RPW Responds to Barnes Claim About Illegal Campaign Donations

In response to a complaint RPW filed with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission showing that Mandela Barnes and Brad Pfaff accepted illegal campaign donations, the Barnes campaign tried to say that federal law allows them. Instead of just returning the illegal donations, Barnes claims he (and Pfaff) are not bound by state ethics law, even though the donations were made while the legislature was in session, a clear violation of state law.

To prevent “pay to play” from state officials, state law forbids lobbyists from making contributions to state office holders outside a designated window, regardless of whether the state office holder is seeking federal office. In general, lobbyists are allowed to make donations to state office holders from the beginning of circulation of nomination papers to Election Day, regardless of what level of office they are seeking next. State law does not ban contributions to federal campaigns, so there is no conflict with federal law, but contributions must be made during this window.

  • There is a WINDOW from circulation of nomination papers to Election Day  where lobbyist donations are allowed.
  • The window applies to all levels of campaign committees, including federal, for sitting, elected, partisan state officeholders.
  • The lobbyists’ donations in question are unquestionably illegal under state law (13.625).
  • Barnes and Pfaff accepted donations made illegally, and won’t return them.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin complaints filed with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission request the Commission to take decisive action to defend Wisconsin’s anti-corruption laws, and call on Mandela Barnes and Brad Pfaff to divest their campaign of the illegal donations or for the Ethics Commission to refer charges to the proper court system.

“Mandela Barnes and Brad Pfaff may think Wisconsin’s anti-corruption laws don’t apply to them, but Wisconsin statutes, the state ethics code and an Ethics Board opinion are clear.  Barnes and Pfaff are flouting the law and refuse to comply,” said Mark Jefferson, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.  “It’s beyond time for Mandela Barnes and Brad Pfaff to return their illegal contributions and start playing by the rules like everyone else.”

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Background (emphasis added):

  • Wis. Stat. § 13.625 (1m) — Regulation of Lobbying, Prohibited Practices
      • There are no restrictions on when lobbyists may make personal contributions to the candidate and/or candidate committee of a candidate for local or state non-partisan office, county-level partisan office, District Attorney or national office if and only if the candidate is not a current partisan elected state office holder. WIS. STAT. §§ 5.02(9), 5.02(12), 13.62(11p), 13.625(1m)(b).
    • It is the opinion of the Commission that a lobbyist may contribute to partisan elective state officials and candidates for partisan elective state office during the period of time in which the “contribution window” is open, regardless of whether the individual is on the ballot for that election. Therefore, all of the following lobbyist contributions to partisan elective state officials and candidates for partisan elective state office are permissible under the applicable statutes:
      • 1. To the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, or attorney general or to the candidate committee of a candidate for one of these offices during the contribution window that opens prior to a general election, regardless of whether he or she is on the ballot.
      • 3. To the federal campaign committee of a partisan elective state official during the contribution window that opens for a general or special election, regardless of whether the federal election or partisan official is on the ballot.