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Tribe may have broken Wisconsin election law with offers of free food, prizes

By   /   November 4, 2014  /   News  /   No Comments

AP file photo

A DIFFERENT LOOK: Lac Courte Oreilles tribe members enter the Wisconsin General Assembly Chamber for the 2006 annual State of the Tribes address. Now, the tribe is accused of trying to buy votes.

 

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON, Wis. — A spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board says the agency is “aware of” allegations that the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribal Government may have broken state election law Tuesday by offering to voters free lunch or dinner and tickets to win prizes.

The GAB’s Reid Magney referred Wisconsin Reporter to the Sawyer County District Attorney’s office, which has the “authority over possible Chapter 12 issues.” Chapter 12 is Wisconsin’s law on prohibited election practices.

An official in DA Bruce R. Poquette’s office said that she had heard a couple of calls come in related to the matter. While Wisconsin Reporter left a message with Poquette seeking comment, the staff member said Poquette doesn’t comment to the media.

Photo by lco-nsn.gov

PRIZES FOR VOTES? The Lac Courte Oreilles tribal government was preparing to offer voters food and tickets for the chance to win prizes, according to the tribe’s website. Such promotions could land the tribe in trouble with state election law enforcers.

Wisconsin news outlet Media Trackers broke the story Tuesday afternoon that the tribal government, based in Hayward, boasted a Get Out the Native Vote promotion on its website, offering individuals who vote entry into a contest for prizes. Voters also were invited to stop by the tribal government’s convention center for a free lunch or dinner.

While offering rides to the polls is acceptable, under Chapter 12.11, the statute’s “election bribery section,” it is prohibited to give “anything of value” in exchange for voting.

“’… (A)nything of value’ includes any amount of money, or any object which has utility independent of any political message it contains and the value of which exceeds $1.”

Unless the prizes are miniature candy bars or little red bouncy balls, the tribe could be in violation of state election law.

An official with the tribal government did not return a call from Wisconsin Reporter seeking comment.

As Media Trackers reported, the Lac Courte Oreilles is vehemently opposed to a mining proposal in northern Wisconsin and has pushed “canvassing jobs on their tribe’s government website for a group that has spent millions trying to defeat Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker this fall.”

“Everyone who has voted, stop by the Convention Center and receive a ticket for drawings. Drawings will be held during dinner at 5:00 PM. Need not be present to win,” a flier on the website states. The site also invites voters to stop by for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

“A solicitation posted to the official LCO tribal government website seeks to recruit ‘canvassers’ for the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters get-out-the-vote effort,” Media Trackers reported. “The WLCV and its allied groups have waged a more than $1 million television and grassroots campaign to (attempt to) oust Walker from office…”

Under state law, any person who does the following is in violation of Chapter 12.11:

(a) Offers, gives, lends or promises to give or lend, or endeavors to procure, anything of value, or any office or employment or any privilege or immunity to, or for, any elector, or to or for any other person, in order to induce any elector to:

  1. Go to or refrain from going to the polls.
  2. Vote or refrain from voting.
  3. Vote or refrain from voting for or against a particular person.
  4. Vote or refrain from voting for or against a particular referendum; or on account of any elector having done any of the above.

(b) Receives, agrees or contracts to receive or accept any money, gift, loan, valuable consideration, office or employment personally or for any other person, in consideration that the person or any elector will, so act or has so acted.

(c) Advances, pays or causes to be paid any money to or for the use of any person with the intent that such money or any part thereof will be used to bribe electors at any election.

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M.D. Kittle is national First Amendment reporter at Watchdog.org. Contact him at [email protected]