The state Elections Commission dismissed a complaint over five Wisconsin cities accepting private money to cover election costs last year, finding there was no probable cause to believe “that a violation of law or abuse of discretion has occurred.”

The commission rejected the conservative Amistad Project’s assertion that accepting the money violated state law and the U.S. Constitution. It found there is no prohibition on cities accepting private money for election administration.

The conservative group asked the Elections Commission to conduct its own investigation on how the cities used the money from a group funded largely by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. It also asked the commission to direct the issue to local or state authorities for further investigation and to make recommendations to the Legislature for changes of state election laws.

The commission rejected the requests. Beyond finding there was no evidence to support the group’s charge that laws were broken, the commission noted it doesn’t have the power to refer matters for prosecution or make recommendations to the Legislature under the law the group cited in filing the complaint.

Minneapolis attorney Erick Kaardal hadn’t seen the rulings when contacted by late yesterday. He was asked for a response once he had read the rulings, but didn’t return the call. The group has a 30-day window in which it can appeal the ruling in circuit court.

The complaints were filed against Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe and officials from the five cities that received the bulk of the grants the Center for Tech and Civic Life gave to Wisconsin communities: Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine.

Along with the allegations against the cities, the complaint accused Wolfe of supporting the communities’ decision to accept the money. But the commission ruled the complainants had filed to identify any specific action or statement in which she allegedly provided that support.

The ruling noted the commission received a complaint in August 2020 over the cities accepting the money. The commission also rejected that complaint, concluding it didn’t allege any violation of election laws that it has authority over to enforce or investigate.

The latest complaints cited a Wisconsin law laying out election duties for municipal clerks and clauses in the U.S. Constitution. But the commission found none of them barred the cities from accepting the funds. It also noted a federal judge last year ruled there was no prohibition on the communities accepting the private money in a lawsuit filed by the same attorney who filed the complaints against Wolfe, Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee and Racine.

A commission spokesman said the commission appointed outside counsel to review the complaints because they involved Wolfe. The counsel, Madison attorneys Jon Axelrod and Deborah Meiners, issued a draft decision. It would’ve required at least two of the six commissioners to call on a meeting to review the draft decision. That didn’t happen, and the final decision was published without a meeting or an official vote by the commission.

Read the decisions:

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