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Trump PAC referred for prosecution by Wisconsin ethics committee

The charging recommendations could prove to be yet another headache for the former president during his campaign to return to the White House

Kelly Rissman
Friday 23 February 2024 20:48 GMT
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A Wisconsin oversight panel recommended felony charges against a fundraising committee for Donald Trump and a Republican state lawmaker, accusing them of arranging a scheme to evade campaign finance laws.

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission claimed that Mr Trump’s Save America PAC, Republican officials, state Rep Janel Brandtjen and the campaign committee of Adam Steen, who ran against Assembly speaker Robin Vos in the 2022 primary, sidestepped campaign finance laws in an effort to unseat Mr Vos.

The ethics commission, WisPolitics.com first reported, referred the alleged violations to county prosecutors earlier this week, and recommended charges be brought against the Trump PAC, Ms Brandtjen, Mr Steen’s campaign, three county Republican parties and eight others.

Under the state’s law, individuals and political action committees can contribute a maximum of $1,000 each to Assembly candidates, while county parties can contribute unlimited amounts. However, the commission alleged that the Save America PAC, Ms Brandtjen, Mr Steen’s campaign and Republican parties in three counties conspired to avoid these fundraising limits by funneling at least $40,000 into Mr Steen’s campaign.

Mr Steen, whom Mr Trump endorsed and once called a “motivated patriot”, ultimately lost to Mr Vos by less than 300 votes.

The commission documents allegedly informed county prosecutors that if they don’t initiate charges within 60 days, the commission will bring these referrals to another district attorney or the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Trump’s PAC donated $5,000 each to three county Republican parties in August 2022, totalling $15,000, the Washington Post reported.

Mr Vos, the longest-serving Assembly speaker in Wisconsin history, refused to decertify the 2020 election results in a rebuke to Mr Trump.

Regarding Ms Brandtjen, the commission noted that at least one recorded conversation exists in which “she was discussing getting money” from the Save America PAC to a county party, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. On top of this, Ms Brandtjen herself donated $3,000 to a county party.

“As a representative to the Assembly since 2014, Representative Brandtjen was well aware that she could not give more than $1,000 to Friends of Adam Steen,” the commission wrote. “It is also clear that she was supporting Mr Adam Steen and was aware of the arrangement between Friends of Adam Steen and the Republican Party of Langlade County.”

The Racine County district attorney saidthat she would make a decision quickly on the referral, while the Waukesha County district said she needed more information from the ethics commission before making any decision.

The Chippewa County district attorney told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he will refer the charges back to the commission because he is a member of the party being charged and it would be a “conflict for me to take any action regarding these allegations”.

The charging recommendations could prove to be yet another headache for Mr Trump, who is already facing 91 felony counts across different jurisdictions.

The commission told the Independent it does not have any comment at this time. The Independent has also reached out to representatives for Ms Brandtjen, Mr Vos, Mr Steen and the Save America PAC.

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