Wisconsin Ethics Panel Recommends Felony Charges Against Trump Committee, Lawmaker

FILE- Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in Waukesha, Wis. The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is recommending that state prosecutors file felony charges against a fundraising committee for Trump and state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Trump ally, related to an effort last year to unseat Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
FILE- Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in Waukesha, Wis. The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is recommending that state prosecutors file felony charges against a fundraising committee for Trump and state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Trump ally, related to an effort last year to unseat Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The Wisconsin Ethics Commission has recommended that state prosecutors file felony charges against a fundraising committee for former President Donald Trump and a Republican state lawmaker related to an effort to unseat Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

The ethics commission on Tuesday referred the alleged violations to several county prosecutors, based on documents the commission provided Friday.

The commission alleges that Trump's fundraising committee and state Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Trump ally, conspired in a scheme to evade campaign finance laws to support the Republican primary challenger to Vos in 2022.

Vos angered Trump after he fired a former state Supreme Court justice whom Vos had hired to investigate Trump's discredited allegations of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Vos launched the probe under pressure from Trump, but eventually distanced himself from the false claims of election fraud and calls to overturn President Joe Biden's win in Wisconsin.

Trump and Brandtjen backed Vos's primary opponent, Adam Steen. Trump called Steen a “motivated patriot” when endorsing him shortly before the 2022 primary. Vos, the longest-serving Assembly speaker in Wisconsin history, defeated Steen in the primary by just 260 votes.

Steen is currently backing an effort to recall Vos from office.

The ethics commission alleges that Trump's Save America political action committee, Brandtjen, Republican Party officials in three counties and Steen's campaign conspired to avoid state fundraising limits in the effort to defeat Vos, steering at least $40,000 into the bid.

The ethics commission recommended that charges be brought against the Trump fundraising committee, Brandtjen, Steen's campaign, eight other individuals and three county Republican parties. If county prosecutors don’t initiate charges within 60 days, the commission said it will go to another district attorney or the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

The commission alleges that those involved took advantage of Wisconsin laws that allow for unlimited donations to political parties, but then illegally steered the money to Steen. State law caps individual donations to Assembly candidates at $1,000.

The ethics commission alleges that Steen and his campaign committee told supporters who wanted to contribute more than $1,000 to donate it to the Langlade County Republican Party with “63” in the memo line. That is the Assembly district number in which Steen was running.

Steen's campaign committee got more than $40,000 from the Langlade County Republican Party, according to the ethics commission.

Terry Brand, chairman of the Langlade County Republican Party, said the money was used to defeat Vos, but that he doesn't think it was illegal.

“I don’t believe we did anything illegal or wrong, other than challenge Robin Vos,” Brand said. “Robin Vos wants to send a message that whoever thinks about running against him to stay out of his business.”

The ethics commission also alleges that Steen and his campaign got $5,000 in donations from Trump's Save America PAC, funneled through the Chippewa County Republican Party. Save America sent another $5,000 to the Florence County Republican Party and GOP officials were told to send the money to Langlade County, the commission said.

According to the ethics commission, the former treasurer of the Florence County GOP later told investigators, “It was after the fact that we were like, this sounds like money laundering to me. Did we just screw up really bad? That’s what we felt like."

The commission alleges that Brandtjen participated in the scheme to secretly direct the donations to county Republican parties as part of the effort to oust Vos.

Neither Brandtjen, Vos, Steen nor Trump’s campaign immediately responded to messages seeking comment.

The commission dismissed a complaint against MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, saying he may have been one of those who participated in the plan by donating $4,000 to the Langlade County Republican Party one week before the primary, but there wasn't sufficient evidence to recommend prosecution.

WisPolitics.com first reported on the allegations.