By Todd Richmond
MADISON, Wis. — The Wisconsin attorney general’s office has spent about $83,000 on promotional items since Republican Brad Schimel took office, including bags, pistol cases, candy and custom-made fortune cookies.
The Associated Press obtained invoices through an open records request that show Schimel spent $6,269 on messenger bags, $6,000 on pistol cases, nearly $3,200 on candy and $100 on fortune cookies containing custom-ordered messages such as, “The time is right to make new friends” and “no one’s been hurt from laughing too much.” The spending also included nearly $10,000 for coins promoting Schimel’s “kicking ass every day” mantra.
The items had been purchased since January 2015. Most of it was handed out as gifts to attendees at DOJ conferences.
Liberal group One Wisconsin Now also obtained the invoices through a record request. Joanna Beilman-Dulin, OWN’s research director, said in a news release entitled “Attorney General Brad Schimel puts the ‘AG’ in Swag” that Schimel should spend the department’s money on fighting crime. She noted that thousands of Wisconsin rape kits haven’t been tested and there have been delays in testing evidence for DNA.
“This is about priorities, and Brad Schimel’s are grievously misplaced,” Beilman-Dulin said.
It’s unclear whether the DOJ’s promotional spending is in line with other state agencies. Spokesmen for the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection had no figures immediately available. A spokesman for the Department of Corrections didn’t immediately reply to a message.
Democrats criticized Schimel earlier this year when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the spending on the “kicking ass every day” coins. He told the Legislature’s budget-writing committee in March that he would require “higher levels of approval” within his department before such expenditures could be made, but he didn’t elaborate.
DOJ spokesman Johnny Koremenos said in an email to the AP on Wednesday that the agency has hosted 187 training seminars for about 10,000 law enforcement professionals since Schimel took office. He said the overall cost of promotional items handed out at the conferences looks high but actually amounts to about $5 per attendee. It’s unclear how Koremenos arrived at that figure, since $5 times 10,000 attendees would equate to $50,000, not $83,000. He didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up email.
Koremenos went on to say that Schimel has ordered re-training for employees responsible for buying promotional materials to “ensure that they are good stewards of state resources.” He added that Schimel has ordered his executive staff to pre-approve any proposed spending above a certain threshold. He did not elaborate.
Schimel faces re-election in November 2018. Democrat Josh Kaul is the only candidate running against him so far. Kaul’s campaign didn’t immediately reply to an email seeking comment on the promotional spending.