Friday, October 20, 2006

Campaigning in the courtroom

State Sen. Tom Reynolds -- or at least the people pulling his strings -- seems to think you can win a political campaign in the courtroom, by filing or threstening to file lawsuits and complaints, and by issuing pugnacious statements.

Robert Dohnal and J. J. Blonien, Reynolds' campaign guys, spend far more time and energy on bluster and threats than they do running any kind of real campaign, except to help Reynolds hide from debates.

Yes, there will be a lot of Reynolds mail soon; Reynolds is a printer by trade and cranks out a lot of his own campaign material, when he's not busy printing things for groups that compare the Pope to Satan. But that's another story.

In the last few months, Dohnal and Blonien have written to everyone they can think of to spread bogus double-voting charges against Reynolds' opponent, Jim Sullivan. They've asked for investigations about everything and everyone under the sun, including the Wauwatosa city clerk.

They've complained to the DAs in two counties about a campaign commercial from an independent group and a letter from a Democratic State Senate committee. Both, they say, spread false info about Reynolds, and charges should be filed.

(Why would anyone spread false information about Reynolds when there is no much true material that is truly outrageous?)

Now Reynolds & Co. have a lawyer threatening ex-reporter turned blogger Gretchen Schuldt, saying they'll file a lawsuit if she doesn't retract a post about Reynolds using campaign money to pay his utility bills.

As a former reporter, Schuldt is no doubt quite familiar with the libel and slander laws. You have to wonder whether Reynolds and Dohnal have even a passing acquaintance with them.

You have to try really hard to libel an elected official. You pretty much have to knowingly, maliciously, deliberately publish false information with the intention of doing them harm. (That's not the statute language, but it's a shorthand version.)

There's also a criminal stature in Wisconsin that says it's illegal to knowingly spread false information with the intention of influencing an election. It's one that should come off the books. As far as I have been able to determine, no one has ever been prosecuted, let alone convicted, under that statute. If Dohnal thinks he has the first case, he should file a verified complaint with the DA, not just ask him to look at a letter or commercial. If he does, it'll be thrown out, but maybe not until after the election, and maybe that's all he wants.

The Journal Sentinel wrote about the utilities issue today which tells you more than you ever wanted to know about Reynolds' real estate.

It also has this quote from Schuldt:
"This is an attempt to intimidate a constituent," said Schuldt of Milwaukee, who lives in the 5th District.

"I've not libeled anyone. If it's wrong to question what a politician does with his campaign funds, our country is in a sorry state."
Gretchen, on her Milwaukee Rising blog, just keeps asking questions.

Meanwhile, as a public service, here are Gretchen's original reports, which prompted the threatening letter:

Saturday, September 23, 2006
Questions about Tom Reynolds' utility bills

It's one thing to have your campaign headquarters in your house, as State Sen. Tom Reynolds (R- Loony Land) does.

It's another thing when you charge utility costs for your "campaign headquarters" to your campaign fund, as Tom Reynolds does. Even when there's not an election looming.

Let's go back to February, 2004, when Reynolds was very comfortably in the middle of his first term. Some people recognized him for the half-baked clown he is, but there was certainly no election threat on the immediate horizon. No reason to be burning the midnight light bulbs cooking up campaign strategies.

Yet Reynolds charged $57.79 for "gas and electric" for his "campaign headquarters" (his house) to his campaign fund. Hope none of that went to keep his kiddies warm at night. That would be a lot like converting campaign funds to personal use, which would be a distinct no-no.

State statute makes that clear:

No person, committee or group may make or authorize a disbursement or the incurrence of an obligation from moneys solicited for political purposes for a purpose which is other than political, except as specifically authorized by law.

Maybe Reynolds was in campaign mode in those election off years. In March, 2004, his campaign picked up two payments -- $58.43 on the 13th and $45.20 on the 29th; in May of that year, it was another two payments -- one for $29.44 and one for $35.81, both paid on May 28.

(In June he spent $197.28 at Half Nuts, which seems so appropriate, if somewhat understated.)

Reynolds, in fact, has been charging utility costs to his campaign fund since before he was elected in 2002. That year, a $40.17 electric bill was picked up by the campaign fund on Sept. 16, a week later, on Sept. 24, another $239.85 electric bill was paid by the same source, according to Reynolds' campaign finance report.

Reynolds' house /campaign headquarters isn't all that big -- 1,408 square feet, according to the West Allis city assessor's office. Utility costs should be relatively modest.

On and on it went, with utility costs sloughed off to the campaing fund more frequently:

November 2002 $140.98.
November, 2002 $76.18.
March 2003, $79.91
Sept. 2003, $68.33
November 2003, $32.94
December 2003, $61.06
February 2004, $57.79
March 2004, $58.43
March , 2004, $45.20
May, 2004, $29.44
May, 2004, $35.81
July 2004 $25.94
July 2004 $23.42
September 2004 35.52
September 2004 $26.32
November 2004 $32.99
December 2004 $33.83
December 2004 $58.12
Feb. 2005 $103.98
March 2005 $64.12
April 2005 $75.63
April 2005 $28.55
June 2005 $29.14
July 2005 $28.59
July 2005 $27.95
September 2005 $30.26
October 2005 $26.42
November 2005 $29.47
December 2005 $28.78
December 2005 $101.26
February 2006 $95.02
March 2006 $85.95
April 2006 $97.30
May 2006 $74.77
June 2006 $50.94
June 2006 $69.84
August 2006 $200.30
August 2006 $113.83

It could very well be that Reynolds is not charging the full cost of his utilities to his campaign, but he needs to explain how he separates his family's utility bills from his campaign headquarters' utility bills. A guy who literally poses for holy pictures can't be keeping his family warm with campaign funds.

Oh, yeah. Not a dime from Reynolds' campaign fund went to JJ Blonien, Reynolds' campaign "consultant" who also is on Reynolds' senate payroll as a staffer. Wonder how they keep those two roles nicely separate.

Sunday, October 15, 2006
Reynolds camp can't get its story straight on utility charges

Tom Reynolds used his campaign funds to pay utility bills for the "campaign headquarters" in his home, according to Reynolds' own campaign finance filings.

Bob Dohnal, Reynolds disciple and publisher of The Conservative Digest, said the bills were for Reynolds' print shop, not for his home, despite what Reynolds said in his campaign filing (and I don't think you are supposed to fib on those).

The State Democratic Campaign Committee sent out letters to Reynolds' supporters telling them of Reynolds' creative use of their money to heat his home. Reynolds then issued a statement suggesting that the utility payments were for his home, but just for the campaign headquarters part of it:

"The State Senate Democratic Campaign Committee comprised of: Chairperson, Judy Robson, Treasurer, Mark Miller and Executive Director, Matt Swentkowfske published the attached letter. The letter, with actual knowledge of the falsity of the statement, by the authors accuse me of violating state statute by using campaign funds for paying my private utility bills. The letter acknowledges that the authors know of my use of my residential property for my campaign headquarters. However, the authors go on to say that I pay my home utility bill from my campaign account which is a violation of State law. The letter also informs the Reynolds' supporters that I am using the hard earned money of supporters and contributors to my campaign illegally "to pad Tom Reynolds own pocket."

Reynolds demanded an immediate retraction and apology. You're going to be waiting a while for that one, Tom.
As for winning the election in the courtroom -- ask Congressman Mark Green how that's working out.

UPDATE: Cory Liebmann says: Ask Reynolds a question, prepare to be sued.

UPDATE 2: Gretchen Schuldt responds.


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