Will Art Museum Dump Stephen Einhorn?
The wealthy funder of voter fraud billboards creates negative publicity for Milwaukee Art Museum.
Last week was not a good one for the Milwaukee Art Museum. MSNBC commentator Al Sharpton managed to do a broadside that somehow connected the museum to the scary billboards signs warning that “Voter Fraud Is a Felony!” punishable by up to three and a half years in prison and fines of $10,000.
The billboards, we learned last week, were paid for by the Einhorn Family Foundation, run by wealthy businessman Stephen Einhorn. They “were intended to scare minority voters,” Sharpton charged and then promised, “we’re going to help make them (the Einhorns) famous, so you will get to know them, too.” He then disclosed that Stephen Einhorn was a board member of the Milwaukee Art Museum and former board member of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
In reaction, I’m told, there was consternation at the art museum, where staff worried it would hurt the museum’s reputation. There was also talk that the board of trustees should ask Einhorn to resign, to prevent any embarrassment for the museum.
Stephen and his wife Nancy Einhorn are longtime arts lovers and philanthropists. The family has been based in Milwaukee since 1976, the New York Times reported, when Stephen Einhorn, 69, left New Jersey with his wife and two young sons and started an investment banking business, Einhorn Associates, from a bedroom office in their Fox Point home. The company is now located on N. Mayfair Road.
Stephen Einhorn’s particular specialty was advising specialty chemical companies. He wrote a book, called “If You Try To Please Everybody You Will Lose Your Ass,” which uses humor to share the lessons he has learned in business. One former art museum insider told me Einhorn gave copies of the book to all trustees when he joined the board.
The Einhorn Family Foundation gives much of its donations to arts group, including at least a dozen arts and cultural groups in Milwaukee, its website shows. Nancy Einhorn is a member of the Milwaukee Ballet Board of Directors. A Times story noted that Stephen Einhorn spent six years on the board of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, and donated money to overhaul its Web site so customers could pick the seats they want. “They make sure their dollars are being used well,” Annie Jansen Jurczyk, the theater’s development director, told the Times. “It puts them in a different category of donor, and they do it without any fanfare.”
The Einhorns also donate a lot of money to conservative politicians and causes. Stephen has given $25,000 to Freedomworks for America, a conservative Political Action Committee that’s endorsed candidates such as Indiana Senatorial hopeful Richard Mourduck. The Einhorns gave $5,000 to Mitt Romney and nearly $50,000 to Scott Walker since 2005, and have donated to the conservative Heritage Foundation. Nancy Einhorn gave over $30,000 to the Republican National Committee, $2,500 to Paul Ryan, and various contributions to Republican legislative candidates in Wisconsin.
The Einhorns, through a Chicago public relations firm, said they had paid for the billboards out of a sense of public duty. “By reminding people of the possible consequences of illegal voting, we hope to help the upcoming election be decided by legally registered voters,” the couple said.
Voter fraud is quite rare and has been committed by Republicans and Democrats, in cities, suburbs and rural areas. But the Einhorns targeted only three metro areas in the key swing states of Ohio and Wisconsin: Milwaukee, Cleveland and Columbus. As I noted in an earlier column, representatives of minority groups charged the billboards were concentrated in minority neighborhoods. The voting age populations in the neighborhoods in Cleveland and Columbus where the signs were placed are 96 percent black and 76 percent Latino, the Huffington Post reported. In Milwaukee, Channel 58 reported, nearly half of the billboards were in low-income and minority neighborhoods, though a graphic of where they were located done by WTMJ radio makes them look heavily concentrated in the city.
The Daily Kos argues that the distribution of some billboards in suburban areas “could be just for appearances sake since the Einhorn Family Foundation is a charitable foundation which is prohibited from engaging in political activities per IRS rules.” Targeting billboards only to Democratic areas might make this look like a political effort.
Then there’s the fact that the Einhorns didn’t want it publicly known they were engaged in what they called a public service. They also paid for billboards in 2010, once again anonymously, and were helped by the Bradley Foundation, whose leader Michael Grebe has admitted, gave the Einhorns $10,000 for what the foundation lists as a “public education effort.” Why didn’t the Bradley Foundation pay for the billboards themselves? No one involved in this education effort seems very proud of it.
In short, it has all the appearances of a stealth campaign to suppress the vote. But whatever one might think of these billboards, I think it would be a huge error for the art museum to even consider dumping Einhorn from the board because of this. It is contrary to the very idea of an art museum, which should be a place for all the people, and is only strengthened by a clash of viewpoints and ideas. The museum’s mission was well articulated by Sharfberg: “Through exhibitions and related programs, it is committed to bring people together to inform, educate and engage in conversation around art.”
If our cultural institutions become infected by the fervid red/blue divisions of partisan America, we will be on a path of political separatism that will exacerbate the growing lack of civility in this country. It would also deal a blow to this community, which needs all the philanthropy it can get. The reality is that we wouldn’t have an art museum or symphony orchestra or repertory theater in Milwaukee without the philanthropy of wealthy donors, most of whom are probably Republicans. More broadly, non-profits from the Hunger Task Force to the Milwaukee Public Museum to the Urban Ecology Center are places where board members of all political stripes can work together to make this a better community.
-The Einhorns’ son David Einhorn is a hedge fund manager who was interested in buying the Milwaukee Brewers but was beaten to the punch by Mark Attanasio. In May David Einhorn was unsuccessful in his attempt to become a minority (one-third) owner of the New York Mets. (Note: an earlier version of this story wrongly state that Einhorn had become a minority owner.)
-In light of complaints by some business leaders that President Barack Obama has been bad for business, it’s interesting to see this analysis of presidents since 1900 on that score: Obama ranks first among all presidents in annual (real) growth of corporate profits, with an 78 percent average, and fourth (but first among Democratic presidents) in average annual stock market growth, with an annual average of 15 percent.
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