Updated Feb 23, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan Wisconsin Ethics Commission refers Trump PAC for prosecution

Former President Trump speaking in Nashville on Feb. 22.

Former President Trump speaking in Nashville on Feb. 22. Photo: Brett Carlsen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A bipartisan ethics committee in Wisconsin has recommended felony charges against one of former President Trump's political action committees and Republicans in the state for allegedly skirting campaign finance laws, the committee confirmed to Axios on Friday.

Why it matters: The criminal referrals could spell more legal trouble for Trump, who already faces 91 charges in four cases in other jurisdictions.

The big picture: Trump called to decertify Wisconsin's 2020 election results as part of his wider attempt at subverting the presidential election due to his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

Details: The Wisconsin Ethics Commission recommended that local district attorneys investigate and pursue felony charges against several officials and committees.

  • The commission, comprised of three Democrats and three Republicans, alleged a scheme to evade campaign finance laws during the 2022 midterm elections, the news service Wispolitics first reported.
  • The commission claimed Trump's Save America PAC, state Rep. Janel Brandtjen and other Republicans steered at least $40,000 to the 2022 challenger of Wisconsin State Assembly speaker Robin Vos.
  • Vos was challenged by Adam Steen, who heavily embraced Trump and the perpetuated false claims of 2020 election fraud.

State laws allow individuals and most political organizations to give a maximum of $1,000 each to Wisconsin Assembly candidates, though political parties can give candidates unlimited amounts.

  • The commission alleged that Steen, his campaign, Trump's PAC, Brandtjen and officials with three county Republican parties conspired by coordinating donations to the Langlade County GOP.
  • The county GOP would allegedly give the funds to Steen or use them to his benefit.

Flashback: Steen, who Trump endorsed, lost to Vos in a 2022 primary by 260 votes.

  • He then ran as a write-in candidate during the general election that November and finished a distant third, trailing Vos by over 14,600 votes.
  • Part of Steen's campaign revolved around assertions that Vos wasn't doing enough to address claims of election integrity issues in the state.

Context: Leading up to the 2022 midterms, Trump repeatedly called on voters to support Steen and criticized Vos for not acting on his call to decertify President Biden's victory in the state in 2020.

  • Trump pressured Vos to overturn election results even though a nonpartisan audit concluded in 2021 that it found no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
  • It determined the swing state's election had been "largely safe and secure."

Zoom out: Trump also pressured state officials in Georgia and Arizona to overturn results in their states.

  • For the efforts, Trump was charged with four felony counts in August 2023 by a grand jury convened by special counsel Jack Smith.
  • Proceedings in the case have been indefinitely postponed after Trump claimed he had "absolute immunity" from criminal charges, which is an untested legal assertion that may be decided by the Supreme Court.

Go deeper: Trump cites presidential immunity in request to dismiss classified docs case

Editor's note: This is a breaking news story. Please check back for additional details.

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