Americans for Prosperity — the conservative group funded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch — is getting involved with the Kenosha Unified School Board race.
David Fladeboe, state director of Americans for Prosperity, said the organization has a field team working on the race, doing phone banks and canvassing in the district.
“We’re getting a feel for what the people in Kenosha are thinking and doing,” Fladeboe said. “Right now we’re doing phone surveys to figure out where people are on a number of issues.”
Four candidates are running for two seats on the School Board. Incumbent Jo Ann Taube hopes to return to the board. Also running are Mike Falkofske, Gary Kunich and Dan Wade.
Fladeboe said Americans for Prosperity is not specifically supporting any candidate. But he said the group decided to become involved in the race due to the board’s approval of new union contracts.
Taube voted to approve the contracts and is endorsed by the Kenosha Education Association, as is Falkofske. Kunich and Wade have been vocal in their opposition to the contracts.
“We’ll have a team working to get out the vote,” Fladeboe said.
Americans for Prosperity has spent millions of dollars in national politics promoting conservative causes. In 2012, it spent $36 million on national races. In Wisconsin, the group has been a major supporter of Gov. Scott Walker.
Fladeboe said the group is interested in remaining active in Kenosha County beyond School Board politics, saying it is an important area of the state.
“We’ll be active in that corner of the state all year,” he said.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause, a Wisconsin campaign spending watchdog group, said Americans for Prosperity and other political organizations have become increasingly involved in local elections in the state, specifically in northern Wisconsin where the group has gone after opponents of a proposed iron ore mine.
But he said he had not heard of the group being involved in school board races in the state.
He called the development “very, very alarming.”
While local unions and other groups have for years spent money trying to influence local campaigns, outside groups have been unusual.
In Kenosha, the teachers’ union, the Kenosha Education Association, has typically endorsed School Board candidates and used mailings and robo calls to support them in elections.
The union’s state affiliate, the Wisconsin Education Association, has also spent money helping the KEA-backed candidates.
“Obviously the teachers unions have always weighed in, but for the Americans for Prosperity to do it, boy, I have not heard of that in school board races,” Heck said.
He said it appears to be part of an arms race in campaign spending that is seeking to have a greater influence on public policy.
“It’s a new trend. It’s now in virtually every competitive congressional and legislative race, but now it’s county supervisors and city council members. And now school board members down in Kenosha,” Heck said. “It’s the nationalization of state and local politics in Wisconsin.”
Just what is being spent by outside groups on the School Board race is tough to know.
Groups like Americans for Prosperity spend on issue ads that may criticize or praise a candidate, but do not specifically say to vote for or against a candidate. By handling their promotions in that way, they do not have to report who donates money to their organization.