In the Documents: Wisconsin State Representative’s Contacts with Election-Denying Activists and Lawyers

Update: March 22, 2022 

In March 2022, American Oversight obtained more communication records from the office of Wisconsin Rep. Janel Brandtjen. The documents include texts exchanged between Brandtjen and Doug Logan, the CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based firm that was behind the disgraced “audit” of 2020 election results in Maricopa County, Ariz. 

 

The texts reveal that Brandtjen and Logan were in direct contact in August 2021, weeks after Brandtjen issued subpoenas for voting materials in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Brown counties. Earlier records we obtained revealed that Brandtjen was also in touch with Jovan Pulitzer, an election conspiracy theorist who claimed to have created fraudulent-ballot-scanning technology that was used in Cyber Ninjas’ review, during the same month.

American Oversight has obtained documents that highlight Wisconsin Rep. Janel Brandtjen’s contact with associates of prominent election deniers, including additional communications with conservative lawyer Erick Kaardal.

In addition to emails sent by Kaardal to Brandtjen, who chairs the State Assembly’s elections committee, the records also contain presentation materials alleging large-scale voting fraud that were prepared by associates of former Trump lawyer Sidney Powell and prominent election denier Mike Lindell and presented at hearings in Brandtjen’s committee in December and January

Other records include indications that Brandtjen has been in contact with Jovan Pulitzer, an election conspiracy theorist who claims to have invented technology that can identify “fraudulent” ballots, and Kent Mansfield, the CEO of Authentix, a Texas-based company that has met with various Big Lie-promoting Republican lawmakers about creating a “fraud-proof ballot.”

Communications with Authentix CEO

Various state lawmakers are pushing to require so-called “fraud-proof” ballots in future elections, stemming in part from a push by Arizona Rep. Mark Finchem for such measures following meetings with Authentix, a firm that the Washington Post reported had no previous election experience. There is no evidence that counterfeit ballots have been a problem in any recent American elections, but proposals for implementing such requirements have recently been floated in Arizona’s and Virginia’s legislatures. 

In June 2021, Brandtjen and other Wisconsin lawmakers toured the site of the partisan and discredited “audit” of 2020 election results in Maricopa County, Ariz. The records American Oversight obtained suggest that Brandtjen spoke with Mansfield “right before” the trip. On June 24, an aide to Brandtjen emailed Mansfield to ask if he would be willing to come to Wisconsin to speak with the elections committee. Mansfield replied that he “had previously visited the legislature in AZ to demonstrate these concepts” and that he was interested in visiting Wisconsin to “discuss and demonstrate our secure ballot concepts.” On Aug. 12, Mansfield presented before Brandtjen’s committee, where he touted his company’s products.

Communications with Prominent Election Deniers

The documents also include an email to Brandtjen from Pulitzer, who records revealed was involved in the sham “audit” in Arizona. Pulitzer was also the likely source of the outlandish theory that fraudulent ballots containing bamboo fibers had been shipped to Arizona from Asia during the 2020 election. Again, there is no evidence that anything of this nature occurred.

On Aug. 5, Pulitzer emailed Brandtjen an “affidavit video” supposedly indicating “why vote cast ballots are not going to produce results,” possibly referring to the use of special ballot-scanning technology he claimed to have invented. He wrote that “there is a reason both Peter [Bernegger], Harry [Wait], Gary [Wait] and [Michael] Gableman have pushed for them,” referring to figures involved in the Wisconsin Assembly’s partisan investigation of the state’s 2020 election.

The next day, Brandtjen submitted subpoenas to Milwaukee and Brown counties for voting machines and election materials. Those subpoenas were later rejected for not having been signed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos or the Assembly’s clerk.

The Assembly’s ongoing election investigation was announced by Vos in late spring 2021 and is being led by attorney Michael Gableman. Gary Wait, a former private investigator, was employed by the investigation in September and October, and documents uncovered by American Oversight revealed that his brother, Harry, the president of the conservative group Honest Open Transparent Government, was also involved in the investigation despite never being officially employed. Public reporting and records uncovered by American Oversight previously revealed that Bernegger, who was convicted of mail and bank fraud in 2009, has been in contact with Gableman and Harry Wait regarding the investigation.

Communications with Erick Kaardal

Brandtjen has criticized Gableman’s investigation for not going far enough, pushing for an Arizona-style “audit” of Wisconsin’s election and pursuing her own investigation within her committee, including through communications with Erick Kaardal. Kaardal was behind lawsuits seeking to overturn or cast doubt on the election results in Wisconsin, and has also been working closely with Gableman’s investigation. Earlier this month, Gableman and Kaardal presented their “findings” of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election to Brandtjen’s committee.

American Oversight previously published emails sent by Kaardal to Brandtjen in November 2021 in which Kaardal alleged vulnerabilities in the state’s election system. The latest emails include one sent by Kaardal on Oct. 25, 2021, regarding a lawsuit filed by the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) against Brandtjen, Gableman, and the Wisconsin Assembly that challenged subpoenas issued by Gableman. Kaardal provided suggestions about how to fight the lawsuit, writing, “If the circuit court denies the motion to dismiss based on sovereign immunity, it should be appealed on an expedited basis all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.”

The Dane County Circuit Court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss WEC’s lawsuit on Jan. 10, 2022. The next day, an aide for Brandtjen forwarded Kaardal’s October email to herself.

Also in January, Kaardal emailed Brandtjen and an aide with five new “election bribery” complaints that Kaardal said he had filed in Milwaukee, Dane, Brown, Kenosha, and Racine counties, though the actual filings were not included in the records we received. In the email, Kaardal added, “I propose to you another informational hearing before your committee to discuss what went wrong at WEC.”

Grants provided to municipalities across the state to help them administer the 2020 election and increase voter turnout during the pandemic have been targets of Kaardal, Gableman, and others, who have contended that the funds amounted to “bribery.” Several courts have rejected lawsuits challenging those grants.

Election Committee Hearing Materials

The records also include a presentation Kaardal gave about avoiding “election abuses” during a Dec. 8 hearing in Brandtjen’s committee. That hearing featured an “analysis of the Wisconsin voter file” from Jeffrey O’Donnell, a software engineer who has pushed the false election-fraud narrative alongside MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. In November, O’Donnell launched a digital platform that claims to allow volunteers to hunt for ballot fraud. In the report presented in December, O’Donnell wrote that “An analysis of the Wisconsin voter file revealed significant ‘red flags’ in the data.”

O’Donnell’s analysis referenced another report by Jay Valentine, who appears to be connected to Powell, the former Trump lawyer behind widely disparaged lawsuits alleging significant 2020 election fraud. Valentine’s writing appears on the website of Defending the Republic, Powell’s organization that has promoted and fundraised off baseless allegations of widespread fraud

American Oversight previously obtained a copy of Valentine’s report, which alleged that the WEC’s numerical system for keeping track of voters was not “best practice” and purportedly could lead to false voter registrations. The report, along with Kaardal’s presentation on “election abuses” and O’Donnell’s analysis, have also been published on the website for Brandtjen’s office.

Valentine also appears to have worked with a group of voter-fraud activists in Washington state last summer, according to other records obtained by American Oversight. On Aug. 16, 2021, the chair of a local “election integrity committee” emailed Washington Rep. Brad Klippert with information about Valentine’s “fractal programming technology,” which they said could “suss out voting anomalies” from the state’s voter rolls. 

The local committee chair also wrote that Valentine and partner Paul Leury were “working on the rolls in over 20 states” and had “helped Sidney Powell with her subpoenas for WI.” This may have been in reference to the subpoenas Brandtjen had issued in Wisconsin’s Milwaukee and Brown counties the week before.

Both Valentine and O’Donnell spoke at another Wisconsin Assembly elections committee hearing this January. During that meeting, Valentine presented his analysis of the voter identification numbers and said that he had sent Brandtjen reports on alleged ballot fraud. 

Other records we obtained include a document written by O’Donnell titled “Responses to WEC ‘FAQ’ Items Regarding My Analysis,” and dated Jan. 18. In the document, O’Donnell reiterated false claims about alleged voter fraud that he had made before Brandtjen’s committee, including assertions that there were thousands of “phantom voters” in Wisconsin’s 2020 election. 

Other Records

The latest records obtained by American Oversight also include a September 2021 memo sent to Arizona Sen. Wendy Rogers by Matthew DePerno, a Trump-allied lawyer who last year filed a lawsuit falsely alleging election fraud in Michigan’s Antrim County and who is currently running for attorney general in that state. The memo, which claims a state legislature can “decertify” a national election “upon proof of fraud,” was published on Rogers’ website, and Wisconsin Rep. Tim Ramthun also posted it to his website. Ramthun recently sponsored a resolution calling for the decertification of Wisconsin’s 2020 election results, a legally impossible move that has put him at odds with Vos.

In February, Ramthun and Brandtjen led a rally at the Wisconsin state Capitol calling for the state’s 2020 electoral votes to be recalled.Read more here about American Oversight’s investigation into efforts in Wisconsin to cast doubt on the results of the 2020 election.