Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Are out-of-state donors going to buy the Assembly for the Democrats?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see the amount of out-of-state money pouring into Wisconsin's Assembly races. But what may surprise you is the source, and how Wisconsin is probably not alone in the 2008 election.

The March 2007 Atlantic Monthly told the story of Tim Gill, founder of Quark Inc., who teamed up with other wealthy homosexuals in his state of Colorado to take the legislature there after Colorado passed a law preventing special status be given to homosexuals in the law. After achieving success in Colorado, Gill's "universe of donors" expanded their giving to other states.

In 2000, he gave $300,000 in political donations, which grew to $800,000 in 2002, $5 million in 2004, and a staggering $15 million last year, almost all of it to state and local campaigns. Gill, who considers himself a “pathological introvert,” normally shuns media attention, but he agreed to meet with me in his Denver office last November, on the eve of the election, to explain what he is trying to accomplish.

“My goal is to see that all Americans are treated equally regardless of sexuality,” he told me when we met.
Gill works with Ted Trimpa, whom The Atlantic called Colorado's answer to Karl Rove.
Together, Gill and Trimpa decided to eschew national races in favor of state and local ones, which could be influenced in large batches and for much less money. Most antigay measures, they discovered, originate in state legislatures. Operating at that level gave them a chance to “punish the wicked,” as Gill puts it—to snuff out rising politicians who were building their careers on antigay policies, before they could achieve national influence. Their chief cautionary example of such a villain is Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, who once compared homosexuality to “man on dog” sex (and was finally defeated last year, at a cost of more than $20 million). Santorum got his start working in the state legislature. As Gill and Trimpa looked at their evolving plan, it seemed realistic. “The strategic piece of the puzzle we’d been missing—consistent across almost every legislature we examined—is that it’s often just a handful of people, two or three, who introduce the most outrageous legislation and force the rest of their colleagues to vote on it,” Gill explained. “If you could reach these few people or neutralize them by flipping the chamber to leaders who would block bad legislation, you’d have a dramatic effect.”

Gill’s idea was to identify vulnerable candidates like Danny Carroll and move quickly to eliminate them without the burden of first having to win the consent of some risk-averse large organization or board of directors. Another element of this strategy is stealth. Revealing targets only after an election makes it impossible for them to fight back and sends a message to other politicians that attacking gays could put them in the crosshairs.
We may be seeing that effort in Wisconsin in 2008. In the 80th Assembly District, Democrat Kris Wisnefske is taking on Republican incumbent Brett Davis. Wisnefske received a substantial portion of his $500 donations (maximum allowed) from out-of-state donors, most identified with gay activism. They include:

Mel Heifetz,$500, PA Real Estate, Gay activist ; http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1589/is_2003_March_4/ai_98172202

·        Paul Albert, $500, previous donor to Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund (http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/committees/gay-and-lesbian-victory-fund.asp?cycle )

·        Bill Lewis, $500, previous donor to Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.  ("")

·        Richard Underwood, $500, previous donor to Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund ("")

·        Adam Rose, $500, ("")

·        Roberta Conroy, $500, "" http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/roberta-conroy.asp?cycle   

·        William Resnick, $500, Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/william-resnick.asp?cycle  

·        Weston Milliken, $500, Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/weston-milliken.asp?cycle  

·        Jared Polis, $500, openly gay candidate for congress in Colorado, IT-background, founder of Blue Mountain e-cards, as well as other companies.  http://www.denverpost.com/ci_7739308

·        Esmond Harmsworth, $500, previous donor to Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund; http://www.campaignmoney.com/political/contributions/esmond-harmsworth.asp?cycle

Using those names and others, other assembly races were revealed as targeted races: 96, 94, 68, and 57.

The 96th, 94th and 68th are all in Western Wisconsin. The 57th is in Appleton, an open seat. The 80th district is in south central Wisconsin. All five races are away from the Milwaukee media market, away from talk radio and most of the state's conservative bloggers.

Penny Bernard Schaber is the Democrat in the 57th district, waiting to see who wins the three-way Republican primary.  Esmond Harmsworth not only gave $500 to her campaign, but also $500 to each of the other target races.
5/11/2008 Harmsworth, Esmond Boston  MA $500.00 Klemme, Dale
5/1/2008 Harmsworth, Esmond Boston  MA $500.00 Hancock, Cheryl
5/6/2008 Harmsworth, Esmond Boston  MA $500.00 Kristin Wisnefske
5/5/2008 Harmsworth, Esmond Boston  MA $500.00 Kristen Dexter
5/9/2008 Harmsworth, Esmond Boston  MA $500.00 Penny Bernard Schraber

The donors tend to stick out when all of the campaign finance reports for the state assembly are compared, provided someone is looking for the pattern. Here's the complete list of large donors that occur to more than one of the five candidates, including local contributor Leonard Sobczak.

In addition to Schraber in the 57th and Wisnefske in the 80th, Dale Klemme is taking on Lee Nerison in the 96th, Cheryl Hancock is taking on Speaker Mike Huebsch in the 94th, and Kristen Dexter is taking on Terry Mouton in the 68th.

The questions remain: why were those seats targeted, was anyone in Wisconsin working to coordinate the effort, and what actions were promised to the donors for when the Democrats get the majority in the assembly?