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More on email account controversy

Sheila Harsdorf, Shelly Moore, Isaac Weix

Shelly Moore didn't violate campaign rules by using her Ellsworth High School account to send emails, claims a Democratic Party spokesperson. But the Menomonie man who entered the race only to delay the final recall election says Moore "willfully and knowingly broke campaign law" and should withdraw her candidacy.

Last Wednesday the Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint with the state's Government Accountability Board, accusing Moore of knowingly violating state law by using taxpayer-funded resources for political activity.

Moore, an Ellsworth High School teacher and WEAC union leader, is challenging incumbent Sheila Harsdorf in the 10th Senate District recall election. Isaac Weix, who ran in other elections as a Republican, filed this time as a Democrat to force a primary election in July.

Weix, an Elmwood businessman who until now has avoided talking to the press about his own candidacy, called a reporter Thursday to ask to comment on the email allegations.

"Using government assets for a political campaigning is serious," said Weix. "This problem will not go away or be swept under the rug. If (Moore) wins the primary her legal problems will not go away."

The GOP says several "overtly political" emails were turned over to Republicans following an open records request into Moore's school district email account. According to copies provided by the GOP, in one exchange late morning Thursday, March 10, Moore wrote, "We're not supposed to use school email, but since all of our rights are being taken away, I don't frankly care."

Many of email exchanges discuss the progress of the recall effort and one, from a person whose name is blacked out in the copy provided to the press, congratulates Moore for being "either The Candidate or WEAC's candidate of choice."

In an email sent at 9:32 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 16, Moore wrote, "Fellow Dems - As most of you know, Governor Walker's 'budget' goes far beyond finances and strip(s) public workers of their right to negotiate working conditions and wages. A teachers group is organizing this rally to demonstrate to Senator Harsdorf the area's disapproval." The email also included details of a rally to be held that night.

The Wisconsin Public Purpose Doctrine prohibits the use of government resources for any non-public purpose, and political candidates are prohibited under state law from unlawfully accepting anything of value for campaign purposes.

The Ellsworth School District's ethics policy also prohibits staff from using public property for "partisan political or religious purposes."

In a press release, Wisconsin Republican Party Executive Director Stephan Thompson said it's unacceptable to "thumb your nose at state law" to build a campaign. The GOP also questions whether Moore could be a credible senator, saying, "If she feels she is above the laws of this state she certainly has no business having a hand in creating them."

"The emails reveal a clear picture of a highly partisan union organizer seizing an opportunity to jump-start a political career, all while on the taxpayers' dime," said Thompson. "True leaders aren't inspired by anger, and they don't excuse themselves from following the law."

State Democrats responded for Moore, saying the recall effort didn't exist in March and April when the emails were written.

"Shelly Moore was absolutely not campaigning with taxpayer dollars. No campaign even existed when these emails were sent," said Gillian Morris, press secretary for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in an emailed statement.

"This is nothing more than a political stunt intended to distract voters from how vulnerable Sheila Harsdorf is," Morris continued. "Voters are rejecting her radical, divisive policies that raise taxes on middle class and working families. That's why 23,000 people signed petitions to recall her. She needs to stop playing politics and start listening to the people of her district."

PAC contributions

In another issue related to this campaign, Harsdorf is being criticized for accepting donations from political action committees now after she attacked a former opponent, Allison Page, for accepting PAC money in a previous campaign.

"Unfortunately, the evidence that Allison Page has rejected an issues-based campaign in favor of one backed and funded by Madison special interests and party machines is becoming clear," said Harsdorf in a 2008 campaign statement.

That same press release said Harsdorf had gotten nearly 90% of her contributions from residents of western Wisconsin "and does not accept special interest PAC contributions."

This recall campaign is a completely different ballgame, said Nathan Duerkop, a spokesman for Harsdorf.

"We are dealing with a deluge of special interest money coming in on (Moore's) side," he said. "When you have situations where national activists are being bused in from the Netroots conference (an activist conference held June 16-19 in Minneapolis) to campaign against Sheila, it's like no campaign we've seen before."

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.