Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

November 27, 2013

Holiday Thoughts

Filed under: MPS — millerlf @ 8:25 pm

Larry Miller 11/27/2013

I wish a safe and joyous holiday to my friends, my allies and even my adversaries.

Over the last two weeks, I have been hearing the voices of many people in the MPS family. Other Board members have as well.

While I can speak only for myself, I believe this Board wants to find ways to have a meaningful conversation.

These are extremely challenging times. The attempts at MPS takeover continue. The MMAC leads this effort, along with allies in city government and in the state legislature. Having lost the attempted mayoral takeover in 2009 – 2010, they have used a piecemeal approach to try to dismantle MPS. The most recent example is the facilities legislation (Senate Bill 318) waiting to advance from committee.

The MMAC has also called for legislation to turn a large number of MPS schools into a “recovery school district.” It is my understanding that this legislation will move forward in January. The MMAC has lobbied publicly for both of these pieces of legislation. Behind the scenes, certain city officials and power brokers are also lobbying for both bills.

These are examples of the constant threat that the MPS Board of Directors must fend off. The recent success we had in stopping the takeover by a private school of the Malcolm X facility was the result of many community organizations, allies in the Common Council and the MPS community coming together for what is right. But there is no time to celebrate. There is too much at stake and too many issues to solve.

MPS teachers, administrators and all staff have been the backbone of the fight for public education in Milwaukee. The Walker administration’s attacks on collective bargaining and scapegoating of teachers and other public employees are unconscionable. Teachers not only deserve to have a voice at work – their voices are critical to setting the best direction for our children.

I am committed to doing everything in my power to make sure those voices are heard.  I believe that my colleagues on the Board share this commitment.

Advertisements

November 26, 2013

North Carolina NAACP President Defends Public Education And Calls On All Of Us To Stand And Fight For Justice

Filed under: Civil Rights Movement Today,Public Education — millerlf @ 2:22 pm

In North Carolina, Republicans took the General Assembly in 2010 and the governorship in 2012. The takeover received unprecedented support from one right-wing multimillionaire, Art Pope — who, according to progressive publication, The American Prospect, singlehandedly provided about 80 percent of the funding for the state’s conservative groups.

Upon taking control, the Republicans began systematically dismantling the social infrastructure of the state. They slashed taxes on the top 5 percent and raised them on the bottom 95 percent. They eliminated the earned-income tax credit for 900,000 low-wage workers. They cut Medicaid coverage for 500,000. They ended unemployment benefits for 170,000. They threw about 30,000 kids out of pre-K, while transferring $90 million from public schools to vouchers. They voted to allow guns purchased without a background check to be carried in parks, restaurant and bars.

As the Rev. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, put it: “They’ve drank all the Tea Party they could drink and sniffed all the Koch that they could sniff.”

In one “omnibus bill,” the legislature would create restrictive voter ID procedures that will disqualify estimated 318,000-registered voters. They cut a week out of early voting time, ended same day registration, eliminates state-supported voter registration drives and ended pre-registration of 16- and 17-year-olds. They require more frequent purges of voter rolls, and prohibit extending poll hours on Election Day, even if there are long lines still waiting to vote. They even eliminated Citizen Awareness Month that encouraged citizens to register and vote. North Carolina had featured some of the most enlightened election laws and ranked in the top 15 states of voter turnout nationally.

Listen to an amazing speech by Rev. William Barber II on the call to action. His address is at the American Federation of Teachers Reclaiming the Promise Conference:

http://tinyurl.com/m8tps9r

Pope Francis calls unfettered capitalism “a new tyranny”

Filed under: Poverty — millerlf @ 2:00 pm

Pope Francis ‘Evangelii Gaudium’ Calls For Renewal Of Roman Catholic Church, Attacks ‘Idolatry Of Money’

Reuters  |  By Naomi O’Leary Posted: 11/26/2013

(Reuters) – Pope Francis called for renewal of the Roman Catholic Church and attacked unfettered capitalism as “a new tyranny”, urging global leaders to fight poverty and growing inequality in the first major work he has authored alone as pontiff.

The 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, amounted to an official platform for his papacy, building on views he has aired in sermons and remarks since he became the first non-European pontiff in 1,300 years in March.

In it, Francis went further than previous comments criticizing the global economic system, attacking the “idolatry of money” and beseeching politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare”.

He also called on rich people to share their wealth. “Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills,” Francis wrote in the document issued on Tuesday.

