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Elections Board cites Wilcox’s campaign manager, voter group

The Elections Board of the State of Wisconsin filed a civil complaint late Friday afternoon against the Justice Wilcox for Justice Committee, as well as Justice Jon Wilcox’s campaign manager, Mark Block of New Berlin. The complaint alleges violations of state campaign laws for accepting prohibited corporate contributions, filing false campaign reports, and failing to file reports of late contributions.All tolled, the complaint, filed in Dane County Circuit Court, charges 10 violations against the various defendants. Also named as defendants are the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation (WCVP), an independent, Madison-based group; its executive director, Brent J. Pickens of Madison; and its president, James M. Wigderson of Franklin. The complaint was filed two days after the Elections Board passed a resolution concluding that Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon P. Wilcox did not engage in any illegal activities, nor was he personally responsible for any illegal activities of his campaign, during the election of April 1997.The action stems from a complaint filed by Wilcox’s opponent in that race, Milwaukee attorney Walter Kelly, in July 1997. Kelly stated in a telephone interview Friday that he does not agree with the Board’s assessment that Wilcox was uninvolved.“This controversy is far from over. I think that, as the litigation proceeds, We’re going to find out more and more,” he said. Kelly added that Wilcox and the Republi-can members of the Elections Board are “throwing Block to the wolves,” and that Wilcox should give serious consideration to resigning. The dispute centers upon a “get-out-the-vote” (GOTV) initiative put together by Pickens and Wigderson and executed in early April 1997, which involved a postcard campaign and telephone contact effort targeting the recipients of the postcards. The 354,000 postcards did not contain a disclaimer as to who had paid for them. Further, no reports regarding the postcards had been filed, from either the Wilcox campaign or the WCVP.The postcards, according to Kelly’s complaint, were nearly identical to the Wilcox television advertisements that ran during the campaign. The postcards read, in part, “Walt Kelly: 25 years as a trial lawyer; ACLU special recognition award recipient.”

