Green Bay Mayor charged with violating campaign finance law

Some aldermen aren't pleased with outcome
Posted at 10:10 AM, Sep 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-07 23:42:54-04

Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt has been charged with violating campaign finance law, according to his attorney.

A near two-year investigation has led to the charges, including:

- False Statements to an Election Official (Attempt)

- Accept Campaign Contribution Funds not Belonging to Reported Contributor

- Accept Campaign Contribution in Excess of Limits

According to the special prosecutor handling the case, Mayor Schmitt plans to plead guilty. In turn, Milwaukee County's D.A. Bruce Landgraf says he won't recommend jail time or probation.
In addition, Mayor Schmitt has also dissolved his campaign committee (Friends of Jim Schmitt), and forfeited more than $26,000 in campaign funds to the state School Fund.
The 18-page criminal complaint claims Mayor Schmitt and his campaign accepted individual contributions exceeding the $1,040 limit. In one case the complaint alleges a $5,000 check from one donor was recorded in a finance report as five $1,000 donations divided among the donor's family. 
Prosecutors say the donor's bank account reflects a single $5,000 donation. 
In January 2015, city aldermen Guy Zima, Chris Wery, and Andy Nicholson requested a probe into Mayor Schmitt's campaign finances, pointing to thousands of dollars in improper contributions. 
Today, Mayor Schmitt says he has "made mistakes in the handling of campaign finances."
In a statement, Schmitt says "while I may disagree with some of his conclusions, I do not dispute his factual findings, nor his belief that all responsibility for accuracy, and compliance rests with me."
Meanwhile, Mayor Schmitt's attorney says he'll continue to fulfill the duties of his office, and expects the case to be resolved in the "very near future."
But those who requested the investigation aren't entirely thrilled with the results.
Alderman Chris Wery says he's shocked the offenses are only misdemeanors, and that Mayor Schmitt should consider stepping down.
"These are serious felony violations. Felonies, "explains Wery after hearing the news, "and, to see that they've somehow magically been [pleaded] down already to misdemeanors, and how... his attorney is saying, 'oh, this will be resolved in a couple weeks,' seems like some deal has already been done. They're ignoring a bunch of [offenses]."

We will continue to update this story as more information and reaction becomes available.


GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN (9/7/16) - For the last year and a half, Mayor Jim Schmitt has fully cooperated with a review of his campaign account, Friends of Jim Schmitt. All records of activity in that account have been voluntarily produced along with ledgers of all receipts and disbursements relating to campaign activity. As Mayor Schmitt's legal counsel, we have followed his directive to voluntarily produce all records and provide Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf full access to records and information.

The review determined that, while no misappropriation of campaign funds occurred, the acceptance of certain contributions and the inaccurate reporting of them violated the law. As a result, a complaint was filed today charging Mayor Schmitt with three misdemeanor violations of Wisconsin Campaign Finance Law. These charges have been fully discussed by Mr. Landgraf and myself over the last several months.

As a result of those discussions, I expect this matter to conclude with an agreed upon resolution in the very near future.

Following the conclusion of this case, Mayor Schmitt's policy of openly addressing all issues and responding to all questions will continue. At this time, however, I have instructed the Mayor not to address or respond to questions concerning the complaint filed today, or the allegations contained therein. Mayor Schmitt has issued an initial statement to provide some answers to questions that you may have, but beyond that, Mayor Schmitt and I will be refraining from making extrajudicial statements, at my direction and insistence, until this matter has concluded.

Based on my discussions with Mr. Landgraf, I expect the court proceedings arising from this complaint to be fully resolved within a month. When that occurs, Mayor Schmitt and I will publicly address these issues and answer all questions regarding this matter. Our views regarding these charges, the investigation and future corrective measures will be openly discussed so that the process is fully transparent. In the interim, Mayor Schmitt will continue to fulfill the duties of his office in serving the citizens of Green Bay.

I thank you all in advance for your patience with Mayor Schmitt and my office, as we allow this matter to proceed through court without inappropriate extrajudicial discussion.

Attorney Patrick J. Knight

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Media Contact: Patrick J. Knight

Gimbel Reilly Guerin & Brown LLP


To the Green Bay Community:

GREEN BAY, WI (9/7/16) - I have worked hard as your Mayor since first being elected in 2003. My focus has been on building community, creating a strong economy, and promoting the growth and development of our neighborhoods. While I feel I've been successful in obtaining those goals as your Mayor, I want all of you to know that I have made mistakes in the handling of campaign finances.

As a candidate, I have raised funds for my election campaigns. I have always been most appreciative of the strong support provided to me by many diverse members of our community. My campaign account, "Friends of Jim Schmitt" was the vehicle through which I raised campaign funds and recorded campaign expenses. For over a year, the transactions and the reporting of my campaign account have been thoroughly scrutinized by Milwaukee Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, an expert in campaign finance law. With the assistance of my counsel, I have fully cooperated with this review by voluntarily producing all relevant records for examination.

Mr. Landgraf has concluded that my handling and reporting of my campaign account was contrary to law.

As a result, he has issued three misdemeanor charges for violating the requirements of Wisconsin election laws. While I may disagree with some of his conclusions, I do not dispute his factual findings nor his belief that all responsibility for accuracy and compliance rests with me.

Mr. Landgraf's review identified a number of inaccuracies in reporting areas that should not have occurred. These fall into two broad areas of failings on my part:

1. My failure to know and comply with the acceptable limits of election law and the circumstances under which family contributions can be accepted. As a result, individual contributions over the legal limit were accepted and portions were wrongfully attributed to non-contributing relatives, and;

2. My failure to accurately record and verify the financial data reported in my regularly filed reports for my campaign account activity.

Two things should be made very clear: First, this detailed review confirmed that no donated campaign funds were ever diverted or used for any inappropriate purpose. The errors relate solely to the wrongful acceptance of contributions and the inaccuracies in recording and reporting financial data. Second, while many volunteers worked with the "Friends of Jim Schmitt" campaign, they bear no responsibility for this situation. The acceptance and attribution of contributions and the accuracy of campaign reports is my sole responsibility. I should have done much better and for that I offer my heartfelt apologies to you and to everyone in the City.

While these errors will soon be addressed and resolved in the courts, my commitment and responsibility to the City of Green Bay remains unchanged. I assure you that throughout this process, my continued vision, effort, and passion for the City of Green Bay will be steadfast.

Please understand that I cannot comment on the specifics of the matter during the pendency of the court process. Once this matter is resolved, in the very near future, I will be happy to answer any questions from the media and community. I can also assure you that, going forward, I will exercise much greater care and diligence with any campaign filings to ensure that they meet every letter, intent and requirement of Wisconsin election law. I will do what I should have done in the past and enlist the services of financial and election experts to assist with the acceptance of contributions and the preparation and filing of these reports.

Finally, I want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me and my family, as well as everyone who continues to support the people and City of Green Bay.

Mayor Jim Schmitt