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Campaign finance complaint filed against Wausau School Board members
A current candidate for office filed a complaint against three current board members alleging 'slate' candidacy with shared expenses
A candidate in this year’s school board race has filed a campaign finance complaint related to last year’s spring Wausau School Board race.
Current candidate Gillian Battino filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission alleging that three candidates in last year’s election — James Bouche, Jon Creisher and Joanne Reyes — ran a ‘slate” campaign and shared spending on campaign materials. That spending, the complaint alleges (the amounts are confirmed via campaign finance reports and the candidates own calculations in response to The Wausonian’s messages confirms), exceeds contribution limits because they’re considered in kind contributions.
Battino’s complaint alleges that the distributions reported in all three candidates’ campaign finance reports ahead of the 2022 election were exactly $5,104.28. That implies that all three split co-campaign expenses. (That’s also confirmed via the actual finance reports.)
The three candidates sent out a joint press release about their candidacy for school board prior to the election, and often shared signs with all three names on them. Three candidates did something similar in 2021 — that included Creisher, Karen Vandenberg and Cody Nikolai.
Battino said she had considered a similar strategy in her current race for school board. She called the WEC because she had thought about doing a similar strategy with candidate Fred Tealey, who she said she shares a lot in common with.
But WEC officials stopped her immediately. They said the only candidates that are allowed to run as slate candidates — running for office on a joint ticket, so to speak — is the governor and lieutenant governor, and the president and vice president at the national level.
According to a memo from the WEC offering an opinion on the matter, shared costs in an add must be considered an in-kind campaign contribution.
Battino told The Wausonian that she believed filing the complaint could tank her campaign, but she said it was the right thing to do. Administrators warned her if she were elected to the school board in spring, she might find difficulty getting along with the other board members she told The Wausonian.
The Wausonian reached out to Creisher, Bouche and Reyes for comment. Bouche responded by providing his response to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission.
According to Bouche, the opinion Battino referenced was at first a response to some of the members of the Wisconsin Association of School Board. WASB then shared the opinion among some of its members. Later, Bouche says, the WEC put the opinion on its website, but unless someone knew where to look, they would not have been able to find it.
Bouche said nothing in the guidelines for candidates specified what to do in the case of shared expenses, so they did the logical thing and split shared expenses three ways. (That lines up with the expenditures all equaling the exact same amount on each separate filing.)
According to a breakdown provided in the respones, each candidate received roughly $4,000 from each of the other campaigns in an in-kind fashion. But a quick Google search revealed contribution limits for candidates for office in the state on the WEC’s website.
According to that breakdown, for jurisdictions with populations of more than 25,000 in population, candidate committees can spend up to $0.02 per person in the district. Battino told The Wausonian that’s about $1,000 (Wausau School District incorporates areas outside of the Wausau city limits, so it’s greater than the number of Wausau residents).
Under those calculations, each would have received an in-kind contribution of roughly three times the state limit for contributions by candidate committees.
Bouche in his response to the state says they believe it was the state’s intent to split the costs evenly. Bouche said in his rebuttal to the state that he didn’t believe the WEC’s method of calculating that expenditure in-kind is logical.
But the state is clear about contributions that can come from a candidate committee, and in-kind contributions are treated as contributions by the state.
The Wisconsin Election Commission is meeting to review the complaint on Feb. 21. Potential fines could be imposed up to $600 per infraction.
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