Wisconsin’s partisan election investigation got a dose of public accountability this week, driven in part by independent reporting and new documents uncovered by American Oversight.
Even as the omicron variant and the future of Roe v. Wade (and the revelations that former President Trump had tested positive for Covid-19 prior to attending a presidential debate) dominated the news, we’ve been tracking the latest developments in the investigation being conducted by lawyer Michael Gableman. The more that is known about the inquiry, the clearer its anti-democratic and conspiracy-informed motivations appear.
A contentious hearing: On Wednesday, Gableman appeared at a hearing in the Wisconsin Assembly’s election committee that quickly turned combative. Gableman took aim at the media and at city officials whom he said had not cooperated, saying he had made legal filings against them, though there were no records of such filings and officials told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel they did not know what he was referring to. (He also demonstrated his lack of understanding of the legislative body that employs him, demanding that a lawmaker’s criticism of the investigation be “stricken from the record” even though, as the Sentinel reported, “legislative committees don’t maintain transcripts or strike testimony.”)
- Gableman also called for “nonpartisan accountability and transparency,” even as his office finally revealed the names of several partisan actors on his payroll whose identities he had been trying to keep secret.
Who’s on the payroll: The hiring of two out-of-state lawyers, one a former Trump administration official and the other a conservative lawyer connected to the Federalist Society, was reported in recent weeks, and the newly revealed names paint just as partisan a picture.
- One of the investigators is Ron Heuer, the president of the Wisconsin Voters Alliance, which filed lawsuits seeking to overturn the election.
- Those efforts were assisted by the Minneapolis law firm Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson and the conservative Thomas More Society — both of which are subleasing office space from Gableman, as revealed in records recently obtained by American Oversight.
- In addition to the people earning taxpayer-funded salaries, Gableman has also met with conspiracy theorists — including Shiva Ayyadurai, who was active in the Arizona Senate’s sham election “audit” — and a man previously convicted of fraud who has been working with newly confirmed Gableman staffer Gary Wait, a former private investigator.
Gableman’s Arizona trip: The records obtained by American Oversight detailing the questionable office arrangement also showed that taxpayers kicked in more than $2,700 for Gableman and his staff’s visit to the Arizona “audit” in August, despite Assembly Speaker Robin Vos having said the trip’s costs would come out of Gableman’s $11,000-a-month salary.
- Following this news, Vos’s spokeswoman told the Sentinel that the Assembly would work to recover those funds.
- Gableman, however, has insisted that the costs should still be covered by taxpayers.
Here are some other headlines related to baseless election investigations in other states:
- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, GOP leaders shift $4M to pay for election audits called for in new state law (Dallas Morning News)
- ‘Squabble fest’: Why push for election audit may be imploding in Michigan (Detroit News)
- Questions remain about Pa. GOP’s election ‘investigation’ (WHYY Philadelphia)
- Second Colorado county clerk joins Hanks lawsuit seeking 2020 election ‘audit’ (Colorado Newsline)
- Missouri secretary of state touts integrity of Missouri’s 2020 election, but supports an audit (Missouri Independent)
- ‘Results were meaningless’: Analysts say they cannot validate or replicate Cyber Ninjas’ hand count of votes (Arizona Republic)
On the Records
Pennsylvania Election Audit
Another partisan-driven election review is also in the works in the Pennsylvania Senate. During a September hearing in the Senate, a county commissioner from Fulton County discussed a late-2020 audit of election materials conducted in his county. Text messages related to that audit, obtained and reported on by American Oversight, call into question Commissioner Stuart Ulsh’s testimony during that hearing, when he denied being aware of a vocally pro-Trump state senator’s involvement and said that all three of the commissioners had been on board.
Threats to Fair Election Administration
While baseless investigations cast further doubt on the integrity of our elections, fealty to the Big Lie has turned into a “litmus test for Republicans seeking office,” writes the Wall Street Journal. Trump supporters and proponents of voter-fraud myths are also working to install conspiracy-sympathetic allies in key election-administration positions across the country — including in secretary of state offices — and partisan actors in multiple states are working to reshape local election boards.
Georgia is a notable example, and this week American Oversight published a rundown of several such efforts to alter election boards in various Georgia counties. Records we uncovered provide an inside look at the backlash among a number of county officials to these changes this past spring. Read more here.
Gov. Noem’s Luxury Renovations
Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on decor and furnishings for her office and residence, according to new documents obtained by American Oversight and reported on by the Argus Leader. In total, Noem’s office spent about $60,000 between January 2019 (the beginning of her term) and September 2021, including more than $13,000 for 17 rugs.
Other Stories We’re Following
The Jan. 6 Attack
- House committee probing Jan. 6 riot interviews Georgia’s top elections official (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
- Ex-Trump aide Meadows cooperating with House Jan. 6 panel (Associated Press)
- Trump called aides hours before Capitol riot to discuss how to stop Biden victory (Guardian)
- Jan. 6 organizers used anonymous ‘burner phones’ to communicate with White House and Trump family, sources say (Rolling Stone)
- Leaked texts: Jan. 6 organizers say they were ‘following POTUS’ lead’ (Rolling Stone)
Election Conspiracies and the Big Lie
- Prosecutors demanded records of Sidney Powell’s fundraising groups as part of criminal probe (Washington Post)
- Tina Peters appears with militia supporters in video call that included endorsement of violence (Colorado Newsline)
- Cyber Ninjas CEO paid off $423K mortgage on same day pandemic loan was forgiven: report (Raw Story)
- Attempted breach of Ohio county election network draws FBI and state scrutiny (Washington Post)
- Inside the ‘big wave’ of misinformation targeted at Latinos (Associated Press)
- QAnon hero Michael Flynn secretly said QAnon is ‘total nonsense’ (Daily Beast)
The Coronavirus Pandemic
- A federal judge blocks Biden’s vaccine mandate for U.S. health workers (New York Times)
- National Guard troops refusing vaccine will lose pay, Pentagon says, in warning shot to GOP-led states (Washington Post)
- GOP gives unemployment checks to unvaxxed that defied Biden mandate (Axios)
- Cuomo misrepresented Covid-19 nursing home toll, report says (ABC News)
- Missouri health department found mask mandates work, but didn’t make findings public (Missouri Independent)
In the States
- DeSantis’ border mission cost at least $1.6M, an amount that is expected to rise (Miami Herald)
- About those NYPD cops who DeSantis praised for coming to Florida: There are issues (Miami Herald)
- ‘A humanitarian crisis’: Why Alabama could lose control of its dangerous prisons (Politico)
- A Republican power grab in Ohio might be the GOP’s most brazen yet (Guardian)
- How has Utah saved $75 million on welfare? By providing next to none and taking credit for LDS welfare instead (Salt Lake Tribune)
- ‘If everybody’s white, there can’t be any racial bias’: The disappearance of Hispanic drivers from traffic records (ProPublica)
- ICE holds growing number of immigrants at private facilities despite Biden campaign promise to end practice (Washington Post)
- U.S. and Mexico reach deal to restart Trump-era ‘Remain in Mexico’ program along border (Washington Post)
- RNC agrees to pay some of Trump’s legal bills in N.Y. criminal investigation (Washington Post)
- Dark-money group paid former Trump AG to ask for pardons — and he never registered as a lobbyist (Daily Beast)
- Seeking backers for new fund, Jared Kushner turns to Middle East (New York Times)
- Under Trump, ICE aggressively recruited sheriffs as partners to question and detain undocumented immigrants (Washington Post)
- Trump could pocket $100 million in deal for money-losing D.C. hotel (Washington Post)