On Tuesday, March 1, the investigators conducting the Wisconsin Assembly’s partisan review of the state’s 2020 election released a report on their findings. Former state Supreme Court justice Michael Gableman had been leading the probe since last May, when he was appointed and allocated a taxpayer-funded budget of nearly $700,000 by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos. The investigation had extended past its contracted end date.
American Oversight is reviewing the text of the report, described as a “second interim investigative report,” and will post updates as more information becomes available.
American Oversight has been investigating the partisan effort to cast doubt on the 2020 election in Wisconsin. Our work, including litigation for the release of related public records, has uncovered hundreds of pages of documents that shine a light on the costs, employees, and networks involved in Gableman’s investigation. To date, we have filed three separate lawsuits against the Wisconsin Assembly, Vos, and Gableman’s Office of Special Counsel to compel the release of records related to the investigation.
In November, we obtained documents that revealed taxpayers had paid for Gableman’s and his investigators’ August 2021 visit to the Arizona Senate’s “audit” of Maricopa County ballots. Those records revealed that taxpayers shelled out more than $2,700 for the travel, despite Vos having said that Gableman would cover those expenses out of his $11,000-a-month salary. In response, a spokesperson for Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Assembly would attempt to recover the money.
Other expense records American Oversight uncovered in November show that Wisconsin taxpayers also footed the bill for Gableman’s hotels during his August trip to South Dakota to attend a “cyber symposium” on election fraud hosted by My Pillow CEO and prominent election denier Mike Lindell.
Communication records indicate that Gableman had been in contact with Lindell during the months he had been conducting the review. On Aug. 24, Lindell sent Gableman an email titled “Election Fraud” and another titled “Wisconsin Affidavits,” along with links to files. A few days later, Lindell sent Gableman an email with an attached Excel file that he referred to as “the full list.”
Other documents we have uncovered include emails tying Gableman’s review to activists who have attempted to sow widespread doubt about the 2020 election. They include emails between Gableman and Harry Wait, president of the conservative group Honest Open Transparent Government, in which Wait claimed that he had “the Cyber Ninjas team on hold,” referring to the firm that conducted the Arizona Senate’s bogus “audit” of the 2020 election. Also copied on the email was Wisconsin Rep. Tim Ramthun, an active promoter of election conspiracies who has called for a more aggressive “audit” of the state’s 2020 election.
Lease agreements obtained by American Oversight revealed that the rent of Gableman’s investigation office space is being partially subsidized by subleases to conservative groups that had been active in attempts to overturn 2020 election results. The agreements, which are not set to expire until Sept. 30, 2022, indicate that 60 percent of the total rent for the office space is paid by the conservative Thomas More Society and the law firm of Mohrman, Kaardal, and Erickson.
The sublease agreements raise significant questions about the relationship between the Gableman investigation and the Thomas More Society. Erick Kaardal, one of the partners in the law firm subleasing office space, is also member of the Thomas More Society and has been involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Wisconsin and beyond. Kaardal had initially been slated to appear as a witness alongside Gableman during Tuesday’s hearing. On Monday, it was reported that the Thomas More Society would hold a press conference following the Assembly hearing to discuss the results of its own, purportedly independent review of the 2020 election.
Emails obtained by American Oversight reveal that Kaardal has been in contact with state Rep. Janel Brantjen about potential vulnerabilities in the state’s electoral system. Brandtjen and others have called for a “full forensic audit” of Wisconsin’s 2020 election and have publicly criticized aspects of Gableman’s work.
As the investigation continued through the end of 2021, its staff and budget grew rapidly, records reveal. Documents we obtained and published in January show that, in December 2021, the investigation spent $63,510.31 and employed 11 people including Gableman, up from $28,250 and five employees in September 2021.
Wisconsin’s lengthy and expensive review of the 2020 election is only one of several efforts by election deniers and Trump allies across the nation to sow doubt in the results of the 2020 election.
Part of Investigation: