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State Sen. Mike Ellis in hot water over hidden-camera recording

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MADISON (WITI) -- Republican State Sen. Mike Ellis, the Senate's president, is in hot water after he was caught on a hidden camera talking about illegal campaign fundraising. Sen. Ellis is explaining himself after a conservative group exposed the tape.

In the video, Sen. Ellis discusses the possibility of setting up an illegal political action committee.

"I am putting together my own super PAC," Sen. Ellis says in the video.

It is against Wisconsin law for a candidate to coordinate with political action committees or outside groups.

The recording was made by "Project Veritas" -- a conservative activist group with a reputation for making undercover recordings.

In the video, recorded at a bar across the street from the Capitol, Sen. Ellis talks of building an operation separate from his own campaign that would run ads to attack his opponent.

"I have a $400,000 committee and Judi Rhodes will -- I'm raising the money. She will manufacture the crap. I don't want to attack her.  I want Judi, somebody else, to attack," Sen. Ellis says in the video.

Sen. Ellis was not available for an on-camera interview, but released the following statement to FOX6 News:

"Standing up to special interests has consequences and I know that. I find it ironic that after standing up to special interests my entire career, and trying to avoid them in my reelection campaign, that they are now targeting me and my supporters.

 

As you know, I have spent most of the past 15 years fighting for campaign finance reform, and trying to get special interest money out of politics.

 

The recorded conversation was one of many potential ideas that I have bounced of off others after work,  in which I could be reelected with the help of personal friends, to avoid being tainted by special interest money.

 

Shortly after the video was recorded, I was informed that the described scenario would be illegal, and the idea went no further.

 

At no time did I ever speak with Judi Rhodes or any of the other people mentioned about 3rd party expenditures or exceeding contribution limits.

 

In fact, earlier this year, I returned a check to one of the mentioned individuals who had attempted to contribute too much money.

 

My opponent has already received the benefit of special interest advertising in this campaign. There will be more. I will continue my fight to keep special interest money out of politics, and give more power to the people.

 

The audio and video was released Wednesday by Project Veritas, an organization led by conservative activist James O'Keefe."

"That in and of itself is illegal if there's coordination between his campaign and an outside group.  The second thing is that outside group -- even if it consists of people that are not 'special interest' but friends -- is still outside spending, and that has been something that Senator Ellis for years has railed against," Jay Heck of Common Cause Wisconsin -- a non-partisan organization that advocates for ethics in government said.

Heck says the situation should be investigated.

"It's a tragedy because, I think for years, this was a lawmaker who was willing to stand up and be independent of outside influences, and for whatever reason, has been caught up in a sort of game of double talk here," Heck said.

Heck says two things are important to consider when watching the video. One, that it is recorded inside a bar -- where people are sometimes given to exaggeration. Two, that the people making the video were attempting to make Sen. Ellis look bad.

Still, Heck says the issue should be investigated to see how far the super PAC idea actually went.

Sen. Ellis, a Republican from Neenah has not faced a challenger in 16 years. This year, he's facing a tough challenge from Democrat Penny Bernard Schaber.

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