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I’ve already documented the efforts by Americans For Prosperity (AF) to confuse Democratic voters in the 2nd and 10th State Senate districts – where incumbent Republican State Senators Rob Cowles and Sheila Harsdorf face tough recall elections – with a mailer telling them to send in their absentee ballots by August 11, 2011. That date is significant, because any absentee ballots not received by the Thursday before election day (which in this case would be Thursday, August 4) will be disqualified. In targeting Democratic voters, Americans For Prosperity (led by State Director Matt Seaholm) has made it abundantly clear they’re not above engaging in electoral dirty tricks in order to disenfranchise voters who might help Democrats regain control of the State Senate, in the process loosening AFP’s grip on Wisconsin politics.
But the dirty tricks Americans For Prosperity is engaging in here in Wisconsin in 2011 shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who’s followed Wisconsin politics over the past ten years or so. In 2001, Mark Block (pictured, right), the former director of AFP in Wisconsin, settled in a civil judgment with the WI Elections Board over a complaint that in 1997 Block conspired to circumvent campaign finance law. On march 7, 2001 the Wisconsin State Journal wrote:
In settling a lawsuit filed by the state Elections Board, Wilcox agreed to pay $10,000 for his campaign committee. The lawsuit charged Wilcox’s committee and his campaign manager, Mark Block, with colluding with another group to evade campaign finance laws in his 1997 race for the state’s highest court.
Prompted by an investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal, the board charged the committee and Block with working with the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation and its leaders, Brent Pickens and James Wigderson, to run an illegally funded $200,500 voter turnout effort for Wilcox in his race against Milwaukee lawyer Walt Kelly. The postcard and telephone effort was later linked to school choice advocates, most of them from out of state.
After illegally conspiring with Brent Pickens, James Wigderson (pictured, left) and their group Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation to run an illegal voter turnout effort, Mark Block was rewarded for his illegal behavior by being named the Wisconsin Director of the Koch brothers-funded Americans For Prosperity, a pretty good gig for a guy coming off a $15,000 civil judgment for violating election laws.
Now fast-forward to 2010, when the Wisconsin chapter of Americans For Prosperity, at that time led by Mark Block, was accused of engaging in illegal vote caging in Wisconsin. In a September 2010 news release, One Wisconsin Now alleged:
A coordinated plot by the Republican Party of Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin and organizations in the so-called Tea Party movement targeting minority voters and college students in a possibly illegal “voter caging” effort for voter suppression has been uncovered in evidence obtained by One Wisconsin Now, a statewide advocacy organization in Madison, Wisconsin.
According to One Wisconsin Now, Tim Dake, leader of the Tea Party group Wisconsin GrandSons of Liberty, lays out the plans for engaging in vote caging, detailing contact between himself and Reince Preibus, the Republican Party of Wisconsin Chair and Mark Block, state director of Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin. Acording to Dake, the plan to engage in illegal vote caging would have been implemented as follows:
- The Republican Party of Wisconsin will use its “Voter Vault” state-wide voter file to compile a list of minority and student voters in targeted Wisconsin communities.
- Americans for Prosperity will use this list to send mail to these voters indicating the voter must call and confirm their registration information, and telling them if they do not call the number provided they could be removed from the voter lists.
- The Tea Party organizations will recruit and place individuals as official poll workers in selected municipalities in order to be able to make the challenges as official poll workers.
- On Election Day, these organizations will then “make use” of any postcards that are returned as undeliverable to challenge voters at the polls, utilizing law enforcement, as well as attorneys trained and provided by the RPW, to support their challenges.
In addition to the unethical (and quite possibly illegal) actions that have been taken by the Wisconsin chapter of Americans For Prosperity to influence Wisconsin’s elections in favor of the loyal Republican elected officials who will unflinchingly do their bidding, AFP has also dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Wisconsin.
AFP director Tim Phillips said Monday that his group already had spent $400,000 on TV and radio ads in the state in support of the governor. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 02/28/11]
Keep in mind that the $400,000 spent by AFP in Wisconsin in support of Gov. Walker’s union-busting budget “repair” bill doesn’t include any money that group has spent bolstering the chances of the six Republican State Senators facing recall elections because of their support of the radical right-wing agenda pushed on them by AFP and Gov. Scott Walker.
So there you have the sordid history of Americans For Prosperity, and their attempts to influence Wisconsin’s elections, whether by throwing bucketfuls of money into races or by the use of less than reputable (and possibly illegal) tactics in order confuse and/or disenfranchise Wisconsin voters.
Americans For Prosperity is a plague upon our house – a plague brought to us thanks to the billionaire Koch brothers and their desire to advance their radical far-right agenda.
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