The Wisconsin Ethics Commission is investigating new Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz's campaign for alleged money laundering and fraud. A complaint accuses the campaign of "smurfing"--the illegal practice of laundering big money donations through unaware small-dollar donors.
"The total amount identified to date of illegally laundering money into Janet For Justice's campaign comes to $1,038,705.93," alleges the complaint, which was filed earlier this month by Election Watch. "It appears individuals, or those being smurfed, are largely used to aggregate mostly less than the $200 reporting limit of individuals to avoid detection."
According to Investopedia, smurfing (named after the popular cartoon characters) is "a money-laundering technique involving structuring large amounts of cash into multiple small transactions. Smurfs often spread these small transactions over many different accounts, to keep them under regulatory reporting limits and avoid detection."
Election Watch claimed in its complaint to have identified thousands of ultra-small-dollar donations made in the names of hundreds of mostly elderly donors, none of whom had any idea that they had made such donations when a private investigator asked about them.
"The Federal Election Commission states the average number of political donations an individual makes, if donating, is 1.4 per year," the complaint against Janet for Justice alleges. "239 [donors] donated more than 10 times [each] to Janet for Justice."
One such alleged smurf is an 84-year-old man who lives in Whitewater and donated $856.75 to Janet for Justice in 71 different donations--some for as little as $1.67. This donor, according to Federal Election Commission data, made 15,620 different donations totalling $62,410.01 over the past three election cycles.
"He did not make anywhere near these number of contributions or dollar amounts," said Election Watch, noting that the man confirmed this to a private investigator.
Another alleged smurf, a 70-year-old woman from Sturgeon Bay, donated $58.50 to Janet for Justice in multiple small amounts over the course of three months earlier this year. According to the complaint, she donated $3.33 on January 3rd and then made a separate donation of $6 later that day--highly unusual donor behavior. She followed that up with a $3 donation on January 23rd, a $12 donation on February 9th, a $1.67 donation on February 12th, a $5 donation on February 24th, a $2.50 donation on March 13th, and a $25 donation on March 15th.
According to Federal Election Commission data, she donated 11,192 times for a total of $63,883.27 over the past three election cycles.
"She was interviewed," the complaint states, "and she also denied making these volumes of donations."
"There are thousands of irregularities that need to be investigated in the Janet for Justice campaign...that amount to thousands if not millions of fraudulent monies," Election Watch says in its complaint. "The campaign potentially [committed] several state and federal crimes, including, but not limited to, [violating] Wisconsin campaign finance laws. Also, federal and state misappropriation of funds."
Election Watch, in conjunction with O'Keefe Media Group--an organization founded by former Project Veritas journalist James O'Keefe--has been investigating smurfing activity across the country for the past several months and claims to have found more than 10,000 potential cases spread across every state in the country.
The organization has planned to file additional complaints with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission over alleged smurfing activity in several other statewide campaigns.