Dan O’Donnell reports on newly released emails and texts that show the City of Milwaukee illegally coordinating with Democrat political operatives on a get-out-the-vote effort designed to help Democrats in the upcoming election.
Sep. 30, 2022
Perspective by Dan O’Donnell
The Republican Party of Wisconsin has sued the City of Milwaukee and its mayor, Cavalier Johnson, over their participation in the “Milwaukee Votes 2022” initiative—a barely-disguised partisan effort to maximize Democrat turnout in the upcoming midterm election.
Earlier this month, the mayor’s office confirmed that Milwaukee is partnering with GPS Impact, an overtly left-wing political strategy firm whose website’s front page boasts about how the firm has “helped Democrats, progressive organizations and initiatives, and elected officials win in red states” such as Wisconsin.
“No local public official may use his or her office or position in a way that produces or assists in the production or a substantial benefit, direct or indirect, for the official…or an organization with which the official is associated.”
– Wisconsin Statute § 19.59(1)(c)2
Emails and texts from Johnson, his spokesman Jeff Fleming, and Milwaukee Elections Commission director Claire Woodall-Vogg released following an open records request revealed that “Milwaukee Votes 2022” would be funded by a $1 million grant from the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, an organization funded by the far left Sixteen Thirty Fund.
Described as a “liberal dark-money behemoth” by Politico, a “a leading vehicle for [dark money spending] on the Left” by The New York Times, and “the indisputable heavyweight of Democratic dark money” by The Atlantic, the Sixteen Thirty Fund funds dozens of political organizations whose goals are all aligned: Electing Democrats and advancing liberal politics.
In April, the Center for Secure and Modern Elections was announced as a partner with the Center for Tech and Civic Life on a nationwide election operation remarkably similar to the one the Center for Tech and Civic Life used to influence and, in some cases, even infiltrate the administration of the 2020 presidential election in Milwaukee and four other Democrat-run cities in Wisconsin.
The goal then, as it is now, was boosting Democrat turnout in a key swing state, and when government is involved in it, such a scheme is patently unlawful. Wisconsin Statute § 19.59(1)(c)2 provides that “no local public official may use his or her office or position in a way that produces or assists in the production or a substantial benefit, direct or indirect, for the official…or an organization with which the official is associated.”
Obviously, electoral victory in statewide and local races is a substantial benefit for Mayor Johnson’s Democratic Party, so Johnson’s support of “Milwaukee Votes 2022” is illegal. It may even constitute felony misconduct in public office as a use of the mayor’s “discretionary power in a manner inconsistent with the duties of the officer’s or employee’s office or employment or the rights of others and with intent to obtain a dishonest advantage for the officer or employee or another.”
Fleming, Johnson’s spokesman, raised concerns about this in a text conversation with Sachin Chheda, a longtime Democrat strategist who is running “Milwaukee Votes 2022.”
“Are we coordinating all vote events with your group?” Fleming asked. “Based on the media frenzy yesterday, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
Chheda, however, did. And in his response, he let Fleming know who was in charge.
“When I don’t have information we can’t coordinate,” he said. “I’m not saying every event would be with us, but if you can let me know what’s going on, then I can answer questions and plan. So yes I do want to know everything related to voting.”
Toward this end, Chheda set up a meeting at City Hall with Woodall-Vogg and Melissa Baldauff, a principal at GPS Impact and veteran Democrat operative who is serving as a spokesperson for “Milwaukee Votes 2022.”
Melissa Baldauff is a principal at GPS Impact and is serving as a spokesperson for “Milwaukee Votes 2022.” pic.twitter.com/DSSAGssyny
— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) September 30, 2022
When members of the media, including this author, began asking questions of the mayor’s office about just who was funding the initiative and what groups were involved, Chheda wrote the statement for Fleming to give.
This level of coordination between city officials and partisan Democrats is a clear violation of the City of Milwaukee’s “Political Activity Policy,” which prohibits the use of “one’s authority, influence, title, or status within the City” in “an effort to support or oppose the election of a candidate for political office or to support a particular political party in an election.” This includes “soliciting votes on behalf of candidates,” which appears to be the entire purpose of “Milwaukee Votes 2022.”
It also appears to violate state law. In taking secret meetings at City Hall and working so closely on get-out-the-vote efforts with partisans like Chheda and Baldauff (and taking orders from them), Woodall-Vogg, Fleming, and Johnson are using their positions in government to obtain a dishonest advantage for Democrat candidates in the upcoming elections.
The extent of this work doesn’t just merit a lawsuit from the Republican Party of Wisconsin; it may well justify a criminal investigation.