“How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?”

The pope said renewal of the Church could not be put off and said the Vatican and its entrenched hierarchy “also need to hear the call to pastoral conversion”.

“I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security,” he wrote.

In July, Francis finished an encyclical begun by Pope Benedict but he made clear that it was largely the work of his predecessor, who resigned in February.

Called “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), the exhortation is presented in Francis’ simple and warm preaching style, distinct from the more academic writings of former popes, and stresses the Church’s central mission of preaching “the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ”.

In it, he reiterated earlier statements that the Church cannot ordain women or accept abortion. The male-only priesthood, he said, “is not a question open to discussion” but women must have more influence in Church leadership.

POVERTY

A meditation on how to revitalize a Church suffering from encroaching secularization in Western countries, the exhortation echoed the missionary zeal more often heard from the evangelical Protestants who have won over many disaffected Catholics in the pope’s native Latin America.

In it, economic inequality features as one of the issues Francis is most concerned about, and the 76-year-old pontiff calls for an overhaul of the financial system and warns that unequal distribution of wealth inevitably leads to violence.

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems,” he wrote.

Denying this was simple populism, he called for action “beyond a simple welfare mentality” and added: “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.”

Since his election, Francis has set an example for austerity in the Church, living in a Vatican guest house rather than the ornate Apostolic Palace, traveling in a Ford Focus, and last month suspending a bishop who spent millions of euros on his luxurious residence.

He chose to be called “Francis” after the medieval Italian saint of the same name famed for choosing a life of poverty.

Stressing cooperation among religions, Francis quoted the late Pope John Paul II’s idea that the papacy might be reshaped to promote closer ties with other Christian churches and noted lessons Rome could learn from the Orthodox such as “synodality” or decentralized leadership.

He praised cooperation with Jews and Muslims and urged Islamic countries to guarantee their Christian minorities the same religious freedom as Muslims enjoy in the West.

(Editing by Tom Heneghan and Alison Williams)

November 20, 2013

Ohio Walmart Holds Food Drive For Its Own Employees

Filed under: American Injustice — millerlf @ 7:13 am

Allison Kilkenny on November 18, 2013 The Nation


Activists have long criticized Walmart for failing to pay its employees living wages, and instead relying on the state to step in and pay for the healthcare and food of workers. In Canton, Ohio, another Walmart recently demonstrated this kind of corporate welfare by holding a food drive—for its own employees.

“Please donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner,” reads a sign accompanied by several plastic bins.

Understandably, the food drive has sparked outrage in the area.

“That Walmart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers—to me, it is a moral outrage,” Norma Mills, a customer at the store, told the Plain Dealer.

A company spokesman defended the drive, telling the Plain Dealer it is evidence that employees care about each other. And it’s a good thing they care about their fellow workers because Walmart certainly doesn’t care about its employees.

In the wake of the Ohio Walmart food drive story, Strike Debt, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, raised on interesting question on Twitter: “Why not just pay a living wage?

Stephen Gandel, a senior editor at Fortune, recently penned an op-ed in which he argued Walmart could afford to give its employees a 50 percent raise without negatively affecting shareholders.

I called a couple of really smart economists to get it “peer”-reviewed. Sendhil Mullainathan, who teaches at MIT and received a MacArthur genius grant for his work in behavioral economics a few years ago, said he basically came to a similar conclusion as mine a few years ago. He says companies have more discretion in setting wages then they let on. “Really the question is not whether this is possible but why some companies don’t do it [this way],” says Mullainathan.

Wal-Mart didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Workers have already announced plans for “widespread, massive strikes and protests” on Black Friday at Walmarts this year, but smaller, isolated protests have continued to erupt all across the country even before the holiday shopping season.

Randall Lewis, 24, has been working at a Chicago Walmart for about a year. Lewis participated in last week’s strike that involved three Chicago store locations.

“Sometimes I have to borrow money. Sometimes, if I don’t have money for deodorant, I have to ask my grandmother for some money. Going to the doctor is expensive because I have to go to a clinic, and if I go to the dentist, it’s expensive,” he says.

Lewis expressed disillusionment with Walmart, a company he once saw as a reliable way to make a living.

“They sell you a bill of dreams, telling you you can be promoted, but if you’re not kissing up to the right person, to the right manager, they will walk right past you like you don’t exist.”

He also suspects the company has nefarious motives for reducing employee hours.

