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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Citizen Action of Wisconsin Files a Complaint

Against Advocates for Student Achievement

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A controversial “reform” group involved in the Milwaukee Public Schools campaigns—Advocates for Student Achievement (ASA)—is the target of a complaint by Citizen Action of Wisconsin.

The complaint, filed with the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office last week, alleges that ASA and three candidates for the MPS board have not properly disclosed all of their activities.

According to the complaint, ASA is “illegally providing contributions to three Milwaukee School Board Campaigns”: Friends to Elect ReDonna Rodgers, Annie Woodward for Education, and Voeltner School Board.

Those contributions include candidate orientation sessions, issue papers for candidates, continuing candidate education, volunteer recruitment, fund-raising, express advocacy via e-mail and possible express advocacy through a “push poll.”

State law requires political action committees (PACs) and candidates to report of their contributions that are of value. Non-monetary contributions are labeled “in-kind” for reporting purposes.Robert Kraig of Citizen Action said that lack of disclosure runs counter to the “very important public purpose of campaign finance laws.”

ASA has registered as a PAC with the city of Milwaukee, but as of this writing no ASA campaign finance disclosure forms have been filed at the Milwaukee Election Commission.

The three candidates have not reported ASA contributions on the forms that they have filed with the city. The next campaign finance form deadline is March 30, one week before the April 7 election.

ASA representatives say there are two sides of the organization: ASA-MKE, which is nonpolitical and seeks to raise awareness of the issues plaguing MPS, and ASA-PAC, the group’s political arm.

Former MPS board member Joe Dannecker, treasurer for ASA-PAC, said the organization did not file any reports with the election commission because it didn’t spend any money before the pre-primary reporting deadline. He said the PAC would report its activities by March 30.

Dannecker said he was not aware of an e-mail sent on Feb. 19 from the “ASA Executive Committee,” which asked for donations to the three candidates or to the Milwaukee Fund for Public Education, a pro-voucher group that dumped $50,000 into voucher-supporting incumbents’ races just before the 2003 board elections. It also requested volunteers to work on the campaigns’ door-to-door and phone bank activities.

“I can’t say that I’ve seen that particular e-mail,” Dannecker said. “People send e-mails all the time. But certainly ASA-MKE should not be engaging in partisan activities. ASA-PAC has not been doing a whole lot. But if there’s a pre-primary report [due], then that’s my mistake, although if the PAC didn’t spend money in the pre-primary period I’m sure there’s nothing of consequence.”

He said the PAC has raised a few thousand dollars “and that’s it.”

What’s your take?

Write: editor@shepex.com or comment on this story online at www.expressmilwaukee.com.

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