Mark Block facing federal campaign finance investigation?

As Scooby Doo would say, “ruh roh….”

Federal authorities have opened an investigation into two Wisconsin-based corporations founded and run by Mark Block, a veteran political operative who ran Herman Cain’s unsuccessful presidential campaign.

“They are very interested in Mark and these groups,” said a source familiar with the probe. “It is not my sense, right now, that Cain is a target.”

Read more about Mark Block’s history of campaign finance law violations HERE.

A series of FACTS about the MacIver Institute & its employees/associates

Here’s a series of FACTS about the folks working for (or associated with) the John K. MacIver Institute:

FACT #1: Brian Fraley, the Communications Director for the MacIver Institute, is a former national insurance industry lobbyist who was director of the Senate Republican caucus during part of the time of the “Caucus Scandal” in which lawmakers illegally used taxpayer-funded employees to do campaign work. In fact, during the “Caucus Scandal,” Fraley actually retained the services of an attorney, services that he billed taxpayers for (from the 3/14/2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel):

Besides Esser, three Senate GOP caucus staffers billed taxpayers for legal fees: former director Brian Fraley, $2,128; John Schulze, $2,720; and Gina Ward, $2,940. Investigators sought documents from Fraley, but attorney invoices for the three provide no other details regarding services rendered.

FACT #2: According to page 9 of the criminal complaint alleging former Scott Walker staffer Kelly Rindfleisch engaged in illegal campaign activities on taxpayer time during the 2010 Lt. Governor race, Rindfleisch was employed by the Senate Republican Caucus (SRC) from March 2000 to December 2001. According to the criminal complaint in Rindfleisch’s pending felony case, on December 16, 2002 Rindfleisch was interviewed by State Department of Justice Agents who were investigating the Caucus Scandal. During that interview with DOJ Agents, Rindfleisch “gave statements regarding her work on political campaigns as directed by Brian Fraley.”

FACT #3: Brett Healy, the President of the MacIver Institute, is the former longtime chief of staff to disgraced former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen – the same individual who was charged with several felonies for his role in using taxpayer-funded staff for political campaign operations. While it’s unclear what exactly Jensen’s role is with the MacIver Institute, he was found to have authored at least two press releases for the MacIver Institute – see HERE and HERE (right click on the press releases, then click on “document properties”)

FACT #4: In 1997 James Wigderson, a regular contributor to MacIver’s “Perspectives” section, was involved in activities that violated Wisconsin’s election laws, as noted by the Wisconsin State Journal on March 7, 2001 (emphasis added):

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.

FACT #6: In addition to his “efforts” to help Jon Wilcox win a State Supreme Court race, James Wigderson has served as a paid consultant, a campaign manager, and a volunteer on the campaigns of Republican elected officials dating back to 1992. Additionally, after graduating from UW-Milwaukee in 1991, “Wigderson continued his education in 1992 at a National Republican Campaign Committee campaign management college.”

FACT #7: James Wigderson supports Wisconsin’s Republican-implemented Voter ID law, writing, “So far, so good. The law is working just fine[…]” Notably, Wisconsin’s Voter ID law was recently struck down and ruled unconstitutional, while the ACLU has cited specific examples of Wisconsinites for whom the requirement to provide a suitable voter ID “imposes a severe burden on the right to vote in violation of the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and in violation of the 24th and 14th amendments because it effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax on eligible voters.”

FACT #8: The Maciver Institute is staffed by veteran Republican campaign operatives and political insiders, and its board looks like a “Who’s Who” of Republican politics in Wisconsin, including Laurie McCallum, former First Lady of Wisconsin (wife of Republican Gov. Scott McCallum). Among the MacIver Institute’s past board members is Mark Block, a Republican operative best known lately for his blundering work managing GOP candidate Herman Cain’s presidential campaign, but also widely known here in Wisconsin for his involvement in an effort to evade campaign finance laws in the 1997 race for the State Supreme Court (outlined in FACT #4 above), involvement that resulted in Block being fined and barred from working in Wisconsin political campaigns for a period of time.

FACT #9: In 2009 and 2010 the MacIver Institute received $310,000 in funding from the Bradley Foundation, “one of the most powerful philanthropic forces behind America’s conservative movement” according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

And now here’s my opinion….