“I worked forty hours [a week], and they reduced me to thirty-two hours a week. I think they reduce the hours to avoid paying us health benefits.”

In 2011, Walmart substantially rolled back coverage for part-time workers and significantly raised premiums for many full-time staff, citing “rising costs.” The decision had an immediate, and detrimental, effect on Walmart stores. By largely using part-time staff, the company was unable to keep its shelves stocked, and began to lose customers, so they decided to add more full-time workers for the holiday shopping season this year.

Walmart workers continue to demonstrate extraordinary bravery by striking all across the country, even though the company has demonstrated a habit of retaliating against staff’s attempts at collective organizing.

For his part, Lewis says he is willing to take that risk:

“I was afraid that they might retaliate, but the one thing I’ve learned is, if I don’t stand up for what I believe in, nothing will be done. I’m doing something that could help me and my co-workers get a liveable wage, healthcare, the respect that we deserve.”

November 15, 2013

ACLU: Thousands Serving Life Without Parole for Nonviolent Crimes

Filed under: American Injustice — millerlf @ 7:22 am

By Christina Ng Nov 14, 2013 ABC News blog

For more than 3,000 people, nonviolent crimes including siphoning gas from a truck and shoplifting three belts from a department store landed them in prison for life.

In a newly released study, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found that more than 3,200 prisoners are serving life sentences without parole for nonviolent offenses.

“In their cruelty and harshness, these sentences defy common sense,” the ACLU wrote in its report. “They are grotesquely out of proportion to the conduct they seek to punish. They offend the principle that all people have the right to be treated with humanity and respect for their inherent dignity.”

The ACLU found that about 79 percent of these prisoners were sentenced for nonviolent drug crimes including possession of a crack pipe, possession of 32 grams of marijuana with intent to distribute and having a stash of over-the-counter decongestant pills that could be manufactured into methamphetamine.

Non-drug-related crimes included attempting to cash a stolen check, shoplifting two jerseys from a sports store and making a drunken threat to a police officer while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car, the ACLU said.

In about 84 percent of the cases documented by the ACLU, sentencing judges had no choice in the sentences because of laws requiring mandatory minimum periods of imprisonment, habitual offender laws and other rules. Prosecutors, in asking for certain charges, have much more control of these prisoners’ fates, the ACLU said.

The organization also featured profiles of of people who have been “sentenced to die behind bars.”

One man, Patrick Matthews, was arrested while riding in the truck of a friend who pawned stolen goods and a welding machine, which the friend was convicted of stealing. Matthews is 25 and was sentenced to life three years ago. The father of two had no violent criminal history and had never been in jail, according to the ACLU.

“I never in the world would’ve thought that could happen,” he told the organization. “Made one mistake and was treated like a murderer.”

“One of the judges who reviewed Patrick’s appeal said he did not ‘believe that the ends of justice are met by a mandatory sentence for this 22-year-old,’ but that legislation mandated sending Patrick away for the rest of his life because of unarmed burglary convictions when he was 17,” the ACLU said.

The report included suggestions for local and federal government on how to change sentencing rules.

 

November 13, 2013

Renowned Educational Researcher to Speak on Voucher Schools, Accountability

Filed under: Vouchers — millerlf @ 12:08 pm

MEDIA ADVISORY: November 11, 2013

Renowned Educational Researcher to Speak on Voucher
Schools, Accountability

MILWAUKEE, Wis. ~ Dr. Deven Carlson, a nationally respected educational policy researcher from the University of Oklahoma, will speak at three upcoming events in Wisconsin about publicly funded voucher schools and answer questions about their accountability and effectiveness for students.

Dr. Carlson is the co-author of “Life After Vouchers: What Happens to Students Who Leave Private Schools for the Traditional Public Sector” and “Third-Party Governance and Performance Measurement: A Case Study of Publicly-Funded Private School Vouchers.” The research examines the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) and publicly funded private schools, with findings that have serious implications on future education policy issues in Wisconsin. Dr. Carlson will speak in Green Bay, Rothschild and Milwaukee November 12-14.

“Despite the fact that publicly funded vouchers have been expanded statewide, there has not been an informed debate based on peer-reviewed studies,” said Terri Phillips, Executive Director of the SWSA. “It’s critically important to use sound academic literature as the foundation for future conversations on voucher policies in Wisconsin.”

The events have been organized in collaboration with the Southeastern Wisconsin Schools Alliance (SWSA), University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance (WIRSA).

