Judge Won’t Stop Milwaukee’s Get-Out-the-Vote Effort

by Benjamin Yount


Milwaukee’s get-out-the-vote partnership with a liberal/progressive firm is not technically against the law, so a judge is not going to stop it.

Milwaukee County Judge Gwendolyn Connolly on Friday refused to grant the Republican Party of Wisconsin a temporary restraining order against Milwaukee Votes 2022, the city-backed privately funded get-out-the-vote effort with GPS Impact.

“In this case, the plaintiffs’ complaint is entirely devoid of any allegations that the defendants engaged in conduct that resulted in the support of any particular candidate or party,” the judge wrote in her ruling.

The Republican Party said GPS Impact is a Democratic operation that brags about winning for Democrats in predominantly Republican states.

But the judge said Wisconsin’s ban on political activity in local government doesn’t apply to Milwaukee’s mayor.

“Unlike the public misconduct statute, which governs the conduct of ‘public officers’ and ‘public employees,’ the Political Activity Policy applies only to ‘employees’ of the municipality,” the judge stated. “The [city of Milwaukee] argues that Mayor Johnson is not an ‘employee’ within the meaning of the policy because he is an elected official.  The Court agrees.”

Mayor Johnson publicly backed Milwaukee Votes 2022 last month, but his office quickly walked-back the idea that any taxpayer money is being used to pay for the get out the vote effort.

It remains unclear just who is paying GPS Impact, or what it is that they are doing.

Republicans in the state said the get-out-the-vote effort is Zuckerbucks 2.0 because it uses outside money to work with a Democratic city to encourage Democratic voters to cast a ballot, much like Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg did throughout the country during the 2020 national election.

The judge pointed to the arguments against the original Zuckerbucks grants to note that outside money is not technically illegal in Wisconsin’s election operations.

“They claimed that the [2020] grant money was used as part of an overall scheme that used municipalities ‘to facilitate increased in-person and absentee voting in targeted populations through ‘partnerships’ with other non-government entities or individuals,’ in violation of state law,” the judge added. “The Wisconsin Elections Commission disagreed, finding no statutory language that would prohibit municipal clerks from using private grant money or working with outside consultants in the performance of their duties. The [Elections Commission]noted that the legislature’s failed attempt to introduce two bills that would have prohibited any official from ‘apply[ing] for or accept[ing] any donation or grant of private resources . . . for purposes of election administration.’ According to the [Elections Commission, the introduction of these bills ‘demonstrate[d] the absence, in existing law, of any prohibition on the acceptance of private grant money or the use of outside consultants.’”

Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Chad Doran said the party continues to strongly object to the city “coordinating” with third-party groups., and will continue to pursue the case.

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Benjamin Yount is a contributor to The Center Square. 
Photo “Judge Gwendolyn Connolly” by Gwendolyn Connolly for Judge-Branch 44.




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