By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The city of Milwaukee allowed liberal, third-party groups funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to set the rules and help administer November’s presidential election, according to a new complaint filed Monday on behalf of five Milwaukee residents by the Amistad Project, an election integrity watchdog.
Milwaukee becomes the fourth of the so-called “WI-5” cities to be accused of election law violations under state law and the U.S. Constitution as more details emerge about the cities’ cozy partnerships with the “safe elections” groups. The complaints have been filed with the Wisconsin Elections Commission, which has sought outside counsel because its administrator is accused of being conflicted.
The Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life handed out more than $8 million in “election safety and security” grants to Wisconsin’s five largest and most heavily Democratic cities — Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha and Racine. The brunt of that — $6.3 million — was distributed as part of a controversial contract between the center and the cities. CTCL received more than $300 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, ostensibly to “help” local elections offices administer “safe and secure elections.”
As a Wisconsin Spotlight investigation uncovered, CTCL required the “Wisconsin 5” cities to sign contracts that included funding clawback provisions if they failed to meet CTCL’s demands. Local elections officials had to work with the center’s partner organizations, like the National Vote at Home Institute.
Emails show longtime Democratic operative Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, Wisconsin lead for the institute, was intricately involved in the administration of Green Bay’s and Milwaukee’s elections, even offering to “cure” or correct absentee ballots.
Spitzer-Rubenstein and several other left-leaning activists in CTCL’s network played prominent roles in Milwaukee’s election administration, according to emails obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight through an open records request. The emails show the activists and election officials sharing raw voter data and discussing how best to maximize turnout of traditionally Democratic voters in “areas with predominantly minorities.”
Another liberal group, Power the Polls, was tapped to help recruit scores of poll workers and discuss ballot curing. The Mikva Challenge was recommended to recruit high school age poll workers and then have them serve as “ballot couriers” and for ballot drop-off voter registrations.” Mikva Challenge prides itself on developing youth to “be empowered, informed, and active citizens who will promote a just and equitable society.” The complaint cites more than a dozen such left-wing CTCL partners.
Milwaukee city officials working with the outside groups turned over responsibilities that solely belong to local elections officials and the state’s election regulator, according to the complaint.
The Amistad Project to date has filed election law complaints against Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha. The Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee is investigating the involvement of third-party groups in Wisconsin’s 2020 elections.
Reid Magney, spokesman for the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said the agency has received the Milwaukee complaint and has posted it on the WEC website.
“The respondents have been notified of the complaint and have been given 10 business days to file a sworn response,” Magney said, adding that the complaint will be “handled the same way as the other complaints involving Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha.” In short, outside counsel will be brought in to review the complaint.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett’s office did not return a request for comment.