WHEN/WHERE:

Milwaukee Thursday, November 14 at 3:30 p.m.

Panel discussion as part of the 7th Annual Henry W. Maier State of Milwaukee Summit Hefter Center, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 3271 N. Lake Dr., Milwaukee Sponsored by the UW-Milwaukee Urban Studies Program http://www5.uwm.edu/news/2013/11/05/panel-discussion-on-life-after-vouchers-nov-14/


ABOUT DR. CARLSON:

Dr. Deven Carlson is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Oklahoma. His research explores the operations and effects of educational and social policies, with particular focus on school choice policies and the Section 8 housing voucher program. He earned his Ph.D. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Dr. Carlson has conducted peer-reviewed research on MPCP, the nation’s oldest and largest publicly funded urban school voucher program, which serves approximately 25,000 students in 100 private schools.

# # #

Voucher Activist Says Voucher and Charter Expansion “is of little educational merit.”

Filed under: Charter Schools,Vouchers — millerlf @ 10:46 am

Mike Ford, Assistant Professor of Public Administration at UW-Oshkosh, recently gave a slide show on the history and progress of Milwaukee vouchers and charters. Professor Ford has been active in the school choice movement and written for the conservative think-tank, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

Following is a link to his slide show presentation. He ended his presentation with the following slide:

“The Milwaukee experience demonstrates the statewide
voucher expansion, and any future independent charter
expansion, is of little educational merit.”

To see the full slide show go to:

Mike Ford Voucher Present

Versions of the MMAC Proposal For New Orleans-Style “Recovery School District” Underway in Three Other States

Filed under: Recovery District — millerlf @ 10:20 am

For the past two years, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce has been talking about introducing a New Orleans-style Recovery School District (RSD). Recently, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute proposed the same idea in a report titled “Pathway to success for Milwaukee schools.”

WPRI’s proposal describes this as an independent school district, made up of schools identified as underperforming, chartered directly by the state and answering to an independent superintendent, who would in turn report to the state Department of Public Instruction.

Recovery School District Models Adopted in Michigan, Tennessee and Virginia:

Michigan: Michigan is now in its second full year of operating schools under what it calls an Education Achievement Authority (EAA). The statewide school system, which took charge of 15 schools in Detroit, started in the 2012-13 school year.

Michigan’s EAA resembles the RSD in many respects. The lowest-performing five percent of Michigan schools, operating in a district under an emergency manager, qualify for admission. This language is clearly aimed at Detroit, with 39 of its schools qualifying at the time of enactment. The emergency manager for Detroit public schools can designate Detroit schools into the EAA; outside Detroit the decision is made by the state superintendent of education.

Schools will remain in the EAA for five years. At that point they will be evaluated and those that meet performance standards will have the option to return to district governance, remain in the EAA, or seek a charter to operate independently.

Michigan’s recovery district was authorized under the state’s Race to the Top legislation in 2009 as a joint venture between Detroit Public Schools and Eastern Michigan University (EMU), which under Michigan law is one of 10 higher-education institutions that authorize the bulk of that state’s “public school academies” or charter schools. Michigan’s EAA is governed by an 11-member board, with 2 members appointed by DPS, 2 appointed by EMU, and 7 appointed by the Governor.

Tennessee:Following the Louisiana model, Tennessee created a special state-run “Achievement School District” (ASD) encompassing five of the state’s worst-performing schools. This arrangement put the state in control of these schools and allows the state to contract the schools out to charter school networks or form partnerships with non-profit organizations. Four of the ASD’s schools are in Memphis, with a fifth in Hamilton County. Initially, the ASD schools will be operated as a mix of charter and direct-run schools; the ASD is co-managing the five schools already identified. Tennessee is now in its second full year of operating schools. The state plans to grow the Tennessee program beyond the first five, and deemed eight additional schools in Madison County, Knox County and Metro Nashville eligible for inclusion. The head of the ASD reports directly to the State Education Superintendent

Virginia: The latest state to adopt the RSD concept is Virginia, where a bill was signed into law in June and went into effect on July 1, 2013. Virginia’s version of the model is called the Opportunity Educational Institution.

Four schools—two in Norfolk, one in Petersburg, and one in Alexandria—have academic track records low enough to meet the state’s bar for taking over schools. Schools that have not been accredited by the state for four or more years are eligible to be taken over in the 2014-15 school year, and might be directly run by the state or turned over to a charter-management organization or education-management organization.