The MacIver Institute has the right to advocate for or against any ideas or policies it chooses, but it is far from being “nonpartisan;” in fact I’d argue it’s as partisan as any “non-profit” organization I’ve come across. One look at the staff and board members of the MacIver Institute should make that abundantly clear to any reasonable person. In my opinion, the MacIver Institute is little more than an extension of the Bradley-funded, Republican-enabled efforts in Wisconsin to enact policies that disproportionately benefit corporations and the wealthy at the expense of lower income and middle class citizens, as opposed to being an honest broker of nonpartisan ideas and policies.

So there you have it folks…..nine facts and one opinion. Libelous? Hardly, but sometimes the truth hurts.

Mark Block-associated organization involved in allegations of illegal campaign activities

Mark Block potentially involved in illegal campaign activities? That’s unpossible!

Herman Cain’s two top campaign aides ran a private Wisconsin-based corporation that helped the GOP presidential candidate get his fledgling campaign off the ground by originally footing the bill for tens of thousands of dollars in expenses for such items as iPads, chartered flights and travel to Iowa and Las Vegas – something that might breach federal tax and campaign law, according to sources and documents.

Internal financial records obtained by No Quarter show that Prosperity USA said it was owed about $40,000 by the Cain campaign for a variety of items in February and March. Cain began taking donations for his presidential bid on Jan. 1.

It’s worth noting that while Mark Block is currently serving as the head of Herman Cain’s presidential campaign, he formerly served as the head of Americans for Prosperity in Wisconsin, and you may also remember Block from involvement (along with James Wigderson) in election law violations relating to the 1997 campaign of former state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox. Block settled that case by agreeing to pay a $15,000 fine and to stay out of Wisconsin politics for three years.

The sordid history of Americans For Prosperity in Wisconsin’s elections

Mark Block

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.

Mark BlockBut 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.

James WigdersonAfter 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.

Ron Johnson: Mark Block’s contrived Tea Party candidate

Many in the blogosphere (including your truly) have labeled Republican U.S. Senate candidate Ron Johnson as the “Tea Party candidate,” given Johnson’s appearance at a Madison Tea Party rally earlier this year, as well as claims Johnson helped found the Oshkosh tea party group, but folks from the various Tea Party groups in Wisconsin made a point to announce they didn’t have a preferred Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. As Cody Oliphant of One Wisconsin Now points out, Ron Johnson really isn’t the “Tea Party candidate;” he’s just the preferred candidate of Mark Block.

In case you didn’t know, Mark Block is the ex-convict leader of the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity, and he’s a mover and shaker in conservative political circles, with deep ties to the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Block also has ties to former Governor Tommy Thompson, who was was widely rumored to have strongly considered a run against Sen. Russ Feingold before begging off, and from what I’ve been told by folks I trust, it was Block – and not the leaders of the various Tea Party groups in Wisconsin – who invited Ron Johnson to appear at the Madison Tea Party rally in April. No doubt thanks to Block’s machinations, Johnson went on to secure the Republican Party’s endorsement of his candidacy at the recent Republican Party of Wisconsin convention, despite the fact that Johnson had only been a candidate for a little over a week and had not said much about where he stood on any issues of importance.

There’s no word yet on whether the various Tea Party groups in Wisconsin will actually be able to agree on a preferred Republican U.S. Senate candidate, but if I had to venture a guess, I’d bet that Mark Block’s preferred candidate won’t be the preferred candidate of those groups.

Thompson makes news in two ways today

Well, that settles that.

Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson won’t be running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Sen. Russ Feingold, telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel earlier today that his family didn’t want him to make one more statewide run. While Thompson’s announcement is news all by itself, his appearance at today’s “Tea Party” anti-tax rally in Madison had bigger implications, as it exposed a rift within the groups that make up the “Tea Party” movement. As I noted earlier today, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Dave Westlake had some harsh words about Thompson’s appearance at the rally, and as Cory Liebmann of Eye on Wisconsin points out, a leaked email from Kirsten Lombard, director of Wisconsin’s 9/12 Project, shows a deep rift within the “Tea party” movement about that movement’s association (at least here in Wisconsin) with old-school Republican politicians like Tommy Thompson:
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