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Election 2020 aftermath

WATCH NOW: Watchdog group files complaint with state Elections Commission about grant

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A group filing a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission hosts a press conference May 4, 2021, outside the Kenosha County Courthouse.

Citing its desire to keep private funding out of future elections, a watchdog group on Monday filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission on behalf of six Kenosha residents.

A group filing a complaint with the Wisconsin Elections Commission hosts a press conference May 4, 2021, outside the Kenosha County Courthouse.

The Amistad Project, a national conservative legal organization which calls itself the “leading election integrity watchdog,” and its attorney Erick Kaardal made that announcement Monday morning on the front steps of the Kenosha County Courthouse with all six of the local complainants in attendance.

Named in the complaint are residents Brian Thomas and Tamara Weber, along with fellow residents and former poll workers Matt Augustine, Mary Magdalen Moser and Pam Mundling, and former Kenosha Alderman Kevin Mathewson.

Similar complaints already have been filed on behalf of residents in Green Bay and Racine, Wisconsin Voter Alliance President Ron Heuer said. He added additional complaints will follow on behalf of groups in Madison and Milwaukee in the next week.

A public information officer with the Wisconsin Elections Commission confirmed Monday that it had received the complaint on behalf of the Kenosha residents.

At the heart of the issue around all the complaints is $6.32 million in grants that were awarded prior to the 2020 presidential election by the Center for Tech and Civic Life, according to a press release issued before Monday’s press conference.

From that amount, Kenosha received $657,000, the release states, with the other cities also receiving funds from CTCL. Through an open records request, the Amistad Project stated Kenosha received $10,000 as an “enticement” to join the other four cities in requesting funds.

A significant portion of the grant money that CTCL distributed was financed through a donation by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan.

The mayors for all five cities discussed the funding through private meetings, Kaardal claimed in his public statement Monday.

“Why were they meeting privately?” Kaardal said. “Why were they meeting secretly? They were working for the Center for Tech and Civic Life, a nonprofit organization, that was going to receive over $300 million from Mr. Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, and his wife. Eventually, that would be $400 million dollars.

“All that money was going to (CTCL), and that money was to go to these urban cities to affect absentee voting and other things related to the election.”

Kenosha City Administrator John Morrissey said Monday he had just received an emailed copy of the complaint, which was served in person earlier in the day, but had not yet been able to digest all the information it contained. Thus, he did not address the allegations made at the press conference.

The Amistad Project also claims the grants at first were set up to help cities have a safe election during the pandemic, but “many of the conditions” set up by the CTCL had nothing to do with public health. Kaardal said that “voter navigators” were employed to help voters complete their ballots.

“(They) were privately funded, privately directed, but nominally a public employee,” he said. “So that way, that person could do the absentee ballot harvesting, which would otherwise be a violation of Wisconsin law.”

In addition to the mayor and clerk for each of the five cities, the complaint also lists Meagan Wolfe, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, as one of the respondents, Kaardal said.

Future elections the issue at hand

More than 200 local governments in Wisconsin and more than 2,500 across the nation accepted money from CTCL. Both prior to and after the election, the WEC has ruled that accepting such funds is legal, and there are no laws that ban it in Wisconsin.

The state Legislature is considering banning communities from accepting private donations for the operations of elections in the future. One bill currently being considered would ban municipalities from accepting private donations outright, while another would require any municipality that receives such a donation to have the money evenly distributed across the state.

“The private activists basically supplanted the authority of the state Legislature,” Kaardal said.

Kaardal said his goal in representing each of the groups in the five cities isn’t to seek a different result in the 2020 presidential election.

But what they do want is to prevent similar privately funded donations from being used in the same fashion.

“We’re not trying to relitigate the 2020 presidential election,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is just make sure it doesn’t happen in the future. This is not partisan or ideological. I’ve met very few people on the street who disagree with me, like zero, on the idea that we don’t want private corporations involved in the administering of elections.”

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