The Wisconsin Democratic Party thinks likely Republican presidential nominee and Rep. Paul Ryan violated state election laws on Tuesday when they handed out sandwiches at an Election Day lunch.The Democratic Party filed a complaint with the state’s Government Accountability Board on Tuesday, charging “election bribery” in what it dubbed “subs for votes.”
Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, told Business Insider that the board was continuing to look into the facts of the case. But he did say that Wisconsin’s rules advise candidates to not provide food, beverages or any other incentives to get them to vote or to thank them for voting. It does not matter whether those incentives advocate voting in general or voting for a particular candidate.
“Voters should vote because they care about the issues in the process, not because they get a sandwich or a free beer,” Magney said.
According to the complaint, because each sandwich at Cousins Subs exceeds $1, it qualifies as a “thing of value” under Section 12.11 of the Wisconsin Statutes. A “thing of value” includes any amount of money or an object greater than $1 that has a value outside of any political message it contains.
Section 12 of the Wisconsin Statutes is a criminal offence, which means any charges would have to be brought by the Waukesha District Attorney. Violation of the law could mean fines of up to $10,000, up to 3 1/2 years in prison, or both. It could also mean, theoretically, that Romney or Ryan could be booted from office or kicked off the state ballot in November.
The Democratic Party obtained video of the luncheon from one of its staffers who attended the event. In the video, Romney says, “So bring your friends to the polls, get out and vote and if you want another sandwich, there are more back there.” Romney and Ryan interchangeably ask voters whether they want “turkey, ham or Italian” subs. The subs in question ranged from $4.49 to $4.99.
The Romney campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment, but it dismissed the charges to ABC News as nothing more than a distraction from the Democratic Party, earning a rebuke from communications director Graeme Zielinski.
“Do you acknowledge that this is the law of the state of Wisconsin and that you violated the law? They won’t answer that. They just say this is a distraction, blah, blah, blah,” Zielinski told Business Insider. “To us, it just sounds like rules are for other people. People with car elevators don’t need rules. They generally don’t follow them, so here you go.”
A Ryan spokesman also did not respond to an email request for comment.
The case draws a parallel to the 2000 Presidential election, when the proverbial shoe was on the other foot. Then, current Gov. and then-state Rep. Scott Walker (who is currently facing a recall election as governor) asked the Milwaukee County District Attorney to look into criminal charges against Democratic nominee Al Gore.
Walker dubbed this one “smokes for votes.” News cameras captured a Gore campaign volunteer giving cigarettes to absentee voters at a homeless shelter. The difference here is that the Gore campaign denied any involvement with the scheme. That didn’t stop Walker from speaking out.
“Anything that gets something of value, be it a $20 bill on the street out here, or a pack of cigarettes, we think is wrong,” Walker said then. “The trading off of anything, something of worth, in exchange for someone’s vote — not only is it ethically questionable, we believe it’s a violation of the law.”
It’s a quote that made Zielinski take notice.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Zielinski said. “Because we had this scandal in 2000 where the right wing — where all the same people who are backing Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan right now — some of the very same people went absolutely crazy.”
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