'I have made mistakes': Green Bay mayor charged in campaign probe

Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt
Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt (Photo courtesy City of Green Bay)

GREEN BAY (WLUK) -- Three misdemeanor charges have been filed against Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt after a 20-month investigation into his campaign funds.

Schmitt plans to plead guilty as part of a plea agreement, according to the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office, which is acting as a special prosecutor in the case. According to the agreement, prosecutors will not recommend any jail or probation time. Schmitt also agreed to disband his campaign committee. He will then have to create a new campaign committee. In addition, more than $26,000 from Schmitt's campaign fund has been paid to the state School Fund.

In January 2015, aldermen Chris Wery, Guy Zima and Andy Nicholson called for an audit of Schmitt’s funds. The trio pointed out about $10,000 worth of illegally or improperly recorded contributions to Schmitt’s re-election campaign.

“This just shows the scheming that this man went to and the extent of which he was trying to manipulate the laws in his favor,” said Zima after reading the criminal complaint filed in Schmitt’s case.

The charges filed against Schmitt on Wednesday are for false statements to an election official, accepting campaign contributions not belonging to the reported contributor, and accepting campaign contributions in excess of state limits.

Under state law, contributions to individual candidates for local office are limited to a dollar amount equal to 1 one percent of the municipality’s population. In Green Bay, the legal limit for individual contributions is about $1,040.

Corporate contributions are also illegal under state law.

FOX 11 found at least 17 individuals exceeded the state law limit for contributions to Schmitt’s campaign. Two corporations also were listed as donating to Schmitt.

Before the charges were officially filed, Schmitt told FOX 11 he could not comment on the case and would be out of town the rest of the week.

"I want all of you to know that I have made mistakes in the handling of campaign finances," Schmitt wrote in a news release addressed to the Green Bay community Wednesday.

Schmitt has said any errors in his finances were not intentional. Schmitt also returned more than $2,000 worth of contributions and called for an audit after the accusations were initially made.

Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf has been leading the investigation into Schmitt’s campaign funds.

"While I may disagree with some of (Landgraf's) conclusions, I do not dispute his factual findings nor his belief that all responsibility for accuracy and compliances rests with me," Schmitt wrote in the news release.

“It doesn't look good for the city of Green Bay right now,” said Tom DeWane, the city council’s president and Schmitt’s opponent in the 2015 mayoral election.

DeWane says Schmitt and his wife showed up at his house Tuesday night to warn him the charges were about to be filed.

“He has concern that we need to continue to do what we're doing in the city,” said DeWane. “He knows that this is going to be an interruption and he is hoping that doesn't happen.”

The criminal complaint outlines more than a handful of specific errors the special prosecutor found in Schmitt's campaign funding reports.

“The acceptance and attribution of contributions and the accuracy of campaign reports is my sole responsibility,” Schmitt wrote in his statement.

“I really think Mr. Schmitt should step down,” said Zima.

Zima says many concerns that he, Wery, and Nicholson originally brought forward were not addressed in the criminal complaint. Zima wants the criminal charges to play out in court, but acknowledged his additional concerns could eventually be addressed through a city council ethics complaint.

“The wheels of justice are just starting to grind and it may take some time, but we'll be watching with curiosity,” said Zima.

Zima and others have mentioned they might try a recall election to remove the mayor from office.

Schmitt won re-election in April 2015, four months after the campaign concerns were brought forward. His term concludes in 2019.