The Curious Case of Stephen Einhorn
The man who “feared” for his family’s privacy is a political activist and capital insider grabbing government funding for his company.
Isn’t it interesting how stories can change when we reconsider them in the light of current events? Take the case of the once-mysterious Stephen Einhorn.
Back in October, radio host Charlie Sykes was in his best, violin-story mode, offering the moving story of a courageous couple who “thought they were being good citizens” when they paid for those scary voter fraud billboards just before the election. They were not going to back down, they told Sykes, when Clear Channel Communications told the couple they must reveal their identity. (The company claimed it had a policy against anonymous ads.) But they changed their minds, Sykes explained, when the couple’s children “expressed strong objections, fearing not only for their parents safety, but also for the safety of their grandchildren, who… might be put at risk by the forced disclosure of the family’s name.”
We were left to picture some quiet, retiring couple who treasured their privacy, but it soon came out that the billboard ad buyers were Stephen and Nancy Einhorn, a wealthy couple who have served on the boards of numerous arts groups, and donated to a long list of Republican candidates. Stephen attended a tea party rally and wrote a letter to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel castigating the call for higher taxes on wealthy folks like him.
The Einhorns, it turns out, donated $25,000 to Gov. Scott Walker, just a month before Einhorn’s firm won a contract to manage $1 million of taxpayer money, potentially triggering federal “pay-to-play” conflict of interest rules, as the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported. Einhorn’s Capital Midwest company was among just three companies that won awards late last year from the federally-funded Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority.
Einhorn, however, was looking for more government money and was lobbying legislators to create a state-financed $200 million venture capital fund. Einhorn hired a top Capitol lobbyist, Eric Petersen, who worked on the issue from August 2011 to June 2012, the JS reported. State Sen. Tim Cullen (D-Janesville) told the paper Einhorn sought a private meeting with him, but he asked Einhorn to testify at a public hearing instead. “He’s around all the time on this issue while he claims he’s not interesting in participating in the (future) program,” Cullen said.
Einhorn sounds very much like a Capitol and GOP insider who appears to have a close relationship with Republican guru Michael Grebe, whose conservative Bradley Foundation gave the Einhorn Family Foundation $10,000 which was used to pay for some voter fraud billboard ads in the 2010 election.
And, of course, Sykes is closely connected to the Bradley Foundation. His wife, Janet Riordan, works there as director of community programs. And Sykes has long been funded by the Bradley-bankrolled Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, for which he creates the conservative publication, Wisconsin Interest.
Sources have suggested that Sykes is a personal friend of the Einhorns. Even if not true (and Sykes wouldn’t address this question), it’s difficult to imagine a GOP insider like Sykes did not know the Einhorns were Republican party stalwarts with Capitol clout who received money from the Bradley Foundation and were also local arts activists. Doesn’t that cast Sykes’ “woe-is-me” tale of the privacy-seeking couple in a rather different light?
I sent Sykes an email with questions about this and he declined to answer. “Why don’t you make it up like you always do,” he replied.
Walker and Same-Day Registration
Governor Walker has now said he won’t sign a bill ending same-day registration in elections. I think we’re entitled to doubt this.
As my recent column on this noted, Walker and the Republicans have repeatedly downplayed the idea that this legislation was a priority, essentially telling the media not to pay any attention to the bill. This sounds like more of the same.
Walker now says he wouldn’t sign a bill if it cost $5.2 million to implement, but hasn’t ruled out signing a bill that cost less. Nor has he said he would veto a bill if it was passed by Republican legislators. And the bill’s co-author, Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc), says he still favors it and his staff “are doing research on the components” of the law.
Republicans have already made comments suggesting they see this bill as a way to prevent voter fraud they claim occurs (while providing little proof of this). Originally, they passed a photo ID bill to prevent all this alleged fraud, but that was struck down by the lower courts and it now appears the state Supreme Court may not rule on this law for some time. Nor is it a slam dunk the court will uphold the law.
So if Republicans can’t get photo ID, they will want to end same-day registration. But that’s a tricky one. While polls show a majority of voters approve of photo ID, it’s unlikely a majority would approve of ending same-day registration. (Maine’s voters upheld it by a 61 percent majority). So Republicans need to deflect the public’s attention from this bill.
Walker, I might add, never told voters in his 2010 campaign that he intended to end collective bargaining rights for public employees. His aides even assured people that he would not touch the benefits of local government workers and only wanted to cut benefits for state workers. All of that was quite misleading.
Now Walker says he no long favors a bill he touted in a speech in California that was intended to burnish his credentials as a presidential candidate. Would Walker, as a 2016 GOP presidential primary candidate, want to face questions from conservatives as to why he backed down on this legislation?
With majority control of the Wisconsin legislature, Republicans can quickly pass a law ending same-day registration, just as they sought to speedily pass Act 10 (which was delayed only by the extraordinary decision of Democratic state senators to flee to Illinois). As long as the bill or “soup” Kleefisch says he’s now cooking on same-day registration includes some ingredient allowing Walker to argue it won’t actually be that costly, you can bet he’ll sