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Wisconsin Elections Commission allows Trump-endorsed congressional candidate on ballot

Commission says it cannot initiate its own investigation, sworn complaint needed to start probe

Republican congressional candidate Tony Wied speaks Tuesday, June 4, 2024, in De Pere, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday approved allowing a Trump-endorsed congressional candidate to be on the ballot, despite challenges to his nomination paperwork.

Businessman Tony Wied will be on the ballot for GOP primary elections in the state’s 8th Congressional District, which was left open after former Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher left office. Wied is competing in primaries for the special and general elections for the seat against fellow Republicans Roger Roth and André Jacque.

Wied has received former President Donald Trump’s endorsement. The only Democrat in the race is Kristin Lyerly.

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Wied’s nomination papers were challenged by former Green Bay Alder Tony Theisen last week. Thiesen alleged the people circulating papers for Wied misled voters to believe they were providing signatures to provide “housing for the homeless.” Several people shared similar claims on a Green Bay area Facebook page last week.

On Monday, the Elections Commission said it cannot initiate its own investigations, and that it will only consider criminal or fraud-based allegations based on a sworn complaint being filed under the appropriate state statute. 

Jim Witecha, chief legal counsel for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said the agency takes Theisen’s allegations seriously, but it can only examine them in the context of whether or not signatures needed to be struck.

He encouraged “anyone with personal knowledge” of the allegations to file a sworn complaint that would allow for more investigation.

“In that context, there is no essentially sustainable challenge to the signatures based on the administrative sworn record that we have in front of us,” Witecha said.

The commission voted unanimously to approve Wied’s signatures as valid. Witecha said staff reviewed the paperwork and found that it had all of the “lawfully required components.”

Attorney Kurt Goehre represented Wied’s campaign during the commission meeting, saying the campaign did not mislead voters. 

“The allegations do not overcome the presumption of validity,” he said. “The complaint fails to establish that anyone who actually signed the nomination papers was misled, or that they didn’t understand what they were signing at the time they signed.”

Following the commission’s vote, Wied released a statement that framed the complaint against his signatures as a move by “career politicians” to “hold power.”

“The WEC’s dismissal of the complaint proves this was nothing more than a desperate attempt by my opponents to keep the Trump-Endorsed Conservative off the ballot,” he said. 

Jacque, a Republican state senator and one of the GOP candidates in the 8th District, said via email that Wied paid “out-of-state circulators” to get most of his signatures to be on the ballot. Jacque said that may be why Wied didn’t “take personal responsibility” for the campaign’s actions.

“I am disappointed that Tony Wied can’t acknowledge or condemn something someone did for his campaign that’s been corroborated by a lot of witnesses now,” Jacque said. “That really is an affront to anyone who cares about election integrity.”

Roth, another GOP candidate in the race and a former state senator, avoided criticizing Wied after the vote. Rather, he said in a statement that he was proud that his campaign collected signatures “through hard work and grassroots volunteers.”

“Anyone who talks to voters in the 8th District understands the importance of election integrity,” he said.

In an email, Lyerly said she has faith in the elections commission and respects their decision.

“Election integrity and accountability starts with the candidate and, in our close-knit community as well as in the halls of Congress, leading with character and principle matters,” she wrote.

The commission also looked at 10 other challenges, including one filed against Democrat state Rep. Dora Drake, who is running for a vacant Milwaukee state Senate seat. Drake is competing in a primary against fellow Democratic state Rep. LaKeshia Myers.

Myers told the commission Monday that she believed Drake’s signatures should be thrown out because she had used nonpartisan paperwork. 

But commission staff argued that it was clear on the documents that Drake was running as a Democrat, as the campaign added a party affiliation line. Commissioners voted unanimously that Drake’s signatures were valid.

In other action Monday, Andrew Beck, a Democrat running for the 5th Congressional District, and David Heffel, a Democrat running for 70th Assembly District, were both denied ballot access after having their paperwork challenged.

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