Wisconsin County Takes the Lead in Banning Private Funding of Elections

Wisconsin County Takes the Lead in Banning Private Funding of Elections
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrives for testimony before the House Financial Services Committee in Washington on Oct. 23, 2019. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Matthew Vadum

Wisconsin's Walworth County has become the first local government in the state to ban the acceptance of private monies or grants for use in the administration of elections.

Approval of the measure came after 16 states enacted legislation to ban or regulate the acceptance and use of private funds by public election officials. Good-government advocates have been incensed that a Mark Zuckerberg-funded activist group, the left-wing Center for Technology and Civic Life (CTCL), flooded election offices in Democratic Party strongholds with millions of dollars in an apparent effort to drive up voter turnout for that party in 2020.

In 2016, then-candidate Donald Trump, a Republican, beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin by 22,748 votes. But in 2020, Joe Biden, a Democrat, beat Trump in the state by 20,608 votes, according to Ballotpedia figures. Critics claim the assistance provided by CTCL to Milwaukee and other heavily Democratic jurisdictions in the state may have put Biden over the top.
The Walworth County Board of Supervisors adopted Ordinance 1271 (pdf) on April 21, banning the private funding of elections. Walworth County is located in the southeastern part of the state, bordering Illinois on the south and between Kenosha and Janesville, Wisconsin.
Attorney Erick G. Kaardal. (Courtesy Erick G. Kaardal)
Attorney Erick G. Kaardal. (Courtesy Erick G. Kaardal)

"This is a win for Wisconsin voters," said Erick Kaardal, whose public interest law firm, the Thomas More Society, takes partial credit for the new ban. The Thomas More Society represented the Wisconsin Voters Alliance, which worked with cities and counties on ordinances that specifically ban the acceptance of private funds in elections, he said.

The county had to act because the Wisconsin Election Commission and the state's executive branch have refused to bar private money from election administration, Kaardal said. This means "the burden has fallen upon cities and counties to protect themselves from outside interference by illegal money sources," he said.

"The people understand that the right to vote is a cornerstone of a free society and that the biased intervention of those who want to influence the outcome with their dirty dollars is not to be tolerated," Kaardal added.

The governor has been on the wrong side of the issue, he said.

"Despite a plethora of condemning evidence documenting and verifying rampant election improprieties, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has vetoed the corrective election legislation that has been passed," Kaardal said in a statement.

Kaardal was referring to Evers's veto earlier this month of eight electoral integrity measures approved by the state's GOP-controlled legislature in Madison in response to widespread complaints about irregularities in the 2020 presidential election in Wisconsin. Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman is leading a government investigation into the election. Republicans said the bills were needed to deal with problems identified in an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau and by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

Evers was dismissive of the legislation, saying the vetoed measures were "passed under the guise of needing to reform our election system because elected officials in this state have enabled disinformation about our elections and elections process."

Residents drop mail-in ballots in a ballot box outside of the Tippecanoe branch library in Milwaukee, on Oct. 20, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Residents drop mail-in ballots in a ballot box outside of the Tippecanoe branch library in Milwaukee, on Oct. 20, 2020. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Republican state Sen. Alberta Darling criticized Evers, saying, "It's clear the governor didn't even bother to read these bills and wants to lump any election reform as a conspiracy theory."

According to Kaardal, Wisconsin's election bribery law, Wisconsin Statutes section 12.11, already forbids municipal clerks from receiving money to increase in-person and absentee ballot opportunities within the municipality. Walworth County's ban on private grants or donations earmarked for elections is consistent with Wisconsin Statutes section 12.11, he said.

Kaardal's firm is also suing Milwaukee's acting mayor, former mayor, and city clerk in connection with an election bribery scheme stemming from CTCL grants, as The Epoch Times reported.

The complaint alleges that the city's acceptance of money from CTCL to selectively facilitate in-person and absentee voting and to purchase and place absentee ballot drop boxes constitutes bribery and is contrary to Wisconsin's election bribery law and other state and federal laws.

Evers's office didn't respond by press time to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.