MADISON — Wisconsin Democrats announced Wednesday that they are filing an Internal Revenue Service complaint against Kevin Nicholson, a Republican who announced he plans to run for a statewide elected office in 2022, but hasn't said which office he intends to seek.
The specific complaint regards Nicholson's use of a nonprofit, and more than $1 million in advertising buys, to elevate his status and criticize Democratic Gov. Tony Evers without actually filing to run for office. He told WTMJ-TV last week that he plans to have his name on a ballot in 2022. He ran unsuccessfully for Senate in 2018, having been beaten by Leah Vukmir in the Republican primary, who was then beaten by incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin by 11 percentage points.
The nonprofit in question is No Better Friend Corp., a 501(c)(4) nonprofit launched in 2019 which has a stated goal to "move the conservative movement forward." Nicholson is the public face of the nonprofit. Its website lists six primary goals: "defending life" by opposing abortion, supporting law enforcement, opposing critical race theory, ensuring "free and fair elections," honoring those who served (Nicholson is a Marine Corps combat veteran) and improving education.
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Through the nonprofit, which includes billionaire Richard "Dick" Uihlein, owner of Kenosha County's ULINE, as a board member, a recent $1.5 million TV advertising buy featuring Nicholson was announced. The advertisement shows Nicholson saying "the world is a mess" and asking viewers to "join us."
Democrats allege that the use of the so-called "dark money" nonprofit to elevate the status of a candidate-to-be constitutes a violation of IRS law, which requires public disclosures of all donations to and spending of political campaigns.
"By running his campaign through a nonprofit, Nicholson is avoiding paying taxes, disclosing his wealthy donors, and the scrutiny that typically comes from being an announced candidate," a news release from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin states. "With the indisputable evidence that the No Better Friend Corp. is Kevin Nicholson’s political campaign in waiting, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has filed a formal complaint with the IRS asking for a full investigation of the group’s actions."
Replying to the complaint, No Better Friend Corp. issued the following statement: "The public education, organizing and grassroots lobbying activities of No Better Friend Corp. are conducted carefully within both the letter and spirit of the law. No Better Friend Corp. disputes any allegations of wrongdoing and will defend itself against such allegations. As its lengthy record demonstrates, No Better Friend Corp. is an independent advocacy organization focused on advancing a conservative public policy agenda. It is not controlled in any manner by a candidate or candidate’s campaign. Whatever personal and individual activities may be contemplated by Kevin Nicholson, it does not indicate any political activity by No Better Friend Corp. or change the organization’s mission of growing and moving the conservative movement forward."
In a statement, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Rapid Response Director Kayla Anderson said: “Announced GOP candidate Kevin Nicholson is using No Better Friend Corp. to run primetime ads during Packers games and hire known GOP political donors and consultants. That’s not a nonprofit, that’s a campaign committee — and an abuse of the tax code."
Earlier this year, a complaint was filed against former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, who is now officially running as a Republican to unseat Gov. Tony Evers next year.