It starts with a text from a random number and an offer that sounds too good to be true.
“Hi! It’s Wisconsin Takes Action,” the mysterious texter begins. We are helping to elect a progressive majority to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. We are offering an opportunity for you to earn $250-plus by talking to your friends and family about voting.”
It’s not nearly that simple and in fact amounts to Election Bribery, a felony in Wisconsin punishable by a maximum sentence of more than three years in prison.
The texts have been sent to thousands of Wisconsinites, many of whom have jumped at the chance to, in the words of one Wisconsin Takes Action organizer, “not only get paid…but also to influence a really important election.”
Those who respond to the text expressing interest in the offer are given instructions to log in to a live training session on Zoom in which organizers explain how the program works. A video recording of one such training session the day after the Supreme Court primary reveals that people aren’t just talking to their friends and family about voting, but rather adding their names and contact information to Wisconsin Takes Action’s database and then repeatedly contacting them to ensure that they vote for liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz.
This was made abundantly clear during the hour-long training session.
“The primary was just last night for the Supreme Court so we know who will be on the ballot in the general election,” said one organizer who introduced himself as Christian. “We have Dan Kelly, the conservative former Supreme Court justice and then Janet Protasiewicz—the progressive circuit court judge currently—and she is the progressive candidate who just won the primary.
“Of course, Wisconsin Takes Action is focused on putting forth progressive ideas and implementing progressive laws, so, you know, we really are looking forward to her as the candidate for this upcoming election.”
To get her elected, Christian explained, the group is using a technique called “relational organizing.”
“It’s really simple. In traditional organizing in campaigns, we may think about campaign offices, someone making a call to a constituent and telling someone to go vote, someone they don’t know. In relational organizing, you’re talking to people who you do know and that’s really effective because you talking to your father to go vote or your sister or your friend is a lot more effective than me telling them to go vote because I don’t know them. But with you, there’s a lot more connection or relationship built and more reason for them to be compelled to go vote.”
However, people who take part in this relational organizing campaign—whom the group calls “community mobilizers”—are paid per person who they deliver to the Wisconsin Takes Action database and, ultimately, to the polls to cast a vote for Protasiewicz.
This is in direct violation of Wisconsin Statute § 12.11, which provides that “any person who offers, gives, lends or promises to give or lend...anything of value...to, or for, any elector, or to or for any other person in order to induce any elector to go or refrain from going to the polls, vote or refrain from voting [or] vote or refrain from voting for or against a particular person" commits felony election bribery.
In its Zoom training, the Wisconsin Takes Action staffers made it abundantly clear that they were offering money only if their mobilizers would induce their friends and family to go to the polls and vote, preferably for Protasiewicz.
The election bribery works this way: People on the Zoom call were told that they would first get $30, payable in gift cards to various retailers or a Mastercard debit card, to download an app through the Empower Project, a left-wing organization that, according to its website, helps “progressive organizations and nonprofits… activate, build, and expand their activist bases and organizational reach on a meaningful scale.”
Once the app is downloaded, mobilizers load it up with the names and contact information of 75 people they plan to convince to vote for Protasiewicz. The Empower app will then randomly and automatically select 15 of those 75 to serve as a control group to test how well the relational organizing system works. The mobilizer won’t contact those 15, and the Empower Project will after the election see if they voted even without the mobilizer’s communication.
The other 60 people, though, will be active voter contacts, and the mobilizer will be paid $1 each for adding their names to the database and then immediately contacting them to ask them if they plan to vote. Mobilizers will only be paid if they load 60 people and then contact them. If they do, they will receive a $60 gift card from retailers such as Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Kroger or digital services like Uber, Uber Eats and Xbox or a $60 prepaid Mastercard.
“You can earn $250-plus,” Christian explained during the Zoom training session. “We’ll ask you to make a list of 75 people today and then talk to them about voting four times each. Today will be your first attempt reaching out to those folks on that list you built. Each time you talk to them you’ll earn a gift card for each round of outreach you take part in.”
According to a slide from the Zoom training session, mobilizers have from February 22nd to March 19th to build their lists of 75 voters and make an initial contact with 60 of them. That earns them their first $60 gift card. They then have to contact each of the 60 again between March 20th and March 30th and try to convince them to early vote. That will earn the mobilizer an additional $65. Between March 31st and April 2nd, they have to contact each of the 60 again and make sure they have a plan to vote. That earns an additional $70. Finally, on either the day before the Supreme Court election, April 3rd, or Election Day itself on April 4th, they must contact each of the 60 voters again and get them to the polls if they haven’t voted already.
If participants do all of this, they will earn a total of $270. But as Christian explained, that isn’t all.
“You not only can make $270 for a total, you can earn way above that,” he said. “We’ve had volunteers make $500-plus on our campaign. From now until March 19th, you will get $30 for every person you know in your personal network to simply download the app and join our campaign. That’s really simple, really easy to make that cash, but also to have a huge impact on this election because then they can become a mobilizer like you.”
