Matt Rothschild
Campaign Cash

Green Bay Mayor Gets Off Easy

He faced up to 27 months in jail for campaign finance violations, but gets $4,000 fine.

By - Dec 6th, 2016 02:51 pm
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Jim Schmitt. Photo from the City of Green Bay.

Jim Schmitt. Photo from the City of Green Bay.

This week the Mayor of Green Bay, Jim Schmitt, agreed to a very lenient plea agreement for violating Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws.

He agreed to pay a $4,000 fine and serve 40 hours of community service after pleading guilty to making false statements on campaign finance reports, attempting to accept funds in excess of the individual contribution limit of $1,040, and attempting to accept funds from people who were actually not the contributors of those funds.

In the original criminal complaint, all three of these charges were felonies that carried a combined sentence of 27 months in jail or fines totaling $30,000.

Under the plea agreement, the felonies were reduced to misdemeanors, the fine was reduced to a total of $4,000, and Schmitt doesn’t have to spend a single day in jail. This, despite how brazen Schmitt’s behavior was.

For instance, according to the complaint, he received a check for $5,000 from a donor named Robert Toonen—almost five times the legal limit. But Schmitt reported the amount as $1,000 from Toonen, $1,000 from his wife, $1,000 each from Toonen’s two daughters, and $1,000 from one of Toonen’s son-in-laws. None of them actually contributed.

Another example: Schmitt received a check from Philip Hendrickson for $1,250 but reported it only as $250.

Yet another example: Schmitt received a $1,000 check from William Lewis after Lewis had previously donated $1,000. So he asked Lewis if he could report the second one in Lewis’s wife’s name. According to the complaint, “Lewis would not allow that because he had not been married in 10 years.” So Schmitt asked if he could list it under Lewis’s daughter’s name, which he said was OK. But the daughter never actually donated herself.

Last example: Schmitt received a total of $1,200 from another donor, William Kress. Schmitt listed $200 of that as coming from William Kress, Jr. According to the complaint, “Kress stated there is no ‘William Kress Jr.’ in his family and he had no idea how or why the donation was reported in that name.”

At the pleading, Judge Mitchell Metropulos scolded Schmitt for his “intent to deceive,” but then accepted the lenient deal.

This is the second time this decade that a serious violator of Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws has gotten off easy.

In July 2011, William Gardner, who was then president and CEO of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad, was convicted of two felonies for laundering donations through his employees to Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign.

Like Schmitt, Gardner didn’t get a day in jail. He was sentenced to two years probation and 100 hours of community service.

Until those who flagrantly violate our state’s campaign finance laws get hit with some serious jail time, the incentive to break the law and mess with our elections will only persist.

That’s not good for our democracy.

Matthew Rothschild is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Categories: Campaign Cash, Politics

12 thoughts on “Campaign Cash: Green Bay Mayor Gets Off Easy”

  1. Tim says:

    Cynical Population —> Elects Blowhards with no Ethics –> Blowhards appoint cronies to Government posts –> Government covers up & protects Blowhards –> Electorate becomes more Cynical

    Right now, this is a winning strategy… how do you break the circle?

  2. Casey says:

    This is absolutely wrong but we’re not talking about very much money. I do think the sentence was a bit light though. You’d think he would have to at least be fined the amount that he received illegally.

  3. AG says:

    This is essentially how our justice system operates at all levels. From minor traffic offenses to major crimes, white collar to violent… law breakers rarely seem to see the full consequences of their actions.

  4. Vincent Hanna says:

    Way overly simplified AG. Tell that to the 3,281 people in the U.S. serving a life sentence with no chance of parole for a non-violent offense.

  5. Vincent Hanna says:

    Or all the people 50+, hundreds of thousands, serving long sentences, many for drug offenses.

  6. Vincent Hanna says:

    Harsh Sentencing, Overstuffed Prisons—It’s Time for Reform
    Here’s a shocker: Nonviolent offenders make up 90% of the federal prison population.

    So yeah plenty of people receive harsh sentences AG. Might want to rethink your stance.

  7. Casey says:

    The justice system is screwy. I’ve seen peopled heavily sanctioned for $500 and people walk unscathed after taking 10’s of thousands. We just had a woman kill a child here..this was after she served a whole 18 months for killing a 1 year old a few years ago. Then you have these mandatory minimums for various drug offenses filling up prisons. I think the lesson this teaches is that if you commit a crime is to go big or go home.

  8. Vincent Hanna says:

    I mean it’s easy to find anecdotes that showcase a light sentence, but it’s not like light sentences is this pervasive problem impacting all levels of the justice system. Lawbreakers rarely facing real consequences just isn’t true.

  9. Casey says:

    All of it would have to be anecdotal because no one is tracking what are unjust sentences. I think you miss my point Vincent. Lawbreakers do face consequences but it seems that many (maybe not most) of the time that the consequence doesn’t match the crime.
    Any reasonable person would say that stealing $50,000 is worse than stealing $500 but in my on the job experience has shown me that more often the person stealing $500 receives less punishment than the person stealing $50,000. The same argument could be made comparing drug sentences to murder sentences.

  10. Vincent Hanna says:

    My point is that AG is wrong when he claims that rarely do lawbreakers face consequences. That is just not true.

    People track unjust sentences. I shared links to examples of that.

  11. AG says:

    Vincent, the problem I have with the argument about non-violent drug offenses, once you take away the 3 strikes people and whatnot, is that often those are charges that were plead down from more serious crimes. Those studies don’t separate the person carrying a dime bag for himself but is a third strike vs a violent dealer who plead down to possession.

  12. AG says:

    Side note, I’d like to see the stats on Wisconsin non-violent offenders since I was specifically referring to WI. And Casey is probably more on point, because sometimes you do indeed see screwy sentences where something far more minor is punished much harsher.

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