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Another ethics complaint, this time against the newly elected board members and the Republican Party of Marathon County
Party chair calls it sour grapes after a loss
The Wausonian received yet another set of ethics complaints: this time, against two of the newly elected board members and the county’s Republican party.
Candidate Gillian Battino filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission against two of the three board members elected to the Wausau School Board earlier this month, and against the Republican Party of Marathon County.
The complaint alleges that Cory Sillars and Jennifer Paoli funneled money to the Republican Party of Marathon County, which then funneled that money back to the Sillars and Paoli via spending on ads in order to get around in-kind contribution limits placed on candidates for local office.
That stems from a set of complaints Battino made earlier this year against three current Wausau School Board members: James Bouche, Jon Creisher and Karen Vandenberg. That complaint accused the three of running a co-campaign, handling the shared expense by counting it as in-kind donations from the other candidate’s campaigns.
Bouche, responding for the group, said they weren’t aware of any rules they were breaking and said all the money spent was accounted for. Bouche said a memo cited by Battino as evidence of the practice wasn’t widely available to candidates but only made available to a small set of individuals. But the amount of in-kind contributions clearly exceeded the amount candidates for local office are allowed to spend, per state statutes.
In her latest complaint to the commission, Battino said the candidates this time around donated money to the Republican Party of Marathon County, which then spent the money on ads and recorded those as in-kind contributions to the candidates. Battino contends this was to get around the spending limits, since county parties are not held to the same spending limits as campaign committees.
But in her complaint, Battino says she feels it violates the state’s “earmarking” laws, which don’t allow for donations to a party to come with a specific instruction as to how that money is to be spent.
The Wausonian reviewed the complaint and the latest finance records filed with the Wausau School District. Both had given a large sum to the county party, and days later reported receiving large in-kind contributions from the county party. Sillars, for instance, contributed $10,245 to the Republican Party of Marathon County on March 14, listed as an in-kind donation. He received another $4,300 on the 15th.
But Sillars lists $14,695 transferred out to committees around the same time. Paoli’s show similar amounts transferred in and out.
The Wausonian reached out to Sillars, Paoli and Republican Party Chair Kevin Hermening.
Sillars said he and Paoli checked multiple times with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission on their finances and how they intended to handle them, and said WEC officials verbally and in writing indicated that what they were doing was correct and within the bounds of campaign finance laws. Paoli also responded with similar information.
Hermening responded to The Wausonian saying that the county party takes allegations of wrongdoing very seriously and plans to respond in full to the WEC addressing the complaint.
Hermening further told The Wausonian that the party follows the letter of the law “in the handling of our campaign finances, in support of candidates and committees that share a common philosophy.”
“All candidates had the opportunity to take their message to the voters,” Hermening says. “Sour grapes by losing candidates is not a political strategy; assertions of campaign finance violations by those who lost their election is nothing more than a distraction from their own flaws and failures at the ballot box on Election Day.”
Battino told The Wausonian that the commission plans to take up the complaints from the previous election at its May meeting. No date has been set by the WEC to review the latest complaints.
The Wausonian also examined Battino and Frederick Tealey’s campaign finance reports. Battino and Tealey did appear on some campaign literature together. Battino told The Wausonian that the Democratic Party did their own lit drop and that it was reported as an in-kind contribution on their respective campaign finance reports.
No report was filed for Lance Trollop, signaling that he didn’t spend enough on the campaign to warrant a filing.
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