On Wednesday, the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections held a hearing to discuss recent allegations that the city of Green Bay "improperly allowed a consultant with Democratic ties to play a central role in planning for the November election." Much of the hearing focussed on a report, issued by Wisconsin Spotlight, that laid out the following allegations:
Hundreds of pages of emails and other documents obtained by Wisconsin Spotlight show that grant money from private left leaning groups, funded largely by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, resulted in Democrat activists infiltrating the November presidential election in Wisconsin’s five largest cities.
Here’s what the emails and Wisconsin Spotlight’s investigation found:
- A former [New York] Democratic operative, Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, served as a de facto elections administrator and had access to Green Bay’s absentee ballots days before the election
- Spitzer-Rubenstein asked Green Bay’s clerk if he and his team members could help correct or “cure” absentee ballots like they did in Milwaukee.
- Green Bay’s clerk grew increasingly frustrated with the takeover of her department by the Democrat Mayor’s staff and outside groups.
- Brown County Clerk Sandy Juno said the contract stipulated that Spitzer-Rubenstein would have four of the five keys to the KI Center ballroom where ballots were stored and counted.
- Brown County’s clerk said the city of Green Bay “went rogue.”
- Election law experts said the city illegally gave left-leaning groups authority over the election.
I would consider this an election irregularity. It’s understandable why people wonder whether what Mark Zuckerberg did is even legal. https://t.co/kZ0Bt8W4oE— Senator Ron Johnson (@SenRonJohnson) March 9, 2021
The Green Bay Press-Gazette had also previously reported about the alleged issues between the former Green Bay city clerk Kris Teske and the mayor's office:
The former city clerk complained for months before she resigned that the mayor's office had overtaken planning for the November presidential election, culminating in claims that her work environment became hostile.
Human Resources determined that Kris Teske's complaint was unsubstantiated, and city officials dispute her version of events. Still, records obtained by the Green Bay Press-Gazette point to a fissure in Teske's relationship with Mayor Eric Genrich and his staff as officials prepared for a presidential election at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.
Reporting from The Federalist specifically cited correspondence last summer between Teske and her superiors and the mayor's office:
“I’ve been reading things on Facebook about people complaining where the million (dollar grant) is coming from. I think it might get political,” then-Green Bay City Clerk Kris Teske wrote in a July 14 email to Diana Ellenbecker, the city’s finance director, and Teske’s boss.
Teske wrote that Celestine Jeffreys, Green Mayor Eric Genrich’s chief of staff, “talked about having advisors from the organization giving the grant who will be ‘helping us’ with the election and I don’t know anything about that.”
Eventually, the advisers would play an extensive role in “helping” administer Green Bay’s election.
At Wednesday's hearing, lawmakers heard witnesses' firsthand experiences from Election Day:
Election observers at Wednesday's hearing said they had uncomfortable interactions with city staff on Election Day and saw Spitzer-Rubenstein answer questions for poll workers at the KI Convention Center, where the city tallied absentee ballots. Juno, a Republican, accused poll workers of processing ballots inconsistently and not properly curing them, or fixing problems such as a mismatched or missing signature.
The Chair of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections, state Representative Janel Brandtjen, released the following after the hearing:
Nothing is more important to our republic than the integrity of our elections. We must ensure that Wisconsin voters have confidence and transparency in our elections. I would assume both Republicans and Democrats wish to add more transparently and accountability after today’s hearing. I think today’s emails and personal affidavits are the beginning of the Green Bay investigation. It’s clear that more hearings are needed to address the third party investments in Wisconsin elections.
Unsurprisingly, the Democrat members of the Committee declined to question any of the witnesses or attend the hearing in person.