WISCONSIN: Community Organizing Group a Front for SEIU's Partisan Strategy

MILWAUKEE – A paper trail running through state and federal agencies now shows that a self-described “non-partisan organization” may in fact be connected to partisan campaign activity here in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Jobs Now!, according to U.S. Department of Labor records, has received $769,000 in funding from the Service Employees International Union. The current address listed for Wisconsin Jobs Now! is a shared office suite in downtown Milwaukee occupied by the regional SEIU healthcare affiliate, 260 East Highland Avenue, Suite 300.

Campaign finance reports at the Government Accountability Office in Madison show SEIU healthcare’s Madison office contributing significant amounts of money to the campaigns of Kathleen Falk, who lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary on May 8, and Mahlon Mitchell, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor in the June 5 election. A total of $40,000 was transferred from the SEIU Healthcare account to the campaign accounts of Falk and Mitchell. Falk benefited the most, receiving $35,000 with the balancing going to Mitchell.

The group Wisconsin Jobs Now! gained notoriety last year when it was caught handing out barbecue chicken dinners to voters in conjunction with free rides to the polls in last summer’s Wisconsin state senate recall elections. That activity landed them an investigation by prosecutors. This year the group, which bills itself as a “non-partisan organization” on its website, is leading early voting efforts in Milwaukee that predominantly benefit the Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor.

Last Saturday, Wisconsin Jobs Now! held an early voting rally and march in downtown Milwaukee with Citizen Action of Wisconsin, also a non-partisan group. Citizen Action of Wisconsin shared office space with Jobs Now! during last summer’s recall elections.

The website for the SEIU affiliate housing the allegedly non-partisan Wisconsin Jobs Now! declares in bold letters, “Now is the time to defeat Scott Walker” and advertises an upcoming teleconference call in which participants will be able to hear how the Democratic candidates plan to “reverse Scott Walker’s cuts.” Another page on the website touts the need for voter turnout activities, something that Wisconsin Jobs Now! has made a focus of its work lately, and pleads: “Help us elect a champion. Sign up to recall Scott Walker and help Tom Barrett become the next governor of Wisconsin!”

Several key staffers for Wisconsin Jobs Now! actually receive their paychecks from the SEIU. Filings with the Department of Labor show that Todd Stoner and Austin Thompson, organizers who are tied to an investigation of voter fraud involving their work for the SEIU in Wisconsin during the spring of 2011, work as community-level organizers for the SEIU. When their names appear in news reports, Stoner and Thompson consistently say they work on behalf of Wisconsin Jobs Now! Michael Lauer, the executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now! clears a salary of $127,000 annually thanks to his SEIU paycheck. Lauer makes it his mission to wage political warfare by stoking class warfare tensions that pit lower income voters against candidates Lauer and the SEIU believe represent only the rich.

The frequent flow of money from the SEIU to the paychecks of Wisconsin Jobs Now! staff, and the shared office space arrangement stress the credulity of Jobs Now!‘s argument that it is non-partisan in its activities. Lauer recently told one news outlet, “We knock on doors, talk to folks walking around the neighborhood and if they’re interested in voting, there’s pickup times throughout the day and we’ll give them a ride down.” In that same interview he insisted that his organization is not partisan in any way. However, while Wisconsin Jobs Now! is leading the effort in early voting activities in Milwaukee, the SEIU is openly promoting and has financially supported the Democratic candidates in this recall cycle.

The flow of money from the SEIU, which has participated heavily in the partisan process of the recall election, to Wisconsin Jobs Now! shatters the idea that Wisconsin Jobs Now! is an entirely non-partisan organization comprised only of disparate community groups. The facts strongly contradict the statements made be Jobs Now! staff to the press and public.