MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel accepted thousands of dollars from an anti-gay organization to appear at the group's West Coast conference last summer, state records show,
Democrats pounced on Schimel Tuesday for attending the Alliance Defending Freedom gathering, calling his decision to attend disturbing. The Southern Poverty Law Center has listed ADF as a hate group that seeks to outlaw homosexuality and develop legislation that denies goods and services to gay and transgender people.
"Our attorney general should be fighting for all Wisconsinites," Democrat Josh Kaul, who is challenging Schimel in the November elections, said in a statement. "It's unacceptable for our AG to participate in a conference held by an organization that has been described as an anti-LGBT hate group and `virulently anti-gay."'
Schimel's campaign manager, Matthew Dobler, said Kaul should "spend more time learning about the job he's seeking than hiding behind attacks on an organization that works to preserve fundamental freedoms of speech, religion and conscience of all Americans."
Schimel's 2017 statement of economic interest on file with the state Ethics Commission shows the attorney general accepted $3,828 as well as a $300 honorarium from the Alliance Defending Freedom during the calendar year. The statement offers no further details.
Schimel's state spokesman, Johnny Koremenos, said in an email that the money covered Schimel's travel expenses to an ADF conference in California in July as well as his participation on a panel at the meeting.
Dobler confirmed the conference was ADF's religious liberty summit in Dana Point. The event featured a speech from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It was closed to the media.
The panel Schimel sat on was titled "Reinvigorating Federalism: Innovative and Constitutional State Efforts for Human Flourishing," Koremenos said. The panel discussed the role of state attorneys general in protecting states' rights, the spokesman said. Dobler added that the panel discussed free speech as well.
Scottsdale, Arizona-based ADF filed a federal lawsuit in 2016 on behalf of two University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students who argued their religious teaching at a church should count as community service toward graduation. Schimel's state Department of Justice was defending university officials until the students reached a settlement in February 2017. The students officially dropped the lawsuit on July 6, about a week before ADF's summit convened.
"Brad Schimel taking a first-class junket from a special interest group that has brought lawsuits against state entities is alarming," said Scot Ross, executive director of liberal group One Wisconsin Now. "That this same group Brad Schimel took $3,800 from is classified as a hate group is appalling."
An ADF spokeswoman had no immediate comment but promised to respond as soon as possible.