November 11, 2013

School Voucher Money Pours Into South Side Election to Replace Honadel

Filed under: Right Wing Agenda,Vouchers — millerlf @ 2:48 pm

Democrat Coppola will face voucher activist Rodriguez on Nov. 19

Express Milwaukee By Dominique Paul Noth 

The south side of Milwaukee County will elect two new state representatives this year, thanks to the midterm resignations of state Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) and Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), both longtime Republicans.

The resignations gave Gov. Scott Walker the opportunity, some have speculated, to set the races in the middle of the holiday shopping season, likely an attempt to drive down the numbers at the polls so that only the most die-hard voters will turn out.

Two political newcomers—Democrat Elizabeth Coppola and Republican Jessie Rodriguez—will face off on the Nov. 19 ballot in a special election to replace Honadel in District 21, which encompasses South Milwaukee, Oak Creek and a small slice of Franklin.

One Democrat—Greendale Village President John Hermes—and four Republicans are running to replace Stone in District 82, which includes Greendale, the rest of Franklin, and portions of Greenfield and Milwaukee. The primary will be held on Nov. 19; the general election between Hermes and the Republican candidate will be held on Dec. 17.

Democrats see a golden opportunity to flip both the Honadel and Stone seats. Local Republicans are chilled at the state GOP meddling, telling fellow conservatives at Oak Creek gatherings how the Madison intruders “blew our best chances by trying to be kingmakers.”

The state GOP fumbled District 21 in August when locally chosen Oak Creek Mayor Steve Scaffidi, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, withdrew his bid for state representative after meeting with such GOP bosses as Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington). Inside sources say Vos assured his support if Scaffidi toed the Walker line in Madison, a story Vos would not respond to. Scaffidi only says the leadership offered “suggestions” before he announced “second thoughts” about handling both jobs.

Scaffidi’s withdrawal unleashed a GOP donnybrook of primary extremists pulling away from local issues to tout their own. Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), the area’s senator, jokingly labeled them “five fingers on the same extremely right hand.”

 

Voucher Groups Spend Big

In District 21, Coppola entered the race without a challenge from her fellow Democrats. She is a lifelong Wisconsinite and past Alverno College student president, now employed in public outreach by United Way. State Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) calls Coppola “a natural empathizer” who “loves the district’s get-it-done attitude.”

Emerge Wisconsin taught Coppola in 2011 how to be an effective candidate. But the big take-away from the training, she said in interviews, was “listening—let the community know what I’m really like and hear what’s on their minds. My main agenda is more state money for public schools and more family supporting jobs.”

In contrast, Rodriguez won her nomination in a hotly contested Republican primary on Oct. 22, thanks to the backing of voucher supporters from outside the district. Rodriguez is an outreach coordinator for Hispanics for School Choice, where her husband, conservative Journal Sentinel blogger Aaron Rodriguez, is secretary, and her brother-in-law, Zeus, head of the voucher-supported St. Anthony School, is president.

State Republicans encouraged her candidacy because it would insulate the party from criticism that it excludes women and people of color—and because she could bring in national voucher money.

The Scott Jensen-connected national voucher front group, American Federation for Children (AFC), poured some $45,647 into Rodriguez’s primary win, and it is rumored that they are poised to spend much more in unreportable issue-advocacy ads. The math suggests AFC paid more than $30 for every primary vote Rodriguez got.

In addition, the Jobs First Political Action Fund, a conservative Jensen-connected group that promotes Scott Walker’s phantasmal job numbers from a mail drop in Brookfield, pumped $24,000 into media buys against Coppola. And in November they added $18,000 more. That was just when curious fake emails erupted using Coppola’s name without permission, inviting her supporters to set up false bank accounts to “handle” mythical out-of-state donations (a scam that has been reported to prosecutors). 

But will school vouchers win over voters in the south shore suburbs?

Rodriguez tells the media that “school choice” is the main issue she hears at the doors. “Not in my neighborhood,” laughed a conservative Oak Creek parent who spoke to the Shepherd. “We love our public schools and I know they also do in South Milwaukee.”

At the doors, voters were more likely to talk about real issues, not manufactured ones: commerce, jobs, better transit and comity in public affairs, particularly in the aftermath of the Sikh temple killings. Also a lingering big issue in both districts was the 16-day federal government shutdown, universally blamed on the GOP.

“That went further than clarifying what they want in an elected leader,” said Coppola. “It cleared up who they don’t want.”

