Wisconsin counties decline to prosecute campaign finance case against Trump committee

Prosecutors in three Wisconsin counties declined to pursue felony charges of campaign finance violations against former President Donald Trump’s fundraising committee and a Republican state lawmaker related to an effort to unseat Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

The prosecutors cited conflicts of interest, in some cases because they too are actively involved in their local Republican parties.

The Wisconsin Ethics Commission, which recommended last month that charges be filed, announced the local prosecutors’ decisions in a memo prepared for a Friday meeting. Charges were also forwarded to district attorneys in three additional counties but they had yet to inform the commission of their plans.


The ethics commission was meeting Friday to vote on referring the charges to counties adjacent to the three that declined to prosecute. Ultimately, the state attorney general, Democrat Josh Kaul, could be asked to prosecute the cases.

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 had angered Trump by firing a former state Supreme Court justice 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 Trump’s effort to overturn President Joe Biden’s win in Wisconsin.

Trump and Brandtjen then tried to unseat Vos by backing a GOP 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 by just 260 votes.

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

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Wisconsin participates in a news conference at the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024. (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)

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 as they steered at least $40,000 into the effort to defeat Vos.

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 recommended that charges be brought against the Trump fundraising committee, Brandtjen, Steen’s campaign, eight other individuals and three county Republican parties.

Prosecutors in Chippewa, Florence and Langlade counties declined to prosecute. The allegations were also referred to district attorneys in Racine, St. Croix and Waukesha counties.

Chippewa County District Attorney Wade Newell had said he would not pursue the charges because he is a member of the county Republican Party, which could be charged.

Florence County District Attorney Doug Drexler said in a letter to the commission that he had a conflict of interest because he has been a member of the county Republican Party for more than 30 years and performed legal services for members of the party.

Langlade County District Attorney Kelly Hays did not return a message seeking comment Friday.

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