The state Democratic Party filed a complaint Friday asking state officials to block rapper Kanye West from appearing on the presidential ballot in Wisconsin this November, saying his campaign was tardy submitting its signatures.
The challenge also suggests there are numerous problems with West’s nomination papers, including incorrect addresses for circulators and bogus signatures, such as “Mickey Mouse” and “Bernie Sanders.” It also included affidavits from six individuals who said they were duped into putting their names on West’s paperwork.
“If the affidavits are true … crimes were committed by the West campaign,” said attorney Michael Maistelman, who gathered the affidavits for the state Democratic Party.
A message sent to the email account listed on West’s Federal Election Commission filing bounced back as undeliverable.
The complaint will be reviewed by Elections Commission staffers, who will make a recommendation on West’s nomination papers to the bipartisan board. The panel is made up of three Democrats and three Republicans.
To make it onto the ballot, West needs to submit at least 2,000 valid signatures. His campaign turned in more than 2,400 to state regulators.
A second challenge was filed by U.S. Bank attorney Joseph Santeler. It makes some of the same points as the Democratic Party filing.
“I’m not going to comment on the filing, but thank you for calling,” Santeler said before quickly hanging up.
The challenges in Wisconsin came the same day Illinois made an initial determination that West had not filed enough signatures to get on the ballot in that state, according to WTTW-TV.
The deadline for filing challenges was Friday.
Democrats are concerned a West candidacy could siphon votes from former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrat who will likely face Republican President Donald Trump in November.
One Wisconsin Republican source says the goal is for West to get 107,000 votes here, about what Libertarian Gary Johnson did in 2016.
Both complaints argue that West should be kept off the November ballot because his team didn’t file its papers with the state Elections Commission by Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline. The Journal Sentinel reported that it appears that an attorney for the West campaign missed the crucial deadline by at least a minute or two.
“Wisconsin election laws provide [West] over a month to collect and submit nomination papers, and his failure to do so within the time prescribed in the statute is fatal to his attempted filing,” Santeler wrote in his challenge.
The Democratic Party’s complaint found a number of technical errors with the nomination papers. Among the signatures on West’s nomination papers, for instance, are two from “Kanye West” and one each from “Mickey Mouse” and “Bernie Sanders” of Vermont. All listed Milwaukee addresses.
In addition, several of the circulators gave bogus addresses on the nomination papers, according to the complaint. One circulator said he lived in an area in Illinois that is zoned for industrial use only. A second circulator listed a California residence, but the complaint says he hasn’t lived there in years.
As for the affidavits, six individuals said they did not know they were signing nomination papers to get on the ballot.
Cheryl Pernell of Milwaukee County said she was asked to sign the document outside a Walmart. The circulator told her that her signature was needed to make sure she was registered to vote. She learned only later that she had put her name on West’s nomination papers.
“If I had known that, I wouldn’t have signed the papers, absolutely not,” Pernell said in her affidavit. “Kanye West would not get my vote and I think it is a joke that he is running for president.”
Another Milwaukee resident, Wanda Thompson, said in her affidavit that she signed the petition only after the circulator said he got paid $1 per name. “If he hadn’t told me he was getting paid per signature, I would never have signed this nomination paper,” Thompson said.
Also on Friday, a national group filed a complaint with the Office of Lawyer Regulation, accusing Madison attorney Lane Ruhland of representing Trump and West’s campaign at the same time.
Ruhland, an attorney for Trump’s reelection campaign, submitted the nominating papers for West’s candidacy to the state Elections Commission this week.
“Simultaneous legal representation of two candidates competing for the same office is a paradigmatic example of a conflict of interest,” said the three-page filing by Michelle Kuppersmith, executive director of the left-leaning Campaign for Accountability.
Ruhland, a former attorney for the state Republican Party, did not immediately respond to the complaint.
But two experts on legal ethics suggested that Ruhland may not have a problem.
“I don’t accept that the proposition that any effort to get a candidate on the ballot is directly adverse to the campaign of any other candidate already on the ballot,” said Peter Rofes, a professor at Marquette University Law School.
Stephen Gillers, a New York University School of Law professor, said Ruhland may not have a legal conflict because Trump and West may have the same objective.
“If West’s goal is to be a spoiler, not a serious candidate, there is no conflict at all,” Gillers said by email. “The candidates have the same goal — to help Trump get the votes by drawing votes from Biden.”
Ruhland is currently representing the Trump campaign in a lawsuit against a Rhinelander TV station. Of West’s 10 electors, at least five have strong ties to the state GOP or are ardent Trump supporters.
What’s less clear is Ruhland’s exact role with West’s team, including whether she is a paid staffer or volunteer. It is also not known if she got a waiver from the Trump campaign to work with West’s team on his candidacy.
In the complaint filed Friday with the state Office of Lawyer Regulation, Kuppersmith said Ruhland’s heavy involvement with the Republican Party raises the question as to “whether she has personal commitments and interests inconsistent with zealously representing the interests of Kanye West’s presidential campaign.”
Gillers, the New York University professor, noted that Ruhland is representing Trump’s campaign in a libel case and West’s to get him on the ballot — two different matters.
“Ruhland’s firm is not directly adverse to West or Trump in the same matter,” Gillers said in his email. “Success for West will not harm Trump in the libel action and success for Trump will not impede West’s effort to get on the ballot.”
Rofes agreed, saying, “I do not believe discipline will be forthcoming against lawyer Ruhland.”
In Wisconsin, matters of lawyer discipline is ultimately decided by the state Supreme Court, which is controlled by a 4-3 conservative majority. Kuppersmith said she hopes her complaint doesn’t become the subject of partisan politics.
“We’d hope the OLR will adjudicate this with unbiased eyes,” she said.
Editor’s note, Aug. 7, 8:40 p.m.: A challenge was filed by U.S. Bank attorney Joseph Santeler. An earlier version misidentified the attorney.
Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 224-2135 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice.