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Wisconsin Spotlight | Sept. 15, 2022

MADISON — Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and city officials can’t seem to keep their stories straight on a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaign that one lawmaker says looks like “Zuckerbucks 2.0.”

Johnson this week boasted about ‘Milwaukee Votes 2022,’ which, he said, includes “door-to-door canvassers… funded by the private sector.”

“Dozens of canvassers will be face to face with eligible voters, encouraging them to exercise their right to vote for the November election,” Johnson said.

For election integrity watchdogs, ‘Milwaukee Votes 2022’ sounds a lot like the Mark Zuckerberg money dumped on Wisconsin’s largest and Democrat-laden cities in the form of so-called “safe election” grants. The Facebook founder and his wife in 2020 contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to a Chicago-based liberal voting activist group and its network, much of it in Democrat-voting cities in key battleground states like Wisconsin.

Thousands of pages of records obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight found activists with Democratic Party ties embedded in local election offices. One in particular had the keys to the room that held Green Bay’s absentee ballots.

Those activists also engaged in targeted GOTV campaigns to turn out traditionally liberal voters, apparently just like Milwaukee’s latest scheme.

“This is clearly Zuckerbucks 2.0,” said state Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), who heads the Assembly committee looking into the election integrity concerns surrounding the 2020 elections. “I would not be surprised if some of the 13 groups that were part of the 2020 election activities are involved again.”

Brandtjen’s office immediately filed open records requests with:

  • Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe
  • Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson
  • Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson
  • Milwaukee Elections Director Claire Woodall-Vogg
  • Milwaukee Clerk Jim Owczarski
  • Milwaukee IT Specialist David Henke

She told Empower Wisconsin that she is also requesting communications between city officials and Souls to the Polls, a liberal activist group funding GOTV efforts in black communities in major cities like Milwaukee.

The mayor and Milwaukee’s top election officials told Fox6’s Jason Calvi they weren’t sure who the private group leading the get-out-the-vote campaign is or how much money is involved.

Hours later, the city’s official take changed.

“The city is neither receiving nor providing any funds related to the work of ‘Milwaukee Votes 2022.’  The group is privately funded, not-for-profit and non-partisan,” Jeff Fleming, the mayor’s spokesman, told FOX6. “The association with ‘Milwaukee Votes 2022’ is limited to the Mayor voicing support for the work – which include door-to-door canvassing – to encourage all eligible voters to vote in upcoming elections.”

All eligible le voters?

At Monday’s press conference, the mayor said, “We’re doing more, and I’m going to be embracing outreach and engagement through what we’re calling ‘Milwaukee Votes 2022.’ He added the city will soon launch a new “website widget on many Milwaukee.gov website pages.”

Fleming directed questions about the GOTV campaign to Melissa Baldauff. Baldauff not only lists herself as principal at GPS impact, she has long been a mover and shaker in Democratic Party circles — including a stint as Gov. Tony Evers’ comms director. Check out her Twitter feed. Her undying support for Evers is clear.

Evers will need all the help he can get — and all the Milwaukee votes he can grab. He’s in a political dog fight, leading Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels by a scant 3 percentage points (47% to 44%), within the margin of error, in the latest Marquette University Law School Poll.

GPS Impact, according to its website, “is a full-service political agency that “has helped Democrats, progressive organizations and initiatives, and elected officials win in red states, including Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Louisiana and Ohio.” It touts its experience in running “voter registration” and handling “ballot requesters.”

Baldauff claims she is not working on the “Milwaukee Votes 2022” initiative in her official capacity, but is informally advising several of the nonprofits involved, conservative talk show host Dan O’Donnell reported Tuesday.

“Neither I nor GPS Impact are working for the City of Milwaukee, receiving taxpayer dollars from the City of Milwaukee, or running a canvass in Milwaukee,” she wrote in an email to O’Donnell.

Since the players can’t seem to keep their stories straight, Brandtjen is going after communications involving GPS Impact as well.

“There is no question that third party partisan money continues to be used in collusion with election officials in heavily democrat areas to help democrat candidates win elections. It is time we get to the bottom of this unethical and illegal activity,” Brandtjen said.

The Democratic Party and liberal activists may feel even more emboldened after the Federal Election Commission dismissed a complaint on the Zuckerbucks grants in 2020. A spokesperson for Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, called the $350 million in election administration grants a “one-time donation given the unprecedented nature of the (COVID-19) crisis.”

Republicans, who control the state Legislature, passed a bill banning private donations for public elections grants. Evers’ vetoed the measure, among several election integrity measures.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin, too, has filed open records request with the mayor’s office and Milwaukee Elections Commission Executive Director Claire Woodall-Vogg.

RPW attorneys say they are awaiting a response from the city to determine next steps to ensure election integrity is preserved, and to ensure our elections are administered fairly and in the same manner across the state. According to a press release, RPW attorneys and staff will be discussing other potential actions to ensure the city is not illegally coordinating with outside organizations.

“At a time when the confidence in our election system is being questioned, to have the Mayor come out and make a statement that alludes to the city being involved in electioneering, challenges that very integrity,” said Republican Party of Wisconsin Chairman Paul Farrow. “Open, fair, and transparent elections are what we should be striving for, not backroom, in the shadow deals that can’t be traced.”

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