Wilcox: no authorization for activities

According to a report filed Wednesday with the Elections Board, which precipitated the Elections Board’s decision to file suit against the various defendants — sans Wilcox — the WCVP, incorporated in 1997, organized with a goal of engaging in a neutral GOTV effort. It noted that Pickens, Wigderson and Block all agreed that Block was informed regarding the GOTV effort in January 1997. The report also indicated that Block had informed the Elections Board investigators that Wilcox “didn’t want to hear anything” about efforts to increase voter turnout. It additionally stated that Wilcox said that he recalled a conversation with Block about an independent get-out-the-vote effort, but that Block hadn’t mentioned the postcards. The report explained, “Justice Wilcox stated that he disliked the loss of candidate control that independent expenditures created and that independent expenditures were not in the spirit of the campaign. He also stated that he knew nothing of the postcard mailing until after it happened. Of the evidence gathered to date, none suggests that prior to the election Justice Wilcox had any other conversations with Mark Block or others about the possible independent effort.”One of the drafters of the report, the Elections Board’s Executive Director Kevin J. Kennedy, said that the investigators had spoken to Wilcox at least once. However, he added that they were not releasing a complete list of all who had been contacted, or how often they had communicated with those people, during the course of the investigation.Kennedy noted that the discussion with Wilcox had been “just an interview,” and was not sworn testimony. Wilcox’s attorney, Daniel W. Hilde-brand of Madison’s DeWitt, Ross & Stevens, was present during the discussion. Hildebrand also served as the treasurer for Wilcox’s campaign.Hildebrand wrote a letter on March 20 to the Elections Board, requesting it to issue a statement that Wilcox was not involved in the postcard efforts. The letter additionally asked that the Justice Wilcox for Justice Committee not be named as a defendant in any enforcement proceedings.Hildebrand did not return phone calls seeking comments.Wilcox issued a statement after the Elections Board determined that he did not engage in any illegal activities, which provided, “One central fact upon which all the witnesses agreed is that the campaign staff was not authorized by me or the campaign to participate in such activities. If any im-proper activities occurred, I was not aware of such activities and those who participated did so contrary to my instructions and without my authority.”He added, “I have been a judge and a justice for 21 years with a proven record of integrity which today’s action by the Elections Board has confirmed.” Settlement a possibilityThe report was based largely upon the sworn testimony of Block, Pickens and Wigderson, as obtained from several depositions.It concluded, “The evidence obtained in the investigation strongly suggests that Brent Pickens and Mark Block consulted, cooperated and acted in concert in their respective efforts to advance the campaign of Justice Wilcox. The evidence also suggests that Mr. Block viewed WCVP’s ‘independent’ effort as helpful to the Wilcox campaign and made campaign decisions based upon his knowledge of the GOTV effort planned by the WCVP.”The report also stated that Block and Pickens are long-time friends and had worked together in previous campaigns. Moreover, phone records indicated that, between Jan. 1 and April 30 of 1997, there were over 100 calls between the two, with a volume that correlates to the WCVP’s peak activity in preparing the GOTV effort.The identities of the 12 contributors to the GOTV initiative were not revealed in the Board’s report, in accordance with a Dane County Circuit Court order. The report did state, however, that “most if not all of the contributors are known to be active supporters of the school choice movement.” The Elections Board motion additionally contained an offer to settle to the Justice Wilcox for Justice Committee for not less than $10,000 and not more than $45,000. Kennedy declined to discuss how they arrived at those figures.Raymond Taffora, of the Madison branch of Michael, Best & Friedrich, represents the WCVP, Pickens and Wigderson.“While the allegations in the complaint have undoubtedly made for interesting fodder in the press and elsewhere, I think the Board is going to have some difficulty in proving up violations of law on the basis of what’s in the complaint,” Taffora said. “Consequently, as a first order or business, what we’re going to plan on doing is sitting down and chatting with the Elections Board staff and/or attorney general’s staff, to see if there’s a possibility of settling one or more of these claims made against our clients.”Taffora additionally noted that the settlement offer contained within the Elections Board resolution did not pertain to his clients.Michael Crooks of the Madison office of Peterson, Johnson & Murray represents Block. He said on Friday that he hadn’t had an opportunity to discuss the complaint with his client, and that they would need additional time before commenting on the matter.

Justice for sale?

Co-writing the Elections Board’s Wednesday report with Kennedy were John S. Greene and Thomas L. Dosch, both assistant attorney generals in Madison assigned by the Department of Justice to assist in the investigation.Kelly said that he was very satisfied with the work of Greene and Dosch, but
not with that of Kennedy. He said that Kennedy and others had needlessly delayed in investigating his complaint, awaiting the outcomes of a case before the Wisconsin Supreme Court that was related on a point of law (Elections Board vs. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, No. 98-0596, decided last summer), as well as a lawsuit filed last year against the Board by Block and the WCVP.The two sought an injunction against the Board’s investigation, arguing that the postcards had not been disseminated for “political purposes,” and that the investigation was a violation of their free speech rights. But on Nov. 26, the District IV Court of Appeals agreed with the Dane County Circuit Court that the Board’s investigation could proceed.Kennedy dismissed Kelly’s criticisms against him.“[Kelly] wants to run the investigation, and he’s not the one running it,” Kennedy observed. “He filed a complaint, we’ve taken some action based on that complaint, and it doesn’t have to go the way he wants it to. We are the ones who are responsible with enforcing the law.”Kelly said that he has not been allowed to attend depositions or to participate in the investigation in any way, and that he has asked Kennedy for access to the investigation records. He hasn’t received a response to that request.With regard to the Board’s settlement figures, Kelly said, “My reaction was that they were light, given the gravity of the violation.”“I’m waiting for people to get just how serious this is. This is, to me, just mind-boggling — that they basically bought a seat on the Supreme Court.”The full-text of the Wisconsin Elections Board motion and report, as well as the complaint, can be viewed at www.elections.state.wi.us

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