Updated, 4/11 10:51 a.m.: State Sen. Ellis's office confirms he will not be seeking re-election this fall.
A longtime ally of state Republican state Sen. Mike Ellis who partnered with Ellis to advance campaign finance reform says it felt like a “kick in the stomach” when he heard Ellis pondering breaking the law to benefit his own campaign.
Ellis was secretly recorded in a bar across the street from the State Capitol for a video by conservative activist James O'Keefe. In the audio, Ellis can be heard saying he's setting up his own super PAC to attack his Democratic opponent, Penny Bernard Schaber. Ellis names several donors that he says will give the Super PAC $50,000 each.
Ellis told PostCrescent.com that he never followed through on what he talked about at the bar, and was told the next day it was illegal.
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“It was more of a situation in which we were hypothesizing what we could do to fend off being reliant on special interest money. And I will be the first to admit, it doesn't look good,” Ellis said.
Ellis, however, is no stranger to campaign finance laws. He's served more than 40 years in the legislature and made campaign finance reform his cornerstone issue for about a decade, starting in the late '90s. He often teamed up with Common Cause's Jay Heck, who said hearing Ellis talk this way was like a “kick in the stomach.”
“The thing that's most disturbing about this was the statement that he made when he said he didn't want to attack Penny Bernard Schaber; he wanted this outside group to attack her,” Heck said. “That's been the whole justification for his trying to get rid of these outside groups, was that he always despised the attacks by the outside groups.”
Heck says he doesn't know if Ellis talking about a super PAC was by itself illegal, but he thinks it needs to be looked into.