MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin taxpayers paid about $1,000 to send one of Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel’s top lawyers to a Christian legal advocacy group’s West Coast conference last summer even though Schimel himself considered his own appearance there a political or personal event.
Schimel, who is up for re-election in November, didn’t charge taxpayers for the cost of his trip, which the sponsoring group covered.
Deputy Solicitor General Kevin LeRoy attended the Alliance Defending Freedom’s Summit on Religious Liberty in California last July. The DOJ reimbursed LeRoy $1,094 to cover his flight and ground transportation, spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg said Friday. ADF paid for his meals and lodging, she said.
ADF pursues litigation on a variety of conservative fronts, including opposing same-sex marriage. The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies it as an extremist organization that supports criminalizing homesexuality. ADF rejects the characterization.
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.
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 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 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.
“There’s no legitimate reason for Gov. Walker’s lawyers or Brad Schimel and DOJ staff to be at a hate group conference,” said Scot Ross, executive director of liberal group One Wisconsin Now.
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.
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