Despite Gov. McCallum’s plea for residents to make financial sacrifices, state legislators were accused today of funneling state tax dollars to legislative employee legal defense funds.
The list of state employees accused of using state money for campaigning is growing.
According to legal documents released early this week by Common Cause of Wisconsin, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, D-Madison, used $10,000 of state taxpayer money to pay for legal fees as a result of the legislative caucus scandal.
Despite the accusation, aides to Chvala claim the legal fees were paid for with personal funds.
Prosecutors examined the work of legislative aides, who, while working as partisan caucus staff, engaged in potentially illegal campaign activity. The investigation, which began in June, now includes accusations that legislative leaders sought out campaign monies in exchange for promised action on bills.
Lawmakers in both the state Senate and Assembly have agreed to pay the legal fees for staff caught in the investigation. The state has reportedly paid more than $500,000 in legal fees to private attorneys. The majority of the payouts have been distributed on behalf of legislative aides in the Assembly, although nearly $100,000 was paid on behalf of Senate employees.
Assembly Republicans sought out nearly $90,000 in legal advice to compromise the elimination of caucus operations with the state Ethics and state Elections Boards.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said these payments are unconstitutional.
“We believe it is unconstitutional for legislators to be reimbursed for legal fees,” Heck said.
Under the state statute, an employee can be reimbursed for legal fees once they have been proven innocent.
“We think $10,000 of taxpayers’ money may have been used by Sen. Chvala’s office to pay for legal fees,” Heck said.
In sworn testimony March 1, Senate chief clerk Donald Schneider said he received a bill for $10,000 from Gimbel, Reilly, Guerin, and Brown, a Milwaukee-based law firm.
Schneider is unable to disclose the name of the person represented by the law firm and did not say whether or not the legal fees had been paid.
Patrick Knight, attorney for the firm, said Monday he was representing Chvala in the caucus inquiry.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Schneider said Monday Chvala had been told to reimburse Knight’s law firm for $10,000.
Heck said this is a small piece of the puzzle in the caucus scandal.
“There is a big cloud that continues to hang over the Capitol,” Heck said.