The Republican Party of Wisconsin has filed a lawsuit challenging the city of Milwaukee’s “Milwaukee Votes 2022” initiative, after an exclusive report by Empower Wisconsin revealed that Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson asked a Democratic Party operative for help spinning the city’s privately funded get-out-the-vote campaign, which some critics label “Zuckbucks 2.0.”
“The Republican Party of Wisconsin is deeply concerned that cities like Milwaukee are working with Democrat operatives and partisan third party groups to get out the vote in a manner designed to tip the scales for Democrats,” Mark Jefferson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin said in a press release. “Government’s role in elections must be to ensure fairness and transparency, not to benefit one party at the expense of another, and we will aggressively fight to ensure that election laws are followed.”
In text and emails obtained by state Rep. Janel Brandtjen’s public records request, Johnson and his aide Jeff Fleming ask left-wing operative and political consultant Sachin Chheda for how to respond to questions regarding “Milwaukee Votes 2022,” a door-to-door canvassing get-out-the-vote campaign “funded by the private sector.” Chheda has an extensive history of working for Democratic political campaigns, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, and former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle.
“Getting multiple media requests on where the $$$ is coming from for canvassing and outreach. Do you have an answer?” Fleming texted Chheda on Sept. 12.
“Private donors and foundations,” Chheda responded, before adding that Fleming could also direct reporters’ questions to Melissa Baldauff, another Democratic Party activist (and former communications director for Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers) who is the spokeswoman for Milwaukee Votes 2022, per the records.
But Chheda then changed his mind, texting Fleming, “Actually hold on. Can we just sit tight for an hour and then get back to folks?” Fleming’s response was not included in the requested records.
A couple of days later, Chheda texted Johnson himself and asked if there was any update on “whether you got these questions at the art museum?”
Hey, Sachin. Yes they did ask about Milwaukee Votes 2022. I said that it is:
– an initiative that we spoke about going back to May
– encourages all voters to be engaged regardless of party
– Isn’t much different than the activity we see before elections
–Just turn on your television and you’ll see private dollars expended to encourage voters.
Johnson had originally told reporters that the city was helping with Milwaukee Votes 2022’s get-out-the-vote efforts. He later walked back his comments by saying the initiative would be carried out without government support. Texts and email exchanges between Johnson and Chheda suggest otherwise.
“Wanted to let you guys know we have been approved for a $1 million grant from The Center for Secure and Modern Elections,” Chheda wrote in a Sept. 2 text to Mayor Johnson and his chief of staff Jim Bohl. “The money is coming to the High Ground Institute to support the nonpartisan Milwaukee Votes 2022 Canvass as we discussed. We should set up a meeting next week to give you guys the full update.”
The Center for Secure and Modern Elections is a leftist advocacy group created by the New Venture Fund, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes radical changes to America’s elections, including automatic voter registration at state agencies. The center is also closely connected to the Center for Technology and Civic Life, one of two leftist advocacy groups that funneled a $419 million grant from Mark Zuckerberg — colloquially labeled “ZuckBucks” — to fund the private takeover of government election offices during the 2020 contest. Wisconsin was a key recipient of Zuckbucks.
Rep. Brandtjen, who chairs the Wisconsin Assembly Campaign Finance and Elections Commission, is worried that Milwaukee Votes 2022 is just “Zuckbucks 2.0.” She told Empower Wisconsin there is no way to oversee the “nonpartisan” nonprofit groups funding the effort. Her office is filing more open records requests related to communications between the city and the Center for Secure and Modern Elections.
The initial records Brandtjen obtained, revealing Johnson’s communication with Chheda, were incomplete. As such, the Republican Party of Wisconsin also sued the city and mayor’s office on Wednesday for failing to comply with its records request related to Milwaukee Votes 2022.