A Wisconsin watchdog group filed a complaint against a voucher school advocacy group for allegedly not disclosing about $2 million in election spending Tuesday, in hopes of increasing enforcement to all groups that do so.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, against the American Federation for Children for allegedly failing to disclose about $2 million in funds used to influence races.

WDC Executive Director Mike McCabe said, however, that AFC was not the only group that does this and called for more enforcement of campaign finance rules.

The complaint stemmed from an online AFC report to members, which has since been deleted, that said the group spent $2.4 million in influencing races, although it only disclosed $345,000 to the GAB.

“The reality is that they hid over $2 million worth of election spending from the people of Wisconsin, and what we want is for the GAB to begin enforcing their own rules and making groups like this come clean and honestly account for the full extent of their electioneering,” McCabe said.

AFC was able to keep most of its spending undisclosed, McCabe said, because the group spent money on advertisement for issues, rather than on candidates themselves.

However, in the AFC report, the WDC highlighted races it had “invested heavily” in, such as the highly contested state Senate race between Sen. Rick Gudex, R-Fond du Lac, and former Sen. Jessica King, D-Oshkosh. McCabe argued in the complaint that for that reason, GAB should rule AFC violated campaign finance rules.

“With expenditures of $2,392,000, [AFC] engaged in hard-fought, successful battles to ensure educational choice majorities in both chambers of the Legislature,” the AFC report said.

The AFC report also praised Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators for their proposals to expand voucher schools to nine more school districts, in addition to the current programs in Milwaukee and Racine. It also lauded their efforts to create a special needs scholarship program that would apply statewide.

McCabe said the report, in which he said AFC “bragged” about their achievements, was supposed to be for members only, and AFC took down the report as soon as it realized others were reading it.

WDC’s complaint is not just intended to highlight AFC’s $2 million in undisclosed spending, but also to push GAB to enforce rules it already has the authority to do, McCabe said.
Common Cause in Wisconsin Executive Director Jay Heck said legislators often question whether GAB has the authority to enforce “sweeping rules,” so a law from the Legislature would be a better deterrent.

Heck called on the Legislature to pass a bipartisan bill from two longtime state senators that would toughen state election laws, rather than enforcing GAB rules.

“The GAB has always thought that a legislative solution is really necessary to solve this problem,” Heck said. “I don’t fault the GAB for not enforcing their rules. I fault the failure of the Legislature for almost 20 years to pass a disclosure rule that reins in this electioneering.”