Thursday, August 31, 2006

Elections Board shuts down PAC laundry,

but Green Team still won't come clean

This should be fun to watch.

The State Elections Board has told Congressman Mark Green he has 10 days to return $468,000 in contributions from federal political action committees which are not registered in Wisconsin.

That's almost half a million dollars in special interest money from PACs who could not legally give to his campaign for governor.

They didn't give a damn about the Wisconsin governor's race, but they cared about how Mark Green voted in the House. It's quite a list: Drug companies, Tom DeLay, the NRA, bankers, AOL Time Warner, Sony, Enron, Halliburton, WorldCom, Big Oil -- every bad actor who wants something from the federal government lined up to give money to Mark Green. Since he's been in politics, he's raised $1.75-million from special interests, and he transferred a half million dollars of it into his governor's race.

[This is the list of money he said he was transferring. Click the tab for Schedule 1B to see PACs.]

But which money he transferred, like $2,000 from DeLay, and which was "spent" (another $28,000 from DeLay), seems as arbitrary as Graul saying the PAC money's all spent.

Using what appeared to be a legal loophole, Green turned the illegal money into legal money -- he thought -- by running it through his federal House campaign committee and then transferring it to his state campaign account.

Wednesday, the Elections Board said that is illegal, touching off fireworks that may still be exploding right up until the November election.

I was preoccupied on Wednesday and haven't heard or read all of the responses to the board's decision, but I've seen a few. And they are quite entertaining. (Can't wait to see my local newspaper's spin; it's bound to be enlightening, but I am writing this in advance of getting my Journal Sentinel talking points.)

Republicans, of course, are screaming bloody murder, claiming corruption and who knows what all? (See Dad29, Boots & Sabers, Stepping Right Up, or any of the usual suspects. They all have their talking points.) It's the usual hope that if they make enough noise and send up enough smoke maybe the real issue will be obscured.

And there is a lot more heat than light in their commentary.

Mark Graul, Green's campaign manager, has a well-deserved reputation for being a weasel with words, always twisting things, and seldom giving the same answer twice in a row. He was off and running soon after the board's 5-2 vote. (More about that later, if I remember, but I'm told the Libertarian Party rep on the board led the charge.)

This early story from the Wisconsin Radio Network is a keeper. It's priceless, because it is classic Graul, saying one thing when he means the opposite:
Green campaign will comply with State Elections Board ruling

Officials with Congressman Mark Green's gubernatorial campaign say they'll abide by a decision from the State Elections Board, even if they don't agree. The Board is ordering Green's campaign to divest $468,000 they say was transferred illegally from the Congressman's federal campaign fund. Green campaign manager Mark Graul says the decision was made for the benefit of the Doyle campaign, and indicates the corruption present under his administration. He says it's an embarrassing moment for good government in Wisconsin. Graul also points to a memo from a State Elections Board attorney, which he says shows the ruling will not have an effect on available funding for the campaign. Graul says there are no plans to challenge the decision.
That sounded more than a little weaselly. And, sure enough, what we find a short time later is that Graul's idea of "abiding by the decision" is to ignore it.

He went back to "The dog spent my PAC money" defense, claiming the money was already spent, and referring to a memo by the board's attorney, George Dunst, to back up that claim. I've discussed the issue before; here's a link. reported to subscribers Wednesday afternoon:
Green campaign manager Mark Graul insisted the targeted PAC contributions had already been spent and there was no money left that would be subject to the order. Graul said the campaign based its belief on past EB precedence and the opinion of the board's legal counsel.

But Elections Board executive director Kevin Kennedy said the board rejected that stance today. He said if Green did not comply with the orders to divest itself of contributions from out-of-state PACs, the board would sue to enforce its actions...

Graul said the campaign hasn't received a copy of the ruling from the SEB yet and wouldn't speculate on what the campaign's next move might be. Attorney Don Millis, who represented Green at the hearing, said the campaign could seek an injunction to halt the board's decision.
In a post titled, "Dirty Money," the lawyer who posts as Dicta says:
The news might get even better if this is true:

Elections Board members and Don Millis, a former Elections Board chairman who represented the Green campaign at the meeting, said they expect the fight over the PAC donations to play out in front a judge.

