Where there's smoke, there's FirePac fraud

Phil Boehmke
From 2002 until 2008 Wisconsin’s tax payers were getting burned by the leaders of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 11 current and former Executive Board members with the firefighter’s union submitted expense reports to collect mileage and per diems for attending meetings which never took place.
 
The money from the phantom meetings covered the amount those board members had given to the International Association of Firefighters PAC, commonly called FirePac.
 
During that seven-year span, FireFac gave tens of thousands of dollars to Wisconsin politicians, primarily Democrat members of Congress. In 2006, for instance, the federal firefighters PAC contributed at least $5,000 each to U.S. Reps Tammy Baldwin, Ron Kind, Dave Obey and Steve Kagen, all Democrats…
 
The state union commissioned a special committee to investigate allegations of fraudulent expense vouchers and in June they concluded that “The reimbursement practice was illegal and placed the PFFW in jeopardy of financial liability and the cost of legal defense.” Although the union got the board members who had filed the fraudulent reports to agree to reimburse the expense money, ordered an audit of their books and created a new oversight committee, they stopped well short of taking any decisive action.
 
The investigatory committee didn’t report its findings in June to federal or state election officials or other authorities. Five union officials involved in the expense voucher scheme haven’t stepped down from the Executive Board. And the issue was not debated openly at the union’s summer convention.
 
Despite assurances from the firefighter’s union president Mike Woodzicka that the matter had been resolved and “The remedy has been implemented,” many members of the union are dissatisfied with the lack of transparency and what they feel is an attempt to contain the potential scandal. Firefighters Local 487 (Eau Claire) president Chris Bell said:
 
“The actions of these individuals damage the credibility of all firefighters, not just those within Wisconsin,” Bell said. “Further stonewalling of this issue will prove to be equally as damaging as the actions themselves.”
 
Bell also urged union leaders to report what happened to the Federal Elections Commission. In fact, sources say, the union just recently began the process of notifying the FEC.
 
Green Bay Firefighters Local 141 president, Chad Bronkhorst joined Bell in expressing his dismay at the lack of transparency. “Even at the convention, it never got discussion on the floor.” Bronkhorst maintained that “When the discussion was brought up, it was ruled out of order.”
 
Former Executive Board member Ann Peggs (Green Bay) said that she had raised concerns prior to her departure from the board in 2007, but found that her fellow board members were not interested in pursuing the matter. Peggs said that “It was explained to me that this is the way it was done.”
 
Rick Esenberg, an assistant law professor at Marquette University who teaches campaign finance law said “It is illegal, and people have been prosecuted for it under federal election laws.” Professor Esenberg pointed to the violation of federal election law as well as the fraud committed by the union officials as criminal activities which could be actionable, adding that he was “really surprised the union was so forgiving.”
 
The national union’s preliminary review panel recently concluded that “There is no evidence that the charged parties intentionally or knowingly engaged in conduct they knew to be wrong.” An incredulous Chris Bell wondered how anyone could file expense reports for meetings which were never held and not realize there were doing something wrong.
 
Once again corrupt public sector union officials have found a way to hose their employers and the honest members of their rank and file.
 
December 14, 2010
 
paboehmke@yahoo.com
 
 
From 2002 until 2008 Wisconsin’s tax payers were getting burned by the leaders of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin. According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 11 current and former Executive Board members with the firefighter’s union submitted expense reports to collect mileage and per diems for attending meetings which never took place.
 
The money from the phantom meetings covered the amount those board members had given to the International Association of Firefighters PAC, commonly called FirePac.
 
During that seven-year span, FireFac gave tens of thousands of dollars to Wisconsin politicians, primarily Democrat members of Congress. In 2006, for instance, the federal firefighters PAC contributed at least $5,000 each to U.S. Reps Tammy Baldwin, Ron Kind, Dave Obey and Steve Kagen, all Democrats…
 
The state union commissioned a special committee to investigate allegations of fraudulent expense vouchers and in June they concluded that “The reimbursement practice was illegal and placed the PFFW in jeopardy of financial liability and the cost of legal defense.” Although the union got the board members who had filed the fraudulent reports to agree to reimburse the expense money, ordered an audit of their books and created a new oversight committee, they stopped well short of taking any decisive action.
 
The investigatory committee didn’t report its findings in June to federal or state election officials or other authorities. Five union officials involved in the expense voucher scheme haven’t stepped down from the Executive Board. And the issue was not debated openly at the union’s summer convention.
 
Despite assurances from the firefighter’s union president Mike Woodzicka that the matter had been resolved and “The remedy has been implemented,” many members of the union are dissatisfied with the lack of transparency and what they feel is an attempt to contain the potential scandal. Firefighters Local 487 (Eau Claire) president Chris Bell said:
 
“The actions of these individuals damage the credibility of all firefighters, not just those within Wisconsin,” Bell said. “Further stonewalling of this issue will prove to be equally as damaging as the actions themselves.”
 
Bell also urged union leaders to report what happened to the Federal Elections Commission. In fact, sources say, the union just recently began the process of notifying the FEC.
 
Green Bay Firefighters Local 141 president, Chad Bronkhorst joined Bell in expressing his dismay at the lack of transparency. “Even at the convention, it never got discussion on the floor.” Bronkhorst maintained that “When the discussion was brought up, it was ruled out of order.”
 
Former Executive Board member Ann Peggs (Green Bay) said that she had raised concerns prior to her departure from the board in 2007, but found that her fellow board members were not interested in pursuing the matter. Peggs said that “It was explained to me that this is the way it was done.”
 
Rick Esenberg, an assistant law professor at Marquette University who teaches campaign finance law said “It is illegal, and people have been prosecuted for it under federal election laws.” Professor Esenberg pointed to the violation of federal election law as well as the fraud committed by the union officials as criminal activities which could be actionable, adding that he was “really surprised the union was so forgiving.”
 
The national union’s preliminary review panel recently concluded that “There is no evidence that the charged parties intentionally or knowingly engaged in conduct they knew to be wrong.” An incredulous Chris Bell wondered how anyone could file expense reports for meetings which were never held and not realize there were doing something wrong.
 
Once again corrupt public sector union officials have found a way to hose their employers and the honest members of their rank and file.
 
December 14, 2010
 
paboehmke@yahoo.com