Elections board settles Wilcox case for record fine

Elections board settles Wilcox case for record fine

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By JENNY PRICE

Associated Press

MADISON - Defendants in a lawsuit brought by the state Elections Board, including state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox's campaign committee and campaign manager, will pay $60,000 under a settlement reached Monday.

The settlement is the largest ever to result from an Elections Board investigation of violations of campaign finance law.

"The board's intention with this was to send a message to candidates: you are responsible for the people who work for you in your campaigns," said Kevin Kennedy, executive director of the board.

The lawsuit claimed Wilcox's campaign committee and the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation illegally worked together to evade state election laws in running a $200,000 voter turnout effort during Wilcox's 1997 race against Walt Kelly.

State election laws prohibit collaboration between political campaigns and independent groups that do not disclose contributors' identities and are not bound by contribution limits.

Wilcox said in a statement he did nothing illegal and was not personally responsible for his campaign's violations. But he will give his campaign committee the money to cover its $10,000 share of the settlement.

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The board cleared Wilcox of any wrongdoing when it filed court papers against his campaign last March. But Kelly said the board did not go far enough and should have found that Wilcox was more directly involved in the mailing.

"I do not believe Justice Wilcox was ignorant of these violations and should therefore have paid a much higher price, including his removal or resignation from the court," Kelly said.

Elections Board member Don Millis said Wilcox already has suffered because of the damage done to his reputation.

The settlement comes after a three-year investigation into whether Wilcox's campaign helped coordinate the get-out-the-vote effort.

Republican activists Brent Pickens and James Wigderson organized the mailing for the coalition, which raised $200,000 just before the election. WCVP sent 354,000 postcards and made 250,000 telephone calls, urging people to vote.

Pickens apparently also called Wilcox campaign manager Mark Block more than 100 times during that period, board officials said.

Block agreed to pay $15,000 in the settlement and will not work on or participate in any political campaign until Jan. 1, 2004. Pickens agreed to pay $35,000 and also won't work on political campaigns for five years.

As part of the agreement, neither Block nor Pickens admitted any wrongdoing, although they conceded the Elections Board may have been able to prove its allegations if the case went to trial.

The board's case against Wigderson and the coalition has not been settled, and a trial is scheduled for Nov. 5. Block and Pickens could testify.

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