Prosecutor silent on campaign bribery charges
By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The Milwaukee County assistant district attorney handling a case involving charges of election bribery in what became known as the BBQ-for-votes scandal seems to have nothing publicly to say on the matter.
At least he didn’t Thursday afternoon, when his office was asked by Wisconsin Reporter.
That silence isn’t sitting well with state Sen. Alberta Darling’s campaign, despite the River Hill’s Republican easily pushing back a recall drive Tuesday.
Milwaukee County District Attorney Bruce Landgraf told Wisconsin Reporter, through an assistant, that he is “not at liberty to discuss the matter.”
The matter involves serious allegations that pro-union Wisconsin Jobs Now plied Milwaukee voters with food at a series of “block parties” before busing them to Milwaukee City Hall to cast absentee ballots in the 8th Senate District race, which pitted incumbent Darling against challenger state Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay.
The Republican Party of Wisconsin and conservative news outlet Media Trackers filed complaints with the Government Accountability Board, or GAB, the state’s election agency, alleging election bribery. Wisconsin Jobs Now provided free food, prizes and even face-painting for the children at the events.
Media Trackers earlier this month reported that on Aug.1, a source who wished to remain anonymous attended a Wisconsin Jobs Now “block party” and witnessed a number of illegal activities.
The source was given a free meal ticket and a raffle ticket for a prize drawing before being whisked away in a white van to Milwaukee City Hall. At Milwaukee City Hall, personnel wearing Wisconsin Jobs Now T-shirts explained the ballot and assisted voters with registration forms all from inside the Milwaukee Election Commission office, a polling location.
Anyone who “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…” to vote is in violation of state election law. Anything of value is anything that is worth more than $1.
Rides to the polls are specifically exempted from the law.
Wisconsin Jobs Now vehemently denies the accusations. Organizers did not return an email seeking comment.
Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the Democratic Party Wisconsin, as well as another Democratic Party official, did not return phone calls from Wisconsin Reporter.
Landgraf’s silence on the case comes nearly two weeks after the allegations hit and a couple of days after Darling scored an 8-percentage point victory over her challenger, winning by more than 5,000 votes in what was handicapped to be a much closer contest.
When the charges were filed, Landgraf said the office took the allegations seriously.
Not long after, he said his office could not do much about them, because the source in the complaint wishes to remain anonymous, according to media reports.
Wisconsin Reporter asked Landgraf’s spokeswoman why he was not at liberty to discuss the case, and whether charges still were pending.
Reid Magney, GAB spokesman, only would confirm the complaint filed with GAB, and that those allegations are handled by district attorneys. He said the agency did consult with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office and the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office.
Andrew Davis, Darling’s campaign manager, sounded amazed by the assistant district attorney’s silence in the case. He said he hopes the prosecutor hasn’t decided it unnecessary to pursue the charges simply, because Darling won the election.
“That’s very concerning,” Davis said. “As we got closer to election day, we wondered how many people were actually casting ballots early. If (the election was) any closer, we would have been very concerned about the 1,100 ballots cast at City Hall, but because we won by such a huge margin, it won’t be a difference maker.”
The campaign manager said the complaint boils down to election integrity, knowing that a few hundred votes or less can decide a race.
“If there was illegal wrongdoing, it needs to be dealt with and shut down,” Davis said. “Elections have to be fair.”
Wisconsin Jobs Now has filed a complaint charging the Darling camp and the group We’re Watching Wisconsin Elections with intimidation, alleging the group continuously photographed voters.
Wisconsin Jobs Now asserts the group’s actions amounted to duress, impeding the “free exercise of the franchise at an election,” among other provisions outlined in state election law.
Meanwhile, a number of pre-election charges appear to remain unresolved. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint against Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin, or AFP, for sending out ballot applications with erroneous instructions on them. The fliers incorrectly informed voters of the deadline for requests.
AFP has apologized for what it called a mistake, saying the mass mailing was intended for voters in next Tuesday’s Senate recall elections targeting Democrats.
And Wisconsin Right to Life faces allegations that it offered gift cards to volunteers for signing up absentee voters.
GAB, again, could only confirm a complaint was filed in the AFP case.
Whatever comes of the charges, the findings will not change the outcome of Tuesday’s recall elections.
“If something comes under the board’s purview and if the board finds there’s been a violation, we may impose a civil forfeiture,” Magney said. “If the board finds something criminal, we can refer it to the district attorney.”
But when it comes to elections, Magney said, “there’s no do-over.”