Wisconsin taxpayers paid about $1,000 to send one of Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s top lawyers to an anti-gay hate group’s West Coast conference last summer. despite Schimel’s insistence that the trip was a political or personal event.
Schimel, who faces a re-election challenge in November from Democrat Josh Kaul, didn’t charge taxpayers for his own costs to attend the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Summit on Religious Liberty in California last July. ADF, which calls itself a “Christian legal advocacy group,” paid his costs.
But Schimel appeared there in his capacity as the state’s attorney general, despite the fact that ADF supports the criminalization of homosexuality and pursues legal battles against same-sex marriage and the rights of same-sex couples. The group believes that forcing business owners to provide products or services for same-sex weddings infringes on its religious beliefs.
Civil rights laws prohibit businesses that serve the public from discrimination against other groups, such as Muslims and blacks.
Schimel himself accepted nearly $4,000 from ADF to cover his travel to the conference and an appearance on a panel discussing states’ rights. He reported the payment on his 2017 statement of economic interests submitted at the end of April, the first time the public learned of his trip.
Deputy Solicitor General Kevin LeRoy, however, was reimbursed $1,094 by the state to cover his flight and ground transportation, spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg said Friday.
When Schimel’s scheduler asked him in June if he had received a conference agenda, he responded by email that he had not but didn’t plan to have any portion of it become public information since the conference was what he called “personal/political travel.”
The group One Wisconsin Now has called on Schimel to turn over records and copies of any prepared remarks he delivered at the conference.
“Brad Schimel needs to come clean on why, in his official capacity as attorney general of the state of Wisconsin, he took over $4,100 for first class travel and accommodations to appear before a hate group,” said One Wisconsin Now executive director Scot Ross. “He needs to immediately turn over the records related to his appearance, for which he was paid, and what remarks he delivered at this gathering of rabid homophobes.”
Ross added, “There’s no legitimate reason for Gov. Walker’s lawyers or Brad Schimel and DOJ staff to be at a hate group conference.”
The conference was held at the posh Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel hotel in Dana Point. The hotel includes an ocean view; a room for two during the last week in May was running around $1,000 on Friday, according to TripAdvisor. A conference registration email DOJ released showed that Schimel’s wife, Sandra, traveled to California with him.
Two other state employees — DOJ Solicitor General Misha Tseytlin and Gov. Scott Walker’s deputy legal counsel J.D. Tripoli — also attended the conference. ADF paid for part of Tseytlin’s costs, because he co-led a breakout group, Ballweg said, with Tseytlin covering the rest from his own pocket. ADF paid for all of Tripoli’s expenses, Walker spokeswoman Amy Hasenberg said
Ballweg explained that DOJ covered expenses for LeRoy and not Tseytlin because LeRoy was simply attending the conference to learn about religious liberty issues and Tseytlin was leading a breakout session outside of his official capacity.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has classified ADF as an extremist organization that supports criminalizing homosexuality and believes the homosexual “agenda” seeks to undermine the family and Christianity. The center cites ADF activity over the past two decades; among the items mentioned is a book ADF founder Alan Sears co-wrote and published in 2003 that refers to the “homosexual agenda” as the principal threat to religious freedom.
More recently, ADF helped write a Mississippi law that lets government workers and private business people cite religious beliefs to deny services to LGBT people.
ADF officials refute the center’s characterization, saying the organization works to preserve fundamental American freedoms. Schimel also has defended the group, telling conservative talk radio this month that he had never attended a conference with so much love.
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond provided reporting for this story