Dan O'Donnell

Dan O'Donnell

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City of Milwaukee Partners with Partisan Democrat Group for GOTV Effort

The City of Milwaukee is partnering with a Democrat organization for its "Milwaukee Votes 2022" initiative, which Mayor Cavalier Johnson said Monday includes "door-to-door canvassing funded by [the] private sector." After questions were raised about the appropriateness of the campaign because of its partisan nature, the Mayor's office walked back Johnson's statement, claiming that "the City is neither receiving nor providing any funds related to the work of 'Milwaukee Votes 2022.'"

During a press conference Monday, however, Mayor Johnson repeatedly referred to "Milwaukee Votes 2022" as "our" initiative and indicated that it was to be a public-private partnership.

"We’re doing more, and I’m going to be embracing outreach and engagement through what we’re calling 'Milwaukee Votes 2022,'" he said. "As part of that, you will soon see a new website widget on many Milwaukee.gov website pages."

That, he said, would link to a get-out-the-vote initiative paid for by private donations that the mayor did not detail.

"'Milwaukee Votes 2022' will also have door-to-door canvassers that will be underway, funded by the private sector," Johnson explained. "Dozens of canvassers will be face to face with eligible voters, encouraging them to exercise their right to vote for the November election."

When pressed for comment about this, Johnson spokesman Jeff Fleming said he did not know where funding for this effort was coming from and referred all questions to Melissa Baldauff, an employee of GPS Impact, a partisan Democrat group that, according to its website, has "helped Democrats, progressive organizations and initiatives, and elected officials win in red states, including Kansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Louisiana and Ohio."

Baldauff confirmed that she was advising various nonprofit organizations involved in "Milwaukee Votes 2022," but denied that GPS Impact was involved.

"Neither I nor GPS Impact are working for the City of Milwaukee, receiving taxpayer dollars from the City of Milwaukee, or running a canvass in Milwaukee," she said in an email.

Baldauff, a longtime Democratic political operative, previously worked for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and served as a spokeswoman for Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers before joining GPS Impact in early 2021.

Government support for partisan get-out-the-vote efforts has been controversial in Wisconsin over the past two years. In 2020, Joe Biden's presidential campaign advertised for the City of Madison's "Democracy in the Park" effort, which allowed voters in the overwhelmingly Democratic city to return absentee ballots in each one of the city's 206 parks. The move was decried as an unlawful early voting drive outside of the legal early vote period. Madison's clerk contended that the city workers who collected ballots in the parks were "human drop boxes."

Madison was one of five cities in Wisconsin--all Democrat strongholds--to accept the lion's share of private grant money from the Center for Tech and Civic Live (CTCL), a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. The cities used those funds for get-out-the-vote efforts and, in the case of Green Bay, allowed CTCL workers to essentially take over the city's election operations.

Representative Janel Brandtjen, chair of the Wisconsin Assembly's Committee on Campaigns and Elections, has launched an investigation into the new "Milwaukee Votes 2022" initiative.

"Using private money is a violation of the 14th Amendment's requirement to treat all voters the same," she said. "Get-out-the-vote is the work of the political parties, not municipalities. Once again, grants in the Milwaukee Mayor's Office have put the 2022 fall election into questions just weeks before the election."

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