A constant news story about a legal battle by Mark Green to hang on to dirty money is a political gift that would keep on giving right up to November 7.
I don't know who will win the legal battle, but it seems certain there will be one.

As I said at the beginning, this should be fun to watch.

Green says he'll ignore the ruling. He's probably trying to drain his campaign account in the next 10 days, before the lawsuit starts. When it gets to court, the first thing a judge is likely to do is order him to set the $467,000 aside until the case is decided. Dissing the Elections Board seems like a risky strategy for a candidate for governor.

: The board is too partisan? The Wisconsin State Journal says Green has no one to blame but Assembly Republicans -- I would add Green himself -- for not passing an ethics reform bill, SB-1, that would have changed it. Editorial.

UPDATE 3: Chris Cillizza of The Fix at WashPost considers the implications of the ruling, given Green/GOP bashing of Doyle on ethics and fundraising issues.

More weaseling from the Green Team.


At 8:56 AM, Blogger Paul_Robeson said...

I didn't think the EB would have the guts to do this. I almost spit out my drink when I read the news yesterday.

If Green were smart, he would just take his lumps, fork over the money quietly, and try to move on. Even if he somehow prevails in court (which I don't think will happen), engaging in a protacted legal and/or rhetorical battle certainly is not going to result in a net gain for him; if anything it's just going to keep this issue in the news for a long time.

Even for the GOP, blaming all of this on Doyle's corruption sort of strains credulity. It's sort of like the catch-all "It's Bill Clinton's fault" explanation used so frequently nationally.

And did anyone see the JS story today on the AG requesting the unsealing of the caucus materials? A real double-whammy for Green in the last 24 hours.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger George Roberts said...

When I take a second mortgage to make home repairs, and I put the money in my savings account and then spend the money on home repairs, can I please tell the bank that the money has been spent, so I don't need to repay it? It doesn't matter that I have money in my savings account. I spent the money that the bank gave me! It was, y'know, specially marked or something, so you can tell.

What a fool Green is to try that argument. Wisconsinites will see through it in a flash -- and it destroys his credibility in other arguments he is making. I actually had some sympathy with the logic of those, until he kept making this one.

At 11:10 AM, Blogger Paul_Robeson said...

The smart thing? You issue a statement that says: "At the time of the transfer, my campaign honestly believed that we were complying with the letter and spirit of the law. The EB has decided differently. While I disagree with that ruling, I will comply because I think that we are a nation of laws . . blah, blah, blah . . ." You get credit for being a good sport, and the issue loses a little steam, eventually.

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Art said...

From the alternative history desk...

If Mark Green didn't have the transferred congressional warchest to kick start his campaign, would Scott Walker have been able to hang on and give Green a contest in the GOP Primary?

At 5:30 PM, Blogger J-Rad said...

It was alright when Tom Barrett did it, and now it's not? Nothing has changed in the law since then, and Green got his transfer done before any new rule went into effect.

Changing the rules retroactively is a joke. Notice how the rule doesn't go back to 2001? I think Tom Barrett owes the state some PAC money he used in his campaign.

This decision is horrible and won't stand up to a legal challenge.

Normally I can't stand Xoff's hypocracy, but in this case he's on solid ground.

At 1:40 AM, Blogger Erik Opsal said...

"No bill of attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.” - Article I, Section 8

I'll preface this by saying that I hate Mark Green. But the law is not on the side of the Elections Board here. The law was passed after Green transferred the funds. As wrong as it may have been to do it in the first place -- it was still legal.

At 9:37 AM, Blogger Xoff said...

Actually, Green is trying to confuse people about the law and a new rule.

The law about PACs needing to be registered in Wisconsin has been on the books for at least 20 years.

The action the board took was based on existing law, not some new rule.

At 6:46 PM, Blogger Paul_Robeson said...

I might add that appealing the EB's decision is not without risk for Green, for several reasons. Obviously, the appeal is going to keep this issue in the news for awhile, and that can't be good for him. But what if he loses the appeal? Then even the "Doyle rigged everything" argument goes out the window.

From what I know, the appeal is not going to be judged so much on the merits of Green's arguments as much as it will be on the EB's right to set its own rules and/or interpret state elections laws. Here, the courts typically give administrative bodies a lot of slack -- and that's bad news for Green.


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