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Feb 23, 2024, 5:44pm EST
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Semafor Signals

Trump PAC likely committed felonies, Wisconsin ethics panel finds

Insights from The Guardian, The New York Times, and Politico

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Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Winthrop Coliseum ahead of the South Carolina Republican presidential primary, in Rock Hill, S.C., on Feb. 23, 2024.
REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
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The News

An ethics panel in Wisconsin has recommended felony charges against a fundraising arm of former President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, alleging it sought to circumvent campaign finance laws in an attempt to unseat a top GOP lawmaker in the state.

The bipartisan panel alleged that Trump’s team skirted campaign finance laws with a scheme they said was intended to hurt the reelection chances of Wisconsin’s Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, after he refused to back Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

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The Wisconsin Ethics Commission said it found probable cause that Trump’s Save America committee — as well as several state and local Republican officials — committed felonies, recommending that district attorneys look into the allegations and prosecute them. It’s rare for such panels to pursue serious charges, according to The Washington Post.

The panel alleged that during a 2022 primary for the Wisconsin Assembly in which Vos was running, the Trump PAC donated to county parties, which illegally steered the money to support Vos’s primary challenger. While individuals can only give a maximum of $1,000 to individual candidates, there is no cap on donations to political parties.

If district attorneys don’t act on the panel’s recommendation within 60 days, the Wisconsin panel can refer the request for prosecution to the state’s Attorney General, Josh Kaul. At least one DA told The Post she would make a decision quickly.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Vos’s fate is a symbol of the current state of the GOP

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Sources:  
The Guardian, The Associated Press

Vos — by all accounts a loyal conservative who used his time as Speaker to consolidate Republican power — fell out of favor with the party after refusing to embrace Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election in Wisconsin, and not President Joe Biden.

“[Vos’s] unwillingness to cross that line has turned him into a pariah on the far right ...an enemy of Trump and a symbol of the current state of the Republican party where loyalty to Trump is the key litmus test,” The Guardian reported.

The Speaker, whose split with Trump made him the subject of a recall effort, said he was not surprised by the move to oust him, saying that “the people involved cannot seem to get over any election in which their preferred candidate doesn’t win.”

Save America’s spending underscores the former president’s legal woes

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Sources:  
Politico, Bloomberg

Save America is racking up millions in legal bills for Trump, Politico reported, “underscoring how his legal woes continue to suck up resources in an election year.” The group, which has become the primary entity for paying Trump’s legal bills, reported $4.8 million in new bills in January alone. It spent nearly $50 million on legal fees in 2023.

“The legal costs, which are expected to grow as Trump faces four criminal indictments, are likely to be a drag on his reelection effort’s finances,” Bloomberg reported. If he keeps spending at this rate, the outlet noted, he’ll run out of money that can be used for legal fees by midyear.

Competing super PACs lead to friction in Trump’s orbit

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Sources:  
The New York Times, Axios

A new super PAC supporting Trump has “already created friction within Mr. Trump’s broader orbit,” The New York Times reported, because multiple super PACs create the potential for clashing messaging. The group, Right for America, could be a bit late to the party, The Times said. The main Super PAC supporting Trump, Make America Great Again Inc., has been at work for months already.

Axios called the new PAC an outlet for Republican donors “looking for splashy ways to give.” But some in Trump’s orbit told the website they have “serious concerns that a vehicle of such strategic importance — with a potentially huge amount of money — will be in the hands of people who haven’t run a similar-sized enterprise.”

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