concluded the special interest money being spent on local and statewide judicial elections construes a direct conflict with the constitutional guarantee of due process, and a fair trial. A bi-partisan Amicus brief filed by two US Senators also addressed the special interest influence regulated under the Montana law.

A brief filed by Senators Sheldon Wasserman (Dem.) and John McCain (Rep.) argued the Montana law is necessary to give legislatures the ability to enact laws in response to campaign spending corruption:

The campaign finance system assumed by Citizens United is no longer a reality, if it ever was. The Court, if it grants the petition, should use this case to make clear that when legislatures build an appropriate record demonstrating the potential for corruption or the appearance thereof created by independent expenditures, they may enact appropriately tailored preventative legislation in response. The integrity of America’s elections has long been a bulwark of our nation and a beacon to other nations, and it is a worthy exercise of this Court’s attention to protect our elections from the manifest damage of its
decision allowing the vast, unregulated expenditures that now darken our political landscape.

The Senators also point out that prior to Montana enacting this law, the state had established a clear connection to the corporate campaign expenditures being regulated and corruption of the political process. Citizens United (FEC, 130 S. Ct. 876, 911 (2010)) gives deference to state legislatures finding cause to “dispel improper influence in special interest expenditures.” Therefore, it would be appropriate for the Court to hear oral arguments on a law addressing that influence. Additional compelling arguments were presented regarding the right of a state to regulate local elections, spending, and free speech.

Twenty-four Attorneys Generals from across the US filed an Amicus brief that clearly separates Citizens United from the Montana law. The AGs argue the case raises the question of how Citizens United principles apply in the context of state and local elections – Citizens relating to federal elections. The AGs also argue that Montana does not BAN corporate spending – the law merely sets up an expedited registration requirement and reporting standard for segregated campaign expenditures. Therefore, there is no limit on the “free speech” of these corporations. The AGs express the necessity to establish a clear standard and balance on state campaign law and a “free speech” – which Citizens United does not establish. The ability of states to regulate corruption and undue influence of special interest spending was at the heart of their argument:

This case addresses state regulation of corporate spending in state and local elections, in contrast to Citizens United, which analyzed a federal statute governing only federal elections. To grant summary reversal in this case would deprive the States of the opportunity to be fully heard on the question of how to reconcile the free speech rights recognized in Citizens United with the special problems attendant on protecting the democratic character of state and local elections and institutions.

While the Supreme court ruling on the Affordable Care Act has been celebrated and debated, this decision has flown under the radar – and will have darker, more immediate consequences in our political system. The minority on the Court did not exercise their due diligence to protect the rights of those petitioning the Court for a full hearing. They also forfeited an opportunity to have the above compelling oral arguments heard in public.

The Supreme Court has now fully opened the floodgates and trampled on the rights of states to regulate their own campaign finance expenditures. The hope lies in the future for a more moderate Court, continual state challenges to what is defined as “free speech” and if corporations are entitled to the same protections as human beings, and a Federal Constitutional Amendment.

For that, we must keep up the fight, or our children and grandchildren will be unaware of what democracy looks like.

Walker’s “Beer and Brat Summit” – just a state-sanctioned campaign event for Wisconsin Grocers

When Scott Walker released the details of his so-called “Beer and Brat Summit” on Monday, the list of participating vendors looked more like a who’s who of GOP campaign contributors than local food producers. There are significant donors receiving a very high visibility thank you from Scott Walker today – raising questions as to whether this is just a covert campaign event in a contentious election year.

Brats supplied by Trig’sTrig’s is a Northern Wisconsin grocer whose family ownership has contributed over $12,000 to the Walker campaign, $108,000 to GOP campaigns. The family and business are active members of the Wisconsin Grocer’s Association (WGA).

Sprecher Root Beer and Beers (with the special commemorative label) – Sprecher has been very supportive of GOP activity and events in the Milwaukee area, and has become more involved with the emerging prominence of Americans for Prosperity.

Johnsonville Brats – Owners from the Stayer family have given over $25,000 to the Walker Campaign, and over $164,000 to primarily GOP campaigns.

Titletown Brewing Co. – Owner and President Brent Weycker ran as a Republican for the 90th Assembly District in 2000 and lost. Weycker is a consistent GOP supporter in the Fox Valley.

Usinger’s Sausage – Fred Usinger has donated thousands of dollars to GOP interests through the “American Meat Institute PAC”, and individual donations in Wisconsin for both GOP and corporate Democratic politicians.

Miller Coors – Executives at Miller Coors have given over $103,000 in contributions to mostly GOP candidates in individual contributions, including thousands of dollars to the Walker campaign.

Roundy’s – CEO Robert Mariano (who lives in Illinois) alone has given $14,300 to mostly GOP politicians. Roundy’s executives add another $31,000 to the total – again, mostly GOP candidates.

Sendik’s – Grocery stores in the affluent areas of Milwaukee, owned by the Balistrieri Family. The family alone has given over $23,000, most of it to the Walker campaign.

Coca Cola – The Coca Cola PAC is called the “Coca Cola Employee Non-Partisan” PAC. It has given over $22,000, all to GOP politicians. So much for non-partisan.

Kwik Trip – Kwik Trip executives have given over $214,000 to primarily GOP candidates, and reports as a “Natural Resources” interest company.

Most of the participating companies  have something in common. They are members of the Wisconsin Grocer’s Association, or have participated in WGA vendor fairs, according to Brandon Scholz, President of the WGA. Scholz confirms that WGA coordinated the event with the governor’s staff and “in full accordance with state law.”

In fact, Pan-o-Gold Baking, Lipari Distribution, and Russ Davis Wholesale are also WGA members. Russ Davis Wholesale received the 2011 WGA “Vendor of the Year” award, after being nominated by Trig’s Market.

WGA PAC has given over $48,000 in campaign contributions, again, mostly to GOP candidates, including over $6,000 to the Waker Campaign. The WGA Board will have a large presence at Walker’s “Beer and Brat Summit.” While these executives will not be in attendance, it will not be lost on GOP Legislators and Scott Walker who these people are, and what their organization’s policy priorities are going into the Fall Elections:

Don Symonds – Lipari

Kevin Morris – Coca Cola

Paul Lucas – Miller Coors

Steve Loehr – Kwik Trip

Nick Balistreri – Sendik’s

William Dowling – Roundy’s

Despite Scott Walker’s calls to “work together”, it is abundantly clear that the Walker Administration is incapable of holding a simple cookout without turning it into a campaign event. This time, it’s on state property, state time, as a sanctioned state function.

Scott Walker – still campaigning on the taxpayer dime – this time, in broad daylight.

UPDATE:Jauch recall effort led by Shirl LaBarre, friend of Gogebic Taconite

The Hayward resident leading the recall effort against State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) has run unsuccessfully as a Republican for the Assembly in 2006, 2008, and 2010. Shirl LaBarre is acting as spokesperson for the Northern Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG), a conservative group involved in recent Spring recall efforts against State Senate Democrats. LaBarre has also recently served as GOP County Chair in Sawyer County.

LaBarre states the reason for the recall effort as Senator Jauch “dragging his feet”, and being responsible for the slow progress of the Gogebic Taconite mine development in his district.

Most notable is the direct financial connection between LaBarre, and Gogebic Taconite. Three Executives from Gogebic gave the maximum individual contribution to an Assembly candidate in 2010 to Shirl LaBarre in a failed campaign. According to records at Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the three contributed a combined $1,500 to LaBarre’s campaign for Assembly.

Badger Democracy will be posting an in-depth analysis of the bill, and the ties to ALEC, Koch Industries, and Wisconsin GOP leadership later this evening.