By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. – Conservative video stinger James O’Keefe says either state Sen. Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, was lying when he boasted about creating his own “super” political action committee, or his now-former fundraiser is.
Either way, the “guerrilla” journalist asserts state campaign and election officials need to take a closer look at the loquacious Ellis’ barroom boasts.
Ellis, with more than 40 years in the state Legislature and lots of experience in campaign finance law, has since said his comments were taken out of context and he has denied that he contacted anyone to put the PAC in place, which would be illegal under campaign finance law.
The committee, Ellis suggests in a video released Wednesday by O’Keefe’s Project Veritas, would be established to attack his opponent in the 19th Senate District race, state Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber, D-Appleton.
“I have a $400,000 committee, and Judi Rhodes will, I’m raising the money, and she will manufacture the crap,” Ellis says in the video. Rhodes Engels was Ellis’ fundraiser and has handled fundraising for the Committee to Elect Republican Senators.
She told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she never received any request to set up the PAC. She quit Ellis’ campaign within hours of the video’s release.
In an interview Thursday with Wisconsin Reporter, O’Keefe said somebody isn’t telling the truth about Ellis’ fundraising idea.
“Senator Ellis was caught in a bar speaking pretty candidly,” O’Keefe said. “The video self-explanatory.”
Ellis said the same thing when interviewed by the Appleton Post-Crescent. “I will be the first to admit that it doesn’t look good,” he said.
Reid Magney, spokesman for the state Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections and campaign ethics laws, has declined to comment when asked if anyone had filed a complaint against Ellis following the release of the video.
Ellis, 73, who has long served as Senate president, in a statement said the recorded conversation was “one of many potential ideas that I have bounced of off (sic) others after work, in which I could be reelected with the help of personal friends, to avoid being tainted by special interest money.”
“Shortly after the video was recorded, I was informed that the described scenario would be illegal, and the idea went no further,” Ellis added.
O’Keefe, who burst onto the conservative activism scene with his undercover video that led to the downfall of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, or ACORN, said he released the Ellis video to show the public how “politicians will lie” that they are “hypocritical and they are liars.”
“It’s fascinating that he now says he is being hypothetical,” O’Keefe said of Ellis. “I want to know what kind of conversations he had with Judi. That would make it a crime (if they were) conspiring to do this. I think Sen. Ellis really needs to be honest with his constituents.”
Rhodes Engels has not returned calls seeking comment from Wisconsin Reporter.
Publicly, Ellis has been a vocal advocate of stiffer campaign finance laws and a stern opponent of “special interests” in Wisconsin politics.
Drinking with his new-found “friends” at the Capitol Square bar he is said to frequent, Ellis toys with a PAC of his own, suggesting that he call the committee “The Friends of Free Life (or) whatever the hell they want to call it.”
In its latest 7-minute-plus video released Thursday, Project Veritas acknowledges that the undercover reporter heard off camera, only identified as being from the West Coast, gave Ellis and his posse a fake name. The reporter says he is from Appleton, in Ellis’ senate district, and he claims that his father is a big Ellis supporter.
“Your father was a great guy,” Ellis says.
“You knew him?” the reporter asks.
“Yes, I met your father a long time ago,” Ellis claims.
The senator goes on to acknowledge that he “shoveled manure for two hours” that day.
Project Veritas has a field day with that comment.
Ellis also has some pointed things to say about his neighbors.
“I’m not on the lake but I’ve got the 40 acres across from all the rich dicks that live out on the lake,” Ellis says.
The senate president, the No. 2 man in the Republican-controlled chamber, flashed a bit of the Al Hague, suggesting that he’s the guy in charge, not Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who, coincidentally, has close ties to Rhodes Engels, according to conservative news outlet Media Trackers.
“Fitzgerald didn’t run the goddamned place. I did,” Ellis says on the video.
O’Keefe and crew have been busy of late in Wisconsin.
Last month, the gotcha journalist caught on video U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican from Menomonee Falls, denying that the voting rights legislation he is sponsoring excludes white voters from the protection of the Voting Rights Act.” A former Federal Election Commission official told Wisconsin Reporter that Sensenbrenner “clearly does not understand his own bill.”
O’Keefe says he’s been billed as a conservative activist. While he agrees he is “more skeptical of government,” he wears no political label when it comes to going after waste, fraud, abuse and hypocrisy in government.
While Wisconsin liberals see O’Keefe’s hit piece as the cat’s paw in a tea party drive to push long-time moderate Ellis out of office, O’Keefe says his Project Veritas has come to Wisconsin because it is one of the more politically active states in the nation.
“My only mission is to clearly show the hypocrites and fraudsters, in this case in the state Senate in Wisconsin,” he said. “I hope the citizens of Wisconsin take that information and do something with it.”
Contact M.D. Kittle at firstname.lastname@example.org