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Wisconsin ethics probe cites Trump fundraising committee violations

In World
February 24, 2024

The bipartisan Wisconsin Ethics Commission is recommending prosecutors pursue felony charges against a fundraising group allied with former President Donald Trump after it allegedly circumvented state campaign finance laws in a failed effort to oust a powerful state GOP leader in 2022 who refused to back Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud. The Wisconsin investigation saddles those in Trump’s orbit with more legal issues ahead of November’s general election.

Documents obtained Friday by CBS News lay out a plan by Save America PAC, alongside several Wisconsin state and local GOP officials, to evade a cap on campaign donations to funnel money to Adam Steen, who was challenging powerful Wisconsin House Speaker Robin Vos in a contentious 2022 primary challenge.

The commission, composed of three Democrats and three Republicans, concluded that Steen’s campaign and the Save America PAC, as well as three local Republican Party organizations and eight others coordinated to circumvent a $1,000 limit on individual donations for state assembly candidates by taking advantage of state law that places no limit on donations political parties make to candidates.

Save America donated $5,000 each to the Republican Party organizations in Chippewa, Florence and Langlade counties during the primary. That sum, plus donations from others totaling more than $40,000, was eventually transferred to the Langlade County GOP to provide in-kind donations to help Steen’s campaign.

Vos, the longest-serving Assembly speaker in Wisconsin history, has been targeted by Trump and his allies since 2020 for not removing the state’s head election official and for his rebuff of Trump’s false claims of election fraud in the aftermath of the 2020 election. As a result, Steen, who supported Trump’s claims, primaried Vos with Trump’s endorsement.

Vos beat Steen in the primary by just 260 votes and went on to win the general election race with 73% of the vote.

Vos is also currently the subject of a recall petition in Wisconsin by Trump allies.

While the commission does not recommend charges against anyone specifically in Save America PAC, it alleges that the committee and “agents” working for it violated state finance laws.

Save America PAC is the primary fundraising mechanism for Trump’s reelection bid, raising money for both the campaign and his leadership PAC. Currently, Save America is financing Trump’s legal bills and investigation-related costs stemming from the 91 felony charges against him, as well as multiple civil lawsuits.

The commission is also investigating a $4,000 donation by election conspiracy proponent Mike Lindell to a local GOP party group, but decided against referring charges against the MyPillow CEO, stating they could not prove he intended to get Steen elected.

The ethics investigation is not a criminal inquiry.  But if members of Save America or the local GOP parties are charged with campaign finance violations and found guilty, the penalty is up to 42 months in prison and fines up to $10,000. The local district attorneys must decide whether to prosecute those involved within 60 days of the referral, and if no action is taken then the commission can request the state’s Attorney General Josh Kaul, a Democrat, consider charging Save America and others.

The Trump campaign and Steen did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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