MADISON - Republicans obtained a copy of strategic campaign plans for Senate Democrats four months ago and released them Wednesday as they accused their rivals of illegal campaigning.
Republicans said a Capitol aide discovered the State Senate Democratic Committee's playbook on a copy machine in the Capitol in June. But Democrats said the documents were apparently stolen from a state senator's personal belongings.
One of the documents was a memo marked confidential dated May 23 and prepared by SSDC director Matt Swentkofske. It outlines strategy for the campaign in which Democrats are trying to pick up three seats to win back control of the Senate, currently controlled 19-14 by Republicans.
One of the races is the local contest for the 21st Senate District between state Rep. John Lehman, D-Racine, and Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds, a Republican from Mount Pleasant.
The state Republican Party planned to ask the Elections Board to review whether the memo shows Democrats were illegally coordinating activities with Progressive Majority Wisconsin, a political action committee.
State Sen. Mark Miller, D-Monona, said someone must have stolen the memo from his belongings in a coatroom that also contains the copier. He said he had the memo because he accidentally took Swentkofske's binder after a meeting.
"That raises serious questions regarding how these private materials came into the possession of the Republican Party," Miller said. "It is truly disappointing to think someone, possibly a state employee, may have dug through the personal belongings of a state senator."
The memo shows Democrats planned to receive campaign help from a variety of outside groups, including labor unions and the newly formed group called Progressive Majority Wisconsin. The group is headed by Doug Burnett, chief of staff to former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala. Burnett and Chvala were convicted of illegal campaign activity last year.
Progressive Majority planned to hire an opposition research firm to investigate legal records of targeted Republican senators and conduct polling for Democratic candidates, the memo said.
As a PAC, Progressive Majority can help campaigns as long as campaigns report the aid as in-kind contributions. The group and the SSDC said their relationship complied with all state campaign finance laws.
But Keith Gilkes, director of the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, said he believed Democratic candidates who benefited from the group's work were failing to fully report the polling and opposition research on their campaign finance reports.
Gilkes said he obtained the memo from somebody who found it on the copier in early June. He said he released it Wednesday to show Progressive Majority was helping Lehman in his race against McReynolds.
In that key race, Progressive Majority has obtained records to repeatedly question McReynolds' ethics during his time as sheriff and county executive.
The memo also reveals that the state's largest teacher's union, WEAC, has set aside money to assist in individual races but "will never be at the same table as SSDC and efforts will not be coordinated between the two groups."
Other groups mentioned as the Democrats' allies in the election cycle include unions such as AFSCME and SEIU, abortion rights groups and Fair Wisconsin, which is fighting the referendum banning gay marriage.
Republicans said the discovery also raised questions about whether Democrats were using state resources for campaign work since it was discovered in the Capitol.
"The Senate Democrats have been caught red-handed again campaigning at taxpayer expense," said Rick Wiley, executive director of the state Republican Party.
Miller said he never used state resources for campaign work.
Swentkofske acknowledged he wrote the memo but said the episode shows "Republicans are down and desperate."
"This is a case of apparent theft," he said. "Someone opened a binder, took out the info, made copies and it appears they are now using the info for political attacks when they know they are down in the polls."