A conservative attorney alleged private groups ran the November election in Green Bay after the city received $1.6 million from the Center for Tech and Civic Life to help cover the costs of putting on an election during a pandemic.
The city has rejected the suggestion that it ceded control of the election to any private entities.
Erick Kaardal, an attorney for the Wisconsin Voters Alliance, argued to the Assembly Elections and Campaign Committee during its March 10 meeting that accepting the private funds allowed outside groups to run the city’s election.
He argued millions of dollars of donations from the Center for Tech and Civic Life along with influence from the National Vote at Home Institute and former Dem strategist Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein pushed Green Bay City Clerk Kris Teske out of her position.
That power shift toward private organizations and away from elected and appointed officials would be a violation of election laws, Kaardal added.
Kaardal unsuccessfully challenged $6.3 million in private grants that five Wisconsin cities received last year from the Center for Tech and Civic Life, which was largely funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife. A federal judge ruled while there may be an appearance of impropriety with the cities accepting private funds to help cover the costs of the election, there was no explicit statutory ban on taking the money.
He said the effort to fund elections and increase voter turnout was something mayors from those five cities praised, but he said they broke the law in accepting funds that came with stipulations.
“Some of their goals might have been laudable, but they were outside the law,” Kaardal said.
The Assembly hearing focused on allegations about the run-up to the November election in Green Bay and the city’s central count operation to tally absentee ballots.
Republican committee members were the only ones to ask questions of the witnesses. Dem members weren’t in the room for the majority of the meeting. Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, tweeted that she and her Dem colleagues were watching the hearing via WisconsinEye because GOP members largely weren’t wearing masks.
The three Dem members in a joint statement slammed the hearing as “yet another rehash of a failed court case around the 2020 elections that Republicans already lost” and that the committee had “played host to conspiracies and falsehoods.”
No Green Bay officials testified. In a statement March 9, the city said the election was administered exclusively by city staff, who received technical assistance from others in elections, security, public relations and analysis. Still, the city said those private interests never had access to ballots, computers, storage or equipment. The city added the central count chief inspector was in charge at the arena where the tally was conducted “at all times, and was overseeing all activities.”
GOP member Rep. Joe Sanfelippo after the hearing called for the committee to use its investigative authority, including subpoena powers, to identify possible election law violations and recommend legislative changes.