Judge in American Oversight Lawsuit Says Wisconsin Assembly’s Election Investigation Has Found ‘Absolutely No Evidence’ of Fraud

On Thursday, a Wisconsin judge said that American Oversight’s litigation for records from the state’s partisan election investigation has revealed that investigation has shown “absolutely no evidence of election fraud.” The judge also noted that the state officials responsible for the inquiry failed to fully comply with Wisconsin’s open records laws and spent large amounts of taxpayer money at times when “there was no actual work being done.”

Judge Valerie Bailey-Rihn of the Dane County Circuit Court heard arguments in American Oversight’s public records lawsuit against the Wisconsin State Assembly and awarded attorneys’ fees to American Oversight, pointing to Wisconsin officials’ apparent belief “that they have no obligation to comply with the Open Records Law.” 

The lawsuit was filed by American Oversight in October 2021 and has led to several court orders requiring Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and the Assembly to preserve and produce the requested records, including records related to the contractors involved in the investigation.  On March 30, Vos and the Assembly were found in contempt of court for failing to comply with an earlier order to release the records. 

Previous hearings in the lawsuit revealed that Michael Gableman, the attorney heading the election inquiry initiated by Vos last summer, had frequently destroyed or disposed of records that he deemed not to be “helpful” to his review, including notes he took during taxpayer-funded trips to visit the discredited Arizona “audit” and to prominent election denier Mike Lindell’s “symposium” in South Dakota in August 2021.

During Thursday’s hearing, Bailey-Rihn said that “the people in charge” were either “so woefully ignorant of the requirements of the Open Records Law” or they were openly flouting the statute. “I have a suspicion that might be a combination of both,” she said. 

Gableman, who began earning a taxpayer-funded $11,000 monthly salary in July 2021, had previously admitted that he came into the role without a “sophisticated or intricate understanding” of election laws or processes. During the first few months of the review, said Bailey-Rihn during Thursday’s hearing, “the taxpayers were paying $11,000 for somebody to sit at the New Berlin library to learn about election law because they had no experience in election law. And to go to … Arizona to learn about the Chinese possibly tampering with election machines, which, in his own words, was not borne out, then to South Dakota to meet with the MyPillow person.”

American Oversight has also filed two separate lawsuits seeking documents from the review, and in June sued Gableman’s Office of Special Counsel seeking to prevent the destruction of records, with a judge in early July issuing a temporary restraining order prohibiting OSC from deleting records in its custody.

“This whole case has been about trying to shine a light on government,” Bailey-Rihn said, later adding that the lawsuit was a “benefit to the citizens of the state of Wisconsin, and gave them at least a better understanding of what their legislature [was] doing.”

Information regarding American Oversight’s investigation into Wisconsin’s baseless election inquiry is available here.