The New John Doe Investigation

Filed under: Right Wing Agenda,Scott Walker — millerlf @ 2:45 pm

Lisa Kaiser Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013  Express Milwaukee

Is the right-wing money machine a target?

Very little is known about the new John Doe investigation that has emerged from the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office and is being conducted by special prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a former federal prosecutor.

The investigation has apparently spread from Milwaukee to Columbia, Dane and Iowa counties, according to the right-wing news website, Wisconsin Reporter. The site also alleged that the investigation is looking at one legislative leader, the 2011 and 2012 recalls and the operations of three right-wing groups, Wisconsin Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and the Republican Governors Association. Wisconsin Reporter has noted that “law enforcement officials have seized electronic devices and papers in Columbia and Dane counties.”

If this reporting is true, Schmitz may be looking at illegal coordination between these groups and at least one candidate committee. According to state law, candidates may not coordinate efforts with independent issue groups or political action committees.

An investigation of this type is difficult for reporters and outside observers, since these entities do not have to publicly report many details about their donors or expenditures. The Shepherd has looked at Internal Revenue Service filings, campaign databases and reporting from 2011 and 2012 to discover what the John Doe investigation may be targeting. The result is a tight connection of right-wing money funding phony issue groups, dirty tricks and millions of dollars in advertising supporting Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in the recalls.

 

The Three Main Groups

If Wisconsin Reporter’s reporting is accurate, the John Doe is looking at the political activities of Wisconsin Club for Growth, Americans for Prosperity and the Republican Governors Association.

Wisconsin Club for Growth: This tax-exempt issue ad group is based in Sun Prairie. Its officers are Charles Talbot, Eric O’Keefe and Eleanor Hawley, but its more public representatives are Walker’s campaign advisor R.J. Johnson and Deb Jordahl, partners in the consulting firm Johnson Jordahl. O’Keefe is a small-government advocate and was instrumental in launching or running the Sam Adams Alliance, American Majority and the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which sponsors watchdog.org and Wisconsin Reporter, which has broken the most detailed news about the new John Doe investigation.

Johnson is a longtime Republican operative. Walker hired him for his gubernatorial campaign in spring 2009; according to the Friends of Scott Walker campaign finance reports, the campaign paid R.J. Johnson and Associates more than $130,000 between July 2009 and January 2012. Johnson’s firm’s mailing address is in Randolph, which straddles Columbia and Dodge counties. During 2010, Johnson was one of the Walker campaign advisors who were copied on county emails recently released as part of the O’Donnell Park lawsuit. Johnson was a spokesman for Club for Growth ads that ran in 2011 supporting Walker’s anti-union agenda. Democrats have complained to the Shepherd about Johnson’s apparent involvement in both the Walker campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth and have accused the two groups of coordinating, which, if the allegations are true, may be illegal. Johnson did not respond to the Shepherd’s request to comment for this article.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates that Wisconsin Club for Growth spent more than $9.1 million on ads for the 2011 and 2012 recall elections. Reporting from that time indicates that Wisconsin Club for Growth spent more than $300,000 in ads in June and July of 2011 for the Senate recalls. The group, along with Americans for Prosperity, spent big in January-March 2012, when no Walker ads appeared on the air.

According to the organization’s tax filings, in 2010 it gave $246,000 to the political arm of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and $268,000 to the Citizens for a Strong America, which is run out of a post office box in Columbus, in Columbia County. Citizens for a Strong America’s treasurer appears to be Johnson’s wife, Valerie Johnson, and its director is John Connors, who has been involved in Americans for Prosperity and United Sportsmen of Wisconsin. In 2011, Club for Growth gave $425,000 to the Scott Jensen-connected Jobs First Coalition and $4,620,000 to Citizens for a Strong America.

Americans for Prosperity: This tax-exempt Astroturf group was launched in 2003 by Charles and David Koch to advocate for free market policies and has had a toehold in Wisconsin for quite a while. Longtime donors include the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, whose president and CEO, Michael Grebe, co-chaired Walker’s gubernatorial and recall campaign committees. The office of Wisconsin’s chapter of AFP, in West Allis, is just down the hall from John Connors’ political consulting group. Connors has been involved with AFP in various capacities since at least 2007. AFP-Wisconsin’s state director is Luke Hilgemann, who had been chief of staff to Assembly Majority Leader Scott Suder and was involved in United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, a political front group that received a now-canceled $500,000 state grant to promote hunting in the state. AFP-Wisconsin was headed by Mark Block from 2007-2011 and by Matt Seaholm in 2011.

