MADISON — Milwaukee’s top election official welcomed with open arms left-leaning “safe and secure” elections groups funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, new emails show. And the outside organizations certainly seemed to make themselves at home, intricately involving involved with preparation for and administration of Milwaukee’s November election.
The emails, more than 1,000 pages-worth obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight through an open records request, show Milwaukee Election Commission Administrator Claire Woodall-Vogg more than happy to use the services of the Chicago-based Center for Tech & Civic Life (CTCL). And the Milwaukee Common Council made quick work of approving the approximately $3.4 million in “free” CTCL grant money.
Here’s what we’ve learned:
- It seems the city and its elections overseers grew quite comfortable asking for CTCL for financial and technical assistance.
“I understand that the CTCL might have additional funds available to disperse as municipalities have unexpected costs,” Woodall-Vogg wrote in an Aug. 31 email to Tiana Epps-Johnson, the center’s founder and executive director. “I have attached an outline of unexpected costs that we like the CTCL to consider funding.”
Woodall-Vogg sought high-speed tabulators, and her office needed some cash to make American Family Field (previously Miller Park), where the Milwaukee Brewers play, an in-person voting site.
She came to the right place.
As Wisconsin Spotlight has documented in a series of investigative reports, Milwaukee was part of the “famous WI-5,” the state’s five largest cities awarded more than $8 million in CTCL election grant funds. The cities — including Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine — had to sign contracts with conditions in order to claim the money.
The cash came with lots of help from CTCL’s network of election experts, left-leaning groups with some very far left partisan activists who became heavily involved in the WI-5’s election business.
The mission of the Zuckerberg-funded groups is to push vote-by-mail initiatives and they handed out a lot of money to the largest cities in America — Democratic strongholds, particularly in battleground states — to do just that. Many of their key players have deep left connections.
- Woodall-Vogg notes the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR) in an email to a CTCL representative. As Influence Watch notes, the electoral policy advocacy group was created in the wake of the 2016 election in response to foreign interference and alleged low voter turnout. It also was the beneficiary of Zuckerberg, who with wife, Priscilla Chan, donated $50 million to CEIR, “a sum 50 times larger than the organization’s 2017 revenues.”
The center was recommended to Woodall-Vogg by Kevin Kennedy, the former director of the disbanded Government Accountability Board. Kennedy stepped down from his job as Wisconsin’s top speech cop after the GAB helped lead Wisconsin’s infamous John Doe investigations into dozens of right-of center groups in pursuit of taking down then-Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The unconstitutional secret probe included raids on the homes of conservatives and an electronic spying operation on the left’s political enemies in the Badger State.
- At no point, at least in the emails obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight, do Woodall-Vogg or city officials question the activities of the network. If any vetting of the groups and their activists went on, it’s not evident in the communications.
In fact, Woodall-Vogg sings the praises of CTCL network partner, the Vote at Home Institute to the Wisconsin Elections Commission and to her election administration colleagues in the Milwaukee County Clerk’s office.
“I wanted to reach out and connect you with Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein and Hillary Hall from the Vote at Home Institute in case you think other clerks in the county would find working with them useful (feel free to forward this email if that is the case),” she wrote in an Aug. 28 email to Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson and Julietta Henry, director of the Milwaukee County Election Commission. Woodall-Vogg sent the introductory email at the request of Spitzer-Rubenstein.
On one occasion it seems Woodall-Vogg did check the aggressive Spitzer-Rubenstein.
“I sent a note to the Vote at Home team communicating that you were not interested in anyone embedding in your office through the election,” CTCL’s Josh Goldman wrote in an Oct. 9 email to the elections administrator. “Michael mentioned he’s meeting with you in person on Thursday. I don’t think he’s planning to stick around beyond that in you office but you may have to clarify for him.”
- While the presidential election may be over, the partnership between Milwaukee and CTCL goes on.
In a Feb. 2 email the CTCL Grants Team notifies Woodall-Vogg that the city’s request for a six-month extension on its 2020 grant has been approved. The elections office has until June 30 to spend its remaining $513,764.02.
“Additionally, per the terms and conditions of your grant agreement, a final report is to be submitted no later than July 31, 2021,” the email states.
It appears Green Bay had checked out. In early December, the “WI-5” was down to the “WI-4,” according to an email from CTCL’s Whitney May to the election officials in Milwaukee, Madison, Kenosha and Racine. But the machine, built by outside liberal groups and willing Wisconsin cities, was designed to last, the CTCL executive suggested.
“Collaboration across the WI-4 is new in 2020 and should continue,” May wrote. “This will allow you to openly share ideas and ask questions that are relevant to leading elections in high-population jurisdictions. In and ideal world, a Green Bay clerk is included too.”
She added that, “(T)his isn’t the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning.”
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s office did not respond to a request for comment.