Two dozen states have banned the use of private funds to finance elections in response to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who poured part of his $400 million fortune into the 2020 election process.
Wisconsin was not one of them.
Now, an initiative to boost voter turnout called Milwaukee Votes 2022 involves some private partners, including a Democratic-aligned political communications company known as GPS Impact.
A spokesperson for Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson told the Daily Signal that GPS Impact is “one of many” partners in the initiative, which Johnson announced at a press conference this week.
However, Wisconsin state lawmakers have more questions.
“It’s Zuckerbucks 2.0,” said State Representative Janel Brandtjen, a Republican who chairs the Wisconsin State Assembly’s Campaigns and Elections Committee.
Assembly and state Senate Republicans are seeking documents showing communications between the city of Milwaukee and GPS Impact.
No lawmaker is alleging that Zuckerberg is funding Milwaukee’s ballot program. Instead, “Zuckerbucks” or “Zuck Bucks” have become nicknames for private money that pays for local or national election operations.
A special counsel appointed by the Wisconsin State Assembly has released a report finding that jurisdictions obtaining Zuckerberg dollars may have conducted an illegal vote-out operation and violated other state laws.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, vetoed a measure to ban private dollars and private actors from infiltrating election administration offices in Badger State.
Wisconsin’s presidential election results were among the closest in the nation in 2020, with Joe Biden beating Donald Trump by an estimated 20,000 votes. However, Biden got 79% of the vote in Milwaukee.
Various non-profit groups orchestrated in 2020 a “well-oiled machine to know which ballots are in circulation, who voted, who did not vote” which allowed them “to set up a system in real time to return the vote,” Brandtjen told The Daily. Signal during a telephone interview.
“When we found out they were using this group, this GPS Impact, if you look at the website, it’s clearly not non-partisan,” the Republican lawmaker said. “They work for Democrats and Progressives to win in states, including Wisconsin. It’s a complete set of red flags.
She also said it was inappropriate for cities to work to train voters.
“Municipalities are not supposed to be in charge of getting the vote,” Brandtjen said. “Certainly, let’s say [that] today is the day to vote and publicize this information. But knowing which people voted and who did not vote is not the job of the municipalities. This is the job of political parties.
GPS Impact Twitter account includes tweets touting the Democratic politicians he works for at the federal and state level, and bragging about his more recent work helping defeat a pro-life amendment to the Kansas Constitution.
GPS Impact should not be confused with the Washington-based opposition research group Fusion GPS that featured in the false Trump-Russia allegations. GPS Impact did not respond to Daily Signal’s phone and email inquiries for this report.
The Milwaukee Votes 2022 initiative kicked off in May. But on Monday, the city’s mayor announced bigger plans for the program.
“We’re doing more, and I’m going to embrace outreach and engagement through what we’re calling ‘Milwaukee Votes 2022,'” Johnson, a Democrat, said at the press conference. “As part of this, you will soon see a new website widget on many pages of the Milwaukee.gov website.”
The planned activity is potentially illegal, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said in a joint statement with other Republican leaders.
And these Republicans are not defending it. Their statement says:
We demand that the City of Milwaukee immediately stop assisting a privately funded liberal group in its efforts to engage and vote only certain voters. The City of Milwaukee’s promotion and coordination of potentially illegal activities under the guise of canvassing is the reason Wisconsin voters have lost faith in our elections. It is inappropriate for a municipality to support a campaign to encourage voters to vote.
Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the mayor, said in an email to the Daily Signal on Wednesday that the city of Milwaukee does not receive or provide money to support the Milwaukee Votes 2022 initiative.
“All work is non-partisan; none of the efforts support individual candidates or causes,” Fleming said. “The mayor wants all eligible Milwaukee residents to vote in the upcoming election. He supports democracy and he wants the voices of Milwaukee to be heard. The city works with any nonpartisan effort that encourages eligible voters to vote. »
Fleming said he did not have details on the cost of the initiative or sources of funding, but said partners other than GPS Impact are involved. He noted that plans began in May.
“I have no information about individuals, companies or foundations that fund nonpartisan voter outreach,” Johnson’s spokesperson said. “On May 24, the mayor announced this partnership for the first time, and this event was supported by the region’s two largest trade associations, the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. Also present at the event was a representative from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a group called “Souls to the Polls” and the League of Women Voters.
Speaking to reporters, Johnson said the effort would involve going door-to-door.
“Milwaukee Votes 2022 will also have door-to-door canvassers going on, privately funded,” Johnson said. “Dozens of canvassers will be face to face with eligible voters, encouraging them to exercise their right to vote for the November elections. I am not asking anyone to vote for one party or another or one candidate or another.
Asked about it by The Daily Signal, Fleming said: ‘I don’t know the specifics of the door-to-door outreach work, other than they’re not paid for by the city.
A city-sanctioned effort to go door-to-door to get the vote is still concerning, Brandtjen said.
“To our knowledge, there is no door-to-door surveillance,” the Republican state lawmaker said. “Can you imagine someone in town showing up at your door asking if you’ve voted yet or saying, ‘I know you haven’t?’ This could be perceived as massive intimidation.
Dan O’Donnell, a conservative radio host in Milwaukee, said the city referred questions to a GPS Impact staffer. When he contacted the staffer, he said, she told him she was just an informal adviser to the ballot initiative.
“It doesn’t pass the smell test at all,” O’Donnell said in a phone interview with The Daily Signal.
“It’s private money that goes into the electoral operations of a city. I would classify this as extremely similar to Zuckerbucks,” the talk show host added. “The city working with a Democratic company in an effort to get the vote out is clearly an effort to get the Democratic vote out. The city shouldn’t do this.
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