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates that AFP spent more than $3 million on the 2011 and 2012 recalls. It also filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service alleging that AFP was violating its tax-exempt status as a charitable organization by supporting Walker’s recall bid by sponsoring a bus tour, recruiting out-of-state volunteers, and sponsoring rallies, phone banks and door-to-door canvassing.

AFP drew additional complaints for sending out phony absentee ballot mailers before the summer 2011 recall elections. The fake ballot requests were to be sent to a post office box belonging to the anti-gay group Wisconsin Family Action. United Sportsmen sent almost-identical mailers at the same time, but the mailers’ return address was a dead post office box in Waunakee.

Republican Governors Association: The RGA set up the Right Direction Wisconsin political action committee (PAC), which has spent heavily in recent elections. Right Direction Wisconsin is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and its treasurer is RGA’s general counsel, Michael Adams.

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the PAC spent $2 million on ads in 2006, $5 million in 2010 and $8 million in the week before the June 2012 Walker recall. Wisconsin Democracy Campaign also reported that the RGA runs another political group that must report its donors and expenses. That group’s largest Wisconsin donor in the first half of 2012 was the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC), which gave $437,725.

 

Related Organizations

Three right-wing political organizations with strong ties to the alleged targets of the John Doe appeared again and again in tax filings.

Jobs First Coalition Inc.: This Brookfield-based nonprofit political group was formed in 2009, apparently by former Republican Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen while his criminal case was still unresolved. Jensen isn’t listed as an officer of the group, however. Its president is Mary Jo Baas, wife of MMAC’s Steve Baas; its vice president is Waukesha GOP activist Candee Arndt; its secretary is attorney Michael Dean of the First Freedoms Foundation; and its executive director/treasurer is Brookfield alderman and former WMTJ radio reporter Bob Reddin. According to its tax filings, the organization raised $95,250 in 2009, $898,675 in 2010 and $927,860 in 2011, $425,000 of which came from Wisconsin Club for Growth.

In 2010, it gave $30,000 to Republican Governors Public Policy Committee, $200,000 to the Jensen-connected voucher group American Federation for Children, $35,000 to Citizens for a Strong America, $50,000 to the political wing of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and $3,000 to the Citizens for Responsible Government (CRG). In 2011, it gave $75,000 to Wisconsin Club for Growth and $145,000 to American Federation for Children.

Although the group isn’t required to disclose its spending, it is currently active in opposing Democrat Elizabeth Coppola in District 21. She’s running against voucher advocate Jessie Rodriguez. (For more on this race, go to “School Voucher Money Pours Into South Side Election to Replace Honadel,” page 8.)

Citizens for a Strong America: This nonprofit issue group was formed in 2011 to support Supreme Court Justice David Prosser in his re-election campaign against JoAnne Kloppenburg. In spring 2011, its anti-Kloppenburg ad was rated “pants on fire.”

According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, it spent roughly $2.7 million on phony issue ads in the Supreme Court race and the 2011 and 2012 recalls.

Citizens for a Strong America’s treasurer appears to be R.J. Johnson’s wife, Valerie Johnson, and its director is John Connors. The organization, run from a post office box in Columbus, gets most of its funding from R.J. Johnson’s group, Wisconsin Club for Growth, including a $4.2 million donation in 2011. In turn, Citizens for a Strong America has sent money to Wisconsin Family Action ($51,000 in 2010 and $916,000 in 2011), Wisconsin Right to Life ($179,712 in 2010 and $347,000 in 2011), the Connors-connected United Sportsmen of Wisconsin ($235,000 in 2011) and Safari Club International ($77,000 in 2011).

United Sportsmen of Wisconsin: This allegedly pro-hunting group has connections to two Americans for Prosperity figures, Luke Hilgemann and John Connors. The group sent phony absentee ballot mailers in the summer of 2011, on the heels of similar mailers from Americans for Prosperity. The group received a $500,000 state grant this year, which has since been rescinded. Allegedly a former Walker campaign intern, Connors is a director of Citizens for a Strong America and in 2011 he was listed in tax filings as the sole independent contractor of the Franklin Center, which is linked to the Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe. Connors earned $119,277 from the organization.

John Connors did not respond to the Shepherd’s request to comment for this article.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.