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.


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32 thoughts on “A series of FACTS about the MacIver Institute & its employees/associates

  1. Ever thought of sending a detailed write up the Journal to look into the funding of Wisconsin “think tanks” and “news” outlets such as Wisconsin Reporter?

  2. “…school choice advocates, most of them from out of state.”

    Man, that choice money has just saturated Wisconsin; it’s even been involved in WI issues having NOTHING to do with school choice. The American Education Reform Foundation, one of the choice groups involved in the Wilcox mess, later moved headquarters to Milwaukee, changed its name to Alliance for School Choice and was tied recently to the Jensen-led redistricting fiasco. And the Landmark Legal Foundation is another, recently filing a complaint against recall signers who happen to be judges. I realize there’s a lot of money to be made in education, but this is just weird.

    1. “School choice”… big sigh about the money-saturation and weird lobbying connections… further big sigh that they’ve got us using their mom-and-apple-pie terminology, when we know it’s not about the “choice” but rather about looting our tax dollars.

      How about:
      School privatizing (or privatization, and so on down the list)
      School profitizing
      School piratizing
      School corporatizing

  3. And speaking of redistricting, you just have to check out the attorneys representing Widgerson, Block and Pickens: Raymond P. Taffora and Eric M. McLeod of Michael, Best & Friedrich. Seriously, too funny.

    1. Did you notice on Wiggy’s “So yesterday I was libeled” post… he embargoed almost all the comments yesterday, and only released them today?

      Wiggy says “How about she publicly apologizes and thanks me for not suing her instead of throwing her pity party. Oh, that’s right. She still thinks she didn’t do anything wrong.”

      And Mux is bring the martyr? Hilarious!

  4. Nice analysis and conclusion regarding the total corruption of the McIver institute, funding itself through your tax money and political hacks giving a bad name to all NGO workers.

  5. Nice… I don’t expect you’ll get much trollage on this one. Too many facts in evidence and they’re the best troll repellent known to man.

  6. I just want to clarify something here. Brian Fraley has been railing about the teachers “committing fraud” by calling in sick to protest and yet he billed the taxpayers for his lawyer for doing borderline illegal things at the Capitol?

    1. The employees were allowed to be reimbursed their legal fees. It would’ve been different if he was charged. He wasn’t. He was there, he was involved – doesn’t that mean someone could say he was “knee-deep”? It would’ve been incorrect to say he was charged. Bielke didn’t say that.

      1. The point is they have bi weekly reports about a few teachers getting “fake” sick notes and how they “defrauded” the taxpayers. The protests were over a year ago and they are still writing about…..and he used taxpayer funds to pay a lawyer that he obviously NEEDED!

        How so very ‘conservative” of him.

  7. No picture of MacIver Institute(MI) is complete without “Following the Money” to see who is funding its propaganda operation. For instance, it’s well known that school choice is the favorite cause of the heirs to the AmWay fortune – the DeVos family of Michigan. They, along with current MI board director Steve Fettig and former director Carl Kuehne, are members of the Koch Industries intimate “network of business and philanthropic leaders, who are dedicated to defending our free society.” You know, the folks who get together a couple of times a year in places like Aspen and Palm Springs to “review strategies for combating the multitude of public policies that threaten to destroy America as we know it.”

    The characters at MI may read like a rogue’s gallery of disgraced right-wing political grifters that can no longer get honest work in the hallowed halls of the Capitol. But don’t be fooled. MacIver is a strategic cog in the vast right-wing operation that would rule America; the current employees are simply the ‘tools’ du jour.

  8. So these facts would seem to indicate that MacIver is in fact a partisan outfit. My question – so what?

    1. Joe makes a good point. Zach, perhaps a comment explaining the context in which this post was created is in order. Or maybe a new post detailing how the McIver institute and their army of Orcs have attempted to suppress these facts with threats and intimidation. Their fear of losing their coveted tax exempt status is on the line, after all… I think the people deserve to know how they behave behind closed doors.

  9. My editorial eye would’ve twitched at several points in Bielke’s piece. Fraley “was” a lobbyist, not “is” a lobbyist, for example. Easy to fact-check. Statements like Wigderson is involved in GOTV efforts – a bit more vague, needs some substantiation, again with the verb tense. It was short and full of personal opinion. It would’ve been a better piece if it was longer, more full of researched facts.

    State law describes remedies for libel. If someone publishes something you believe to be untrue, you need to tell them what’s incorrect, and they have the opportunity to publish a retraction. You can’t legally proceed to sue them until you’ve given them a chance to correct it. Obviously the web makes it all easier, but it’s easy to see the process.

    Yet Widgerson climbs up on the cross and begins to whine, tweet-bleating “I can’t stand self-pitying martyr wannabes. It’s one of the lowest forms of human behavior” and “You could have the decency of mentioning that the last article you linked to contains information you know isn’t true.”

    Well, “decency” would’ve been following the law: Tell the offender what was wrong, ask for a retraction, and being satisfied when it happened. If it didn’t happen, then go sue – but don’t continue the harangues behind the scenes. Not a barrage of tweets, not a barrage of emails, not even phone calls, where you threaten to sue their pants off. The law allows a week for the correction. “Decency” doesn’t mean press them hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute.

    There’s also the argument that Fraley and Wigderson have worked very hard to put themselves in the limelight in more than a few contexts, making themselves what the law calls “public figures” or “limited public figures,” which puts them in a different position that allows more criticism and opinion to be lobbed in their direction (as opposed to a random citizen who did nothing wrong, like signing a recall petition, for example.) (The statute footnotes sketch this out in a bit more detail.) They’d need to show that someone acted with “actual malice,” knowing something was false, or that they were recklessly disregarding the truth. To the same degree that they’ve self-promoted themselves into the public limelight, they’d need to jump an increased burden of proof in these cases, too.

    Who’s behind the MacIverWisc twitter feed? Is it Fraley? They’re manic. They made about twenty tweets, aimed at anyone who tweeted a link to the Cap Times story repeating “You will notice the Cap Times pulled the lie-filled article in question.” Who told him that was good PR? They’re making bizarre Strangelovian emissions like “This is an electronic record that you are now aware of that fact.”

    They were manic on March 19, going bananas for eight hours against GnarlyTrombone to the point that they used him in a plea to raise more donations to MacIver. “Help us, our mysterious billionaire benefactors haven’t given us enough money, we need your $10 donation to fight GnarlyTrombone’s tweets.”

  10. @ Joe: So what? Well, for one thing, they should not be allowed to continue their clearly partisan political activity as a 501(c)3 non-profit corporation. Secondly, citizens have the right to demand that reputable media outlets (Network TV and printed media such as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gannett News, etc) identify when they have sourced material from a clearly partisan outfit like MI – just as they do when they report on a union’s stand on issues.

    NPR’s “Code of Ethics” says it best:

    “At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.”

    MI’s objective of spinning their conservative view of world order is protected by the 1st Amendment. But, calling it ‘fair-and-balanced’ fact-based reporting is a disservice to honest journalism – and honest journalists – everywhere. Exposing who the media uses to source information, and holding them accountable for truly ‘fair-and-balanced’ coverage, is essential to our democracy.

  11. Darcy,

    I thought that tax status only prohibited them from intervening in a campaign on behalf of a candidate (http://www.irs.gov/charities/charitable/article/0,,id=163395,00.html), to which my knowledge they have not done. I could be wrong, but believe “partisanship” has no effect on tax status.

    With regard to your media comment, I completely agree. However, it seems your beef is with those media outlets, not MacIver. No?

    1. What will get MI in trouble, in terms of their 501(c)3 status, is the extent to which their advocacy position in AFP’s “It’s Working” campaign can be considered ‘non-partisan.’ I doubt that it can withstand that scrutiny.

      No, I don’t have a problem with MI – other than the extent to which they misrepresent who they are (ie, an ‘independent news service.’) But then, as a former media prof, I do come down harder on lazy media for informing their coverage of issues with info from sources that haven’t been fact-checked for potential bias. IMHO, social media plays an important role in helping the general public hold the media accountable.

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