MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Republican Senate President Mike Ellis defended himself Wednesday after the release of a hidden-camera video that appears to reveal him talking about organizing illegal campaign activity against his opponent.
The video was produced by Project Veritas, an national organization led by conservative activist James O’Keefe. He is known for his hidden-camera videos targeting the community organizing group ACORN, Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio.
His latest focuses on Ellis, a moderate who has sometimes been at odds with more conservative Republicans. Ellis, the Senate’s second most powerful member and the second longest-serving senator, is running for re-election this fall against Democratic state Rep. Penny Bernard Schaber of Appleton.
The posted material includes a mix of both video and audio snippets that Ellis said were made two weeks ago at a bar near the Capitol. Ellis is heard saying that he intends to establish a super PAC to attack Schaber so he doesn’t have to do it personally. It is against Wisconsin law for a candidate to coordinate with political action committees or outside groups.
Ellis told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the video and audio recordings were taken out of context. For years, he has been an outspoken opponent of the influence of political action committees and other outside spending on elections. He said the recordings captured him talking loosely about things he considered doing, but ultimately didn’t.
Ellis said he contemplated creating the super PAC, but dropped the idea after realizing it was illegal. He said he didn’t contact anyone and didn’t take any steps to establish it.
“Obviously, I look terrible and I understand that,” Ellis said. “A, we never did it. B, we can’t do it.”
Schaber, who is completing her third term in the Assembly, said she hadn’t seen the video but twas aware of its content.
“I find it very disappointing that campaigns seem to be going in this direction,” Schaber said. “My plan is to have a positive, accountable and transparent campaign.”
In the video, Ellis can be heard listing the names of five donors he said will each give him $50,000. Current Wisconsin law forbids donations of more than $1,000 to a single candidate for the Senate, but there are no limits on what can be given to a political action committee.
“At the time I was talking, I was blowing steam over recent Supreme Court decisions” loosening campaign finance laws, Ellis said.
Liberals said the video shed light on Republican strategy and it’s inconceivable to believe Ellis wouldn’t know what he was talking about was illegal.