New Campaign Finance Reporting System Shows
Erroneous Reports For Doyle, Others

 March 4, 2009

Madison - Campaign finance reports posted on a new state electronic reporting system for Governor Jim Doyle and other statewide officeholders, legislators and political action committees are riddled with erroneous information, a review by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign shows.

WDC reviewed about four dozen campaign finance reports for candidates and political action committees from 2006 to present and found nearly all had erroneous information including incorrect cash balances and spending and fundraising totals. In addition, campaign expenses including travel, staff payroll, political advertising, postage and printing are described as “data conversion” in reports being put on the new system from July 2008 and before.

The original 368-page campaign finance report filed by Doyle last July showed individual and committee contributions and other income totaling $906,000 and expenditures totaling $234,090 for the first six months of 2008. (See original July 2008 summary page.)

A version of that same report on the new electronic reporting system is only nine pages and shows Doyle’s campaign raised only $2,959 in the first six months and $624,895 for the year. Both totals, which should be identical, are wrong. The report also shows Doyle spent nothing in the first six months and $292,175 for the year – again both figures should be the same but both are wrong. (See July 2008 summary page from GAB’s new campaign finance reporting system.)

Doyle’s year-end 2008 report on the new reporting system was also incorrect because it showed he raised $624,895 for the entire year. Doyle actually raised more than $1.5 million last year. (See January 2009 summary page.)

In addition to Doyle, campaign finance reports available on the new electronic system for many other candidates and PACs also contain erroneous spending, fundraising and cash balance figures and other information, including:

  • A July 2006 campaign finance report for Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen shows he only raised $70,000 – a one-time contribution from himself – and spent nothing in the first half of 2006. His original report shows contributions and other income totaling $468,892 – including two loans of $175,000 each from Van Hollen to his campaign – and expenses totaling $95,799.
  • PAC reports for the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union and one of the state’s highest spending PACs, and the Greater Wisconsin Committee contained numerous errors.
  • WEAC PAC’s July 2008 report shows it was broke with a negative cash balance of $456,466. Its correct cash balance was $2.56 million. The new system’s report also showed WEAC raised $421,693 and spent $3 million in the first six months. The PAC actually raised $1.02 million and spent $548,077. Finally, all of its expenses were described as “data conversion,” including $349,325 it spent on a controversial television ad in the 2008 Supreme Court race.

    The Greater Wisconsin Committee’s July 2008 PAC report on the new reporting system shows it raised $280,450 and spent $300,630 and ended the first six months of the year with a negative cash balance of $73,824. The PAC’s original reports showed it raised $74,700 and spent $112,839 and ended the first six months of 2008 with a balance of $4,185. The report on the new system also wrongly described as “data conversion” four expenditures totaling $101,822 for negative advertising in last spring’s Supreme Court race.

  • A July 2008 campaign finance report for Democratic Assembly Majority Leader Tom Nelson shows two different fundraising totals for the first six months of the year – $39,364 for the six-month period and $48,270 for the year – figures which should be the same. It also shows two different expense totals – $7,889 for the six-month period and $17,240 for the year – that should be the same. All of Nelson’s expenses, including fundraising, printing and bank charges, are classified as “data conversion.” Nelson’s original electronic report filed last July shows he raised $39,414 and spent $7,689 in the first six months of 2008. Finally, the ending cash balances on both reports differ by $49,000. The original report he filed shows a cash balance of $80,617 while the report generated by the new electronic reporting system shows a cash balance of $31,475.
  • Two campaign finance reports on the new system for Republican Representative Jim Ott show fundraising and spending totals for 2007 that are triple the totals listed in his original reports because many contributors and expenditures were listed three times. All of the expenses listed in the reports are erroneously categorized as “data conversion” including postal, retail, credit card and hotel expenditures.
  • A July 2008 report generated by the new system for Republican Senator Mike Ellis shows no fundraising or income for the first six months of 2008, $4,510 in expenses and a negative cash balance of $4,510. Ellis’ original report filed last July lists $4,711 in interest income, $11,179 in expenses and contributions to committees and a cash balance of $204,534 – one of the largest among the state’s 132 legislators. Like the others, all of Ellis’ expenses are described as “data conversion.”
  • July 2008 reports generated by the new system for the two top Republican legislative leaders – Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald – both contained different fundraising and spending totals than the electronic reports they filed in July. The reports on the new electronic filing system also contained substantially higher year-to-date fundraising and spending totals than those listed for the six-month period even though the totals should match. In addition, the June 30, 2008 cash balance on Jeff Fitzgerald’s original report was $51,345 but the report on the new filing system showed a cash balance for the same period of $4,203. Scott Fitzgerald’s ending cash balance last June was $10,550 but the report for the same period on the new filing system listed a negative cash balance of $8,127.
  • In a campaign finance report filed last October on the new electronic system by MTI Voters – the Madison teachers union PAC – expenditures were inflated by $17,004 because 12 expenses for newspaper ads totaling $3,504 and 27 contributions of $500 each were each listed twice in the report.

Finally, 2008 year-end campaign finance reports due February 2 as well as basic fundraising and spending totals for more than two dozen legislative candidates are not yet available on the Government Accountability Board’s reporting system or upon request.

In the past most paper and electronically filed campaign finance reports were available within two or three days after they were due. And basic fundraising, spending and cash balance totals culled from those reports were usually available a week to 10 days after the reports were due.

An audio version of this story is available in our podcast archive.