The State Elections Board ruled Wednesday that a national education reform group has until January to reveal who ordered and paid for a controversial campaign mailer sent to Racine-area voters urging the defeat of state Sen.-elect John Lehman, D-Racine.
All Children Matter — which is based in Michigan and also has a political action committee in Virginia — sent a mailing to voters in the 21st Senate District in mid-October that said, "There are $12 billion reasons to vote against John Lehman."
The board unanimously voted that the mailing involved "express" advocacy, which requires the individual or group doing the campaigning to register with the Elections Board before engaging in the campaign activity and to report its source of donations and expenditures.
In an Oct. 12 petition to the Elections Board, concerned organizations and citizens requested the board "initiate a civil action" against All Children Matter to enforce reporting requirements, "enjoin them from further violations" and require them to pay the monetary penalties outlined by state law.
The group crossed the line from simply issuing advocacy into express advocacy by using the words "vote against," the complaint says, and so the group should have registered with the Elections Board.
As the complainants noted, All Children Matter is not registered as a PAC with the state, according to Kyle Richmond, public information officer for the Elections Board.
The complainants included Rudy Kuzel of Racine, retired president of United Auto Workers Local 72 at Chrysler; Nancy Holmlund, a Racine schoolteacher for 31 years; the Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association PAC Fund; and the Wisconsin Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals of West Allis.
During its meeting Wednesday, the board withdrew a motion to ask All Children Matter to pay a $1,500 forfeiture for breaking state elections laws after board members said they could not tell whether All Children Matter officials in Wisconsin or elsewhere were responsible for the mailings.
John Savage, chairman of the Elections Board, said the group could come under criminal investigation for false swearing if Wisconsin officials of the group said they paid for the campaign materials when another out-of-state branch of the group actually arranged for them. Savage added that the board wants to get copies of checks used to pay for the anti-Lehman mailing by its January meeting.
However, Kevin St. John, lawyer for the Wisconsin branch of All Children Matter, said the group registered with the Elections Board after the formal complaint over the anti-Lehman mailings was filed. St. John said he believed the original arrangements for the mailing to voters were made by All Children Matter officials across the nation.
"What we're trying to do here is make the best of a mistake," St. John said.
Lehman currently serves in the 62nd Assembly District and will move to the Senate in January, where he will be a member of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee. Lehman defeated Republican candidate Racine County Executive William McReynolds in the Nov. 7 election.