We now know that Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and his staff are coordinating with Democratic Party operatives in a sweeping get-out-the-vote campaign. Why? Because they tell us in private text messages.
As Empower Wisconsin first reported on Wednesday, communications obtained in an open records request to the city by state Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls) show longtime Democratic Party operative Sachin Chheda telling Johnson and his staff what to say about the Wisconsin Votes 2022 get-out-the-vote campaign. The effort is being funded by a left-wing activist group with close ties to the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), a leftist nonprofit funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.
While city officials, under the direction of Chheda, have said Milwaukee is not receiving any private funding for the effort, two things are clear: The mayor’s office is taking orders from Democratic Party operatives, and the city of Milwaukee is coordinating with left-wing groups in what looks like an expensive effort to influence the outcome of November’s election.
“Are we coordinating all vote events with your group? Based on the media frenzy yesterday, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Johnson’s spokesman Jeff Fleming asks Chheda in a text sent earlier this month.
“When I don’t have information we can’t coordinate,” Chheda testily responds. “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.”
Fleming’s question followed the mayor’s comments at a press conference that the city was assisting with the “Milwaukee Votes 2022” effort funded by private grants and that the city would soon be launching a widget on its website related to the get-out-the-vote (GOTV) campaign.
Why would the mayor’s office and Milwaukee’s top election official be working with Democratic operatives on a claimed “nonpartisan” GOTV campaign? That’s the purview of political parties, not cities. It certainly isn’t — and shouldn’t be — the responsibility of a city’s election administrators.
But the texts show Chheda setting up meetings at the Milwaukee Election Commission office to discuss the handling of Milwaukee Votes 2022.
“Good morning! I’m hoping the four of us can connect early this afternoon about Monday’s event and looking ahead,” the left-wing operative wrote in a text earlier this month.
On this thread was Melissa Baldauff, Gov. Tony Evers’ former communications director and principal with GPS Impact, a marketing outfit that boasts it has helped “Democrats, progressive organizations and initiatives, and elected officials win in red states.” Baldauff and GPS Impact reportedly are or were involved in the GOTV initiative.
Fleming and Claire Woodall-Vogg, executive director of the Milwaukee Election Commission, were also involved in the text chain.
“Claire, Could we gather at City Hall at 1:30 to chat? I think 30 minutes would be enough,” Chheda asks.
“Fine by me. Where at CH?” Fleming responds.
“Claire’s office? Claire if that works for you, we will come to your office?” Chheda writes.
Woodall-Vogg responds, “Good for me.”
“OK, just to confirm we are meeting at Claire’s office, the election commission, at 1:30 PM today, 5th floor city hall. I’m not sending a calendar invite, see you there,” Chheda orders.
“Agenda will include content of remarks for Monday, from various sources, as well as figuring out the plan on the advisory and pitching. We also want to make sure we’re informing our stakeholders and partners. Claire can you please send me those materials we discussed, the list of groups that you’re talking to, and anything from the Milwaukee Votes event from earlier this year.”
According to email communications, Woodall-Vogg previously had connected left-wing voting groups with Chheda.
“I am happy to report that Sachin Chheda’s nonprofit-nonpartisan organization is taking the lead for the mayor. I’ve copied him in the hopes that you two can connect,” the elections official wrote in an email to Peggy Creer, president of the League of Women Voters Milwaukee County, in mid-August. “From my understanding, he is very much on track to still bring in resources for voter education and outreach to the city.”
Late Wednesday, the Republican Party of Wisconsin (RPW) filed a lawsuit in Milwaukee County Circuit Court challenging the city’s “Milwaukee Votes 2022” initiative. RPW alleges government resources and personnel appear to be involved in assisting Democratic-aligned organizations, such as GPS Impact, in their GOTV efforts.
The party says that records released give the appearance of coordination between Johnson’s office and longtime Democratic Party operatives. If that coordination involves the use of government resources or personnel to drive Democratic Party voter turnout, that would be a violation of state statutes and the city of Milwaukee’s own “Political Activity Policy.”
RPW Executive Director Mark Jefferson says the party 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.”
“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,” Jefferson said.
Chheda, in writing the press statement for the mayor’s office, instructed Fleming to say: “There are nonprofit, nonpartisan groups who are canvassing door to door, funded entirely by civic-minded philanthropists, to encourage Milwaukeeans to vote. The city is neither funding nor receiving funds to canvass, and the mayor is voicing his support for the city’s partnership with these nonprofit, nonpartisan groups who are mobilizing voters.”
Chheda then gets up on his left-wing activist soap box, offering an extended statement that never makes it to the press. It shows, once again, Milwaukee’s election office being infiltrated by liberal activist groups:
The mayor is excited about all the work happening to encourage voting with the city and in partnership with outside groups. That includes the widget being installed on the city website which was developed by nonprofit partners and is available to any citizen who wants to check their voter registration statute or learn how to register, regardless of party. That includes the Early Voting sites funded by city taxpayers that allow all citizens to vote at more than a dozen locations across the city over the course of the 2-weeks early voting period. It includes the work discussed today to make it easier for disabled citizens to have their voice heard. And it includes the city’s support of these nonprofit, nonpartisan groups who are canvassing door to door.
At one point, following a screed demanding he be kept in the loop about public statements, Chheda tells the mayor’s office, “Our funders do not want us to refer folks to Melissa [Baldauff] after all.”
He then rips conservative talk show host Dan O’Donnell, who had reached out to Baldauff for comment earlier this month.
“I do not engage bad actors like Dan O’Donnell He’s not a journalist. He’s a political activist,” Chheda, the political activist, wrote. “If there are further enquires [sic], can we please discuss before any response is offered. I’d appreciate it. Thank you.”
Brandtjen, who chairs the Assembly Campaign Elections Commission investigating the many questions surrounding the 2020 election, says her office will be submitting follow-up open records requests with the city and its Election Commission.
Read the texts here.