Judge Orders Immediate Release of Wisconsin Election Investigation Records

Update: American Oversight has received more than 700 pages of records. Details below.

A Wisconsin judge today ordered the immediate release of a set of documents sought by American Oversight from the Wisconsin Assembly’s investigation into the 2020 election. 

The order from Judge Frank Remington of the Dane County Circuit Court came during a hearing held Tuesday morning in American Oversight’s ongoing lawsuit seeking records held by the Wisconsin Assembly’s Office of Special Counsel (OSC), which is conducting the partisan review of the state’s 2020 presidential election. 

The records the court ordered to be released today had been filed under seal by OSC for review by the judge. In today’s hearing, Remington lifted the seal and ordered the immediate release of the records, although he agreed to redact names and contact information of individual Wisconsin residents. 

American Oversight Senior Adviser Melanie Sloan stated:

“We’re pleased the court recognized OSC’s records are public records and ordered their immediate release. The people of Wisconsin deserve the truth about the Gableman investigation, including who is driving it and why.  The fact that the OSC fought so hard to keep secret even these minimal records released today — which the court called ‘underwhelming’ — confirms the fiction of the so-called report Gableman released last week.”

Tuesday’s order followed a written ruling issued by Judge Remington last week holding that OSC, along with the Assembly and Speaker Robin Vos, had violated Wisconsin’s Open Records Law by refusing to release documents related to the ongoing review. 

American Oversight has requested a range of documents from OSC under Wisconsin’s open records law, including contractor records, communications with prominent election fraud conspiracists, and other records that could illuminate for the public the networks of individuals involved in the review. OSC failed to release the public records as required by Wisconsin law, forcing American Oversight to file suit on Dec. 20, 2021, to compel the release of the documents. 

The suit is one of three brought by American Oversight seeking public records related to the Wisconsin Assembly’s investigation in Wisconsin. Our other suits, which are also ongoing, seek records in the custody of the Wisconsin Assembly, Speaker Robin Vos, and contractors. 

American Oversight has previously obtained records detailing the costs of the investigation, including lease agreements revealing that the rent of Gableman’s investigation office space is being partially subsidized by subleases to conservative groups active in attempts to overturn 2020 election results. 

We have also obtained and published records showing the price tag for Gableman’s review has already exceeded what he reported during a hearing in front of the Assembly’s elections committee last week. During that hearing, Gableman presented a “second interim investigative report” of his review and stated he had about $300,000 of his taxpayer-funded $676,000 budget remaining. Records obtained by American Oversight last week reveal the investigation has actually spent at least $519,000 since its launch, including more than $120,000 on outside lawyers between October and December last year.

Tuesday’s ruling came after Judge Remington received and examined documents turned over by OSC following his January order for a private, in camera review. In last week’s ruling, Remington explained that OSC turned over 20 categories of records related to Gableman’s investigation, including communications between the office and various individuals involved in efforts to investigate and overturn the results of the 2020 election in Wisconsin and elsewhere. Among the records were email correspondence with Harry Wait, president of the conservative group Honest Open Transparent Government, and Ron Heuer, president of the Wisconsin Voters Alliance, a group that has filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the 2020 election. Heuer was employed by Gableman’s investigation for less than three months in 2021.

During the hearing on Tuesday, OSC’s lawyer claimed Vos and Gableman had, that day, signed a new amendment to the contract between Gableman and the Assembly. Gableman’s contract — or lack thereof — has been an issue in recent months, as the original version expired on Oct. 31 and a purported extension to the agreement included a budget through only the end of 2021. During Gableman’s testimony before the Assembly’s elections committee last week, he said that he believed he had a legal contract to conduct the investigation, though he acknowledged others have argued he has no current contract. On Tuesday, a copy of the second amendment to Gableman’s contract was filed with the court.

American Oversight will continue to investigate partisan efforts to undermine democracy and challenge the fair elections process in Wisconsin. Follow along with our most recent developments here

Update: March 11, 2022, 2:00pm EST

On March 8, just hours after the court’s order, American Oversight obtained the roughly 700 pages of documents produced by the Wisconsin Assembly’s Office of Special Counsel. 

The full file is available here.

  • Documents that reveal conservative lawyer Erick Kaardal — who is affiliated with a conservative legal group and a law firm that are both subletting office space from OSC — appears to have had a more significant role in the investigation than was previously known. Emails show Kaardal in direct communication with members of OSC on matters related to the inquiry.
  • Harry Wait, president of the conservative group Honest Open Transparent Government, was also included in some of OSC’s operational communications, despite never being employed by the office or investigation. Gary Wait, Harry Wait’s brother, worked for Gableman’s investigation for less than three months in 2021.
  • The documents also show that Gableman asked two of his investigators whether they could put him in contact with Hans von Spakovsky, a longtime promoter of election “fraud” claims and advocate of increasing restrictions on voting.
  • In an email sent on Oct. 9, 2021, Gableman asked Kaardal’s firm to draft subpoenas to send to “the mayor, the clerk, and all Green Bay city council members.” In the email, Gableman also wrote, “It would probably be a good idea to issue similar subpoenas containing the same key words to the other Zuckerberg cities,” referring to Milwaukee, Madison, Racine, and Kenosha, which also received grants from the Center for Tech and Civic Life before the 2020 election (as did over 200 cities in Wisconsin). 
    • Just days before Gableman sent that email, he had told the Green Bay City Council that he would issue subpoenas to the mayors of those five cities.
    • Kaardal is not officially part of the OSC or on the staff of the investigation, and to date, we have not obtained records indicating that either he or his law firm have been paid as consultants. Rather, records we previously obtained show that Kaardal’s law firm and the Thomas More Society, of which he is a member, are paying 60% of the rent for Gableman’s office space through sublease agreements. The precise role that Kaardal is playing in the inquiry is unclear. 
  • Wisc. Senate President Chris Kapenga messaged Gableman from a personal email address to a previously unknown protonmail address regarding election inquiries in Oct. 2021, according to the documents. Those conversations included discussion about the Wisconsin Elections Commission and the state’s Legislative Audit Bureau. While most public attention has focused on Vos’s role in the election review, these records now show us that Kapenga has shown an interest in the inquiry as well.  
  • An individual identified as “John Ker” sent multiple emails to Gableman with subject lines including,“Revised new computer model powerpoint,” “Excess registrants,” “Adele 700,” and “Gaussian heat maps.” In the emails, Ker also requested a payment of $700 for “search engine fees” to be sent to an “Adele Morgan” in New Richmond, WI.
Update: March 8, 2022, 5 p.m. EST

American Oversight has obtained a copy of the second amendment to the contract between the Wisconsin Assembly and Michael Gableman, the conservative lawyer conducting the Assembly’s review of the 2020 election. The document was filed in court after Tuesday’s hearing. Previous contracts obtained by American Oversight expired in 2021.

The updated contract is signed by both Gableman and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who appointed Gableman to lead the probe.

The contract is available here.

American Oversight will continue to review the documents and post updates here.