Attorneys for the Republican Party of Wisconsin have filed ethics complaints with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, against 3rd Congressional District Candidate Brad Pfaff and U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes.
The complaint details how in 2021 and 2022, both candidates accepted illegal campaign donations from lobbyists in violation of Wisconsin law. Together, Pfaff and Barnes have accepted thousands of dollars in illegal contributions from lobbyists.
State law universally prohibits members of the Legislature and partisan elected officials from accepting contributions from registered lobbyists while the Legislature is in session and conducting legislative business.
Barnes accepted illegal contributions from multiple lobbyists and both accepted illegal contributions multiple times, and throughout the course of Legislature’s 2021-2022 Session.
“Despite mandatory ethics training for elected officials, both Mandela Barnes and Brad Pfaff chose to ignore the law, in order to boost their chances against stronger and more qualified candidates in Ron Johnson and Derrick Van Orden” said RPW Executive Director Mark Jefferson. “While Mandela Barnes claims to want to ‘Stop big corporations and special interests from buying political influence,’ his actions again prove his words are just lip service and not only will he accept special interest money, he’ll also accept illegal contributions.”
RPW is calling on the Wisconsin Ethics Commission to launch an immediate investigation into the violations and make recommendations for civil or criminal violations to the proper court system.
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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.”