Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Ellis Incident Revisited

On April 9, 2014, soon to be former State Senator Mike Ellis was in a bar, full of liquid courage, and was shown making  some rather bold statements.  One of Ellis' statements included pointing out the truism that Scott Walker worked only for Scott Walker.

Little did Ellis know at the time of his spouting off that he was being secretly videotaped.

By far, the most renowned of Ellis' comments that fateful night involved illegal activities, if they were true:
Mike Ellis
"I am putting together my own super PAC. I have a $400,000 committee and Judi Rhodes will, I am raising the money, she will manufacture the crap," said Ellis in the video.

Ellis was talking about forming a Super PAC to attack his Democratic opponent in the 19th Senate District, Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber (D-Appleton).

It is against the law in Wisconsin for a candidate to coordinate with a PAC or any outside groups.
The woman that Ellis says "will manufacture the crap" is Judith Rhodes Engels, who has a long history as a WISGOP fundraiser and operative dating all the way back to the original caucus scandal and has been named more than once in the Walkergate investigation.

Given her background, Rhodes Engels would be well aware that any such activity as Ellis was describing would be highly illegal.  Rhodes Engels was quick to try to distance herself from Ellis after the video went public:
Rhodes said in a statement that “I have never set up any ‘Super PAC’ nor have I had any intention of doing so nor have I ever had any conversation with Senator Ellis about it.

“I will not work for any committee that would imply that I would improperly do so. I have terminated my contract with the Ellis to Madison Committee.”

She resigned Wednesday.
The Ellis Incident raised many questions, the largest of which is could it be true that Rhodes Engels was again breaking the law by setting up these super PACs for Wisconsin Republicans.

Ellis made two statements the night he was unknowingly videotaped that could help us find an answer to that question.

First, he said that he had donors that would give money to the super PAC, specifically naming Stuart Mills of  Mills Fleet Farm as one of those donors.  Secondly, as mentioned above, he named Rhodes Engels as the go to person to get the dirty work done.

As to the first statement, Ellis' campaign finance report (pdf form available here) shows that on March 3, 2014, Mills gave $1,000 to Ellis' campaign, the maximum amount allowed by law for a State Senate campaign. Furthermore, Mills is not the only one that gave the maximum to Ellis.  These types of donors are golden to politicians and these types of relationships are not taken lightly.

It also shows that these donors have the potential to be exactly the types of donors Ellis spoke about as giving to his super PAC.

(It should be noted that it appears that the last serious fundraising happened on April 7, two days before the video.

As for the comments regarding Rhodes Engels, Ellis' campaign finance report shows that he made five payments to Cross Rhodes, the agency that Rhodes Engels had set up.

Ellis paid Cross Rhodes $500 each time on January 17, February 12 and March 14, 2014.  Each payment was marked as solicitation expense, meaning that he was paying her for her fundraising acumen.

On April 18, nine days after the video came out, Ellis paid Cross Rhodes another $322.35 for mailing expenses.

So far, nothing too exceptional.  Ah, but there is more.  There is always more.

Judith Rhodes Engels with another favored
client, State Senator Scott Fitzgerald
On May 2, 2014, nearly a full month after the video came out and Rhodes Engels quit working for Ellis, he paid her a whopping $8,509.10 for "consulting fees."

Holy broken gavels, Batman!

Now, that payment could cover a lot of things, but it stands out by the sheer size of it, especially when compared to the $500 monthly payments leading up to that point.  The amount of that pay out makes it appear that Rhodes Engels was doing a helluva lot more than just fundraising and sending out mailers for Ellis.

Could it be that Ellis was telling the truth about Rhodes Engels setting up super PACs?  His campaign finance report doesn't prove that but it sure doesn't eliminate that possibility.

Wouldn't it be interesting to see who else is paying Cross Rhodes and exactly what they are paying for?


  1. Stuart Mills is running for Congress in Minnesota (specifically, the 8th District of MN) against Democratic incumbent Rick Nolan.

    What did Stuart Mills know about Mike Ellis's illegal SuperPAC scheme, and when did he know it?

  2. Well done. My guess is that it's a final payout for services, but as you mention, who else is Rhodes pulling this with? As always, follow the (laundered) money.

    And it again proves what absurd hypocrites WisGOP are, as they pushed Ellis out of the race with this tape, and whined to the GAB that John Burke defending his own company = a campaign contribution to his sister. But at the same time, they're trying to argue that Gov John Doe is in the clear when it comes to coordinating on his campaign, and that any laws against it should be banned.

    That's some impressive doublethink there

  3. I hope you get to use "Holy broken gavels!" again. It's a keeper.

  4. She named her agency Cross Rhodes? Really?

    Is Judi Rhodes trying to prevent an imaginary Obama-ordered IRS examination?

    Is Judi Rhodes actually Karl Rove in a skirt?

  5. Capper, great work.

  6. To see which political committees paid Cross Rhodes and how much go to - select 'view expenses' - enter Cross Rhodes under 'payee name'.