All gift cards are emailed directly to the mobilizers, who are quite literally being paid by the vote to deliver votes for Protasiewicz in an obvious and brazen election bribery scheme.
Wisconsin Takes Action’s own website makes it clear what it expects of its community mobilizers: “We want you to encourage the people in your network to check their voter registration status, get registered to vote, encourage them to vote for the progressive Supreme Court candidate.”
This is in direct violation to Wisconsin Statute § 12.11’s prohibition on giving any person anything of value in exchange for inducing electors to go to the polls and vote for a specific candidate.
Wisconsin Takes Action has not yet responded to a request for comment about its program and whether the group believes it comports with state law.
The group itself is brand new in Wisconsin, as its website was created on January 27th and its Twitter account was started at around the same time. Still, it proudly listed in a slide during its Zoom training a number of large liberal organizations as partners, including the Black Lives Matter PAC, Freedom Action Now, One Fair Wage, End Citizens United, Wisconsin Conservation Voters, and Nextgen America. Two large labor unions were also listed as partners: The American Federation of Teachers and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
On the Zoom call was Sachin Chheda, a former Wisconsin Democratic Party staffer and longtime Democrat operative who most recently helped run the City of Milwaukee’s voter turnout initiative ahead of the 2022 midterms. Called “Milwaukee Votes 2022,” the initiative was unlawfully run by GPS Impact, a Democrat strategy firm whose express goal is to help “Democrats, progressive organizations, and elected officials win in red states.” Chheda has also refused to answer repeated requests for comment on his involvement with Wisconsin Takes Action.
The primary force behind Wisconsin Takes Action, though, is the Organizing Empowerment Political Action Committee (PAC). Strangely, that organization’s website is nothing more than a placeholder page with a “Contact Us” form. During the 2022 midterm election cycle, Organizing Empowerment spent more than $300,000 in support of Democratic Senate candidates, including $250,000 in support of Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Mastro (and $35,000 against her Republican opponent), plus an additional $14,000 in support of Mandela Barnes and $600 each to support Georgia’s Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff (who wasn’t running).
Interestingly, Organizing Empowerment spent far more on salaries and “unclassifiable” other items, nearly 98 percent of which—more than $1.1 million—went to Verdugo Strategies, a company whose website consists solely of a landing page that is very similar in appearance to that of Organizing Empowerment. Verdugo Strategies is owned by Greg Diamond, a self-described “campaign hack” who worked as Senior Operations Director for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin from June, 2020 to April, 2021 before launching Verdugo Strategies in July, 2021.
He has not yet responded to requests for comment either on his involvement in Wisconsin Takes Action or the massive payment Organizing Empowerment made to him last year.
While Organizing Empowerment is the main force behind Wisconsin Takes Action, none of the group’s organizers on the Zoom training call seemed to know much about how it was funded or who would be paying for the community mobilizers’ gift cards.
“Who is paying for this?” asked one mobilizer.
“Ummm, so this is just like our firm, umm, it’s like a nonprofit, uh, that is like overseeing and like donors donate to that,” an organizer answered. “Then we as Wisconsin Takes Action are just, like, put into place to organize. But in terms of like, who the donors are, I’m not sure.”
“Okay, so you get donors to your nonprofit and then you turn around and pay us volunteers to go out and hopefully drum up a lot of votes this voting season.”
“Yeah, we’re just paying people to reach out to people about voting,” the organizer answered.
“Vote!” interrupted another mobilizer who was being trained. “We’ll talk about it because we need to vote.”
Interestingly, it doesn’t seem to matter to Wisconsin Takes Action who its mobilizers are actually talking to about voting.
“To reach out to people, you really only need their name and phone number,” the organizer explained. “Also, because you don’t need to know them at all, we’re paying just to reach out to people. As long as you can send a text to somebody with a number, that’s going count as outreach.”
This directly contradicts Wisconsin Takes Action’s assertion that it is merely paying people to talk to friends and family about voting; it is clear that the aim is to deliver anyone and everyone to cast their ballots for Protasiewicz by illegally paying mobilizers to induce them to vote. This is the very definition of election bribery under Wisconsin Statute 12.11, and Wisconsin Takes Action is promising even more of it in the 2024 presidential election.
“This type of organizing is almost brand new,” an organizer said during last week’s training session. “The first time it was utilized was in 2020, and then it was only used in the Georgia runoff [Senate] elections. They did it last cycle in Nevada in the last election cycle and it worked really well.”
This is claim supported by the fact that the only donations Organizing Empowerment made in 2020 were in Georgia and nearly all of its spending in 2022 was in Nevada. Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race can be seen as something of a test run; if the election bribery scheme works as well here as it did in Nevada, then, the organizer, explained, the plan is to expand the effort into every single swing state to deliver the next year’s presidential race as well.
“Now they’re planning to do it for this and then for all swing states in 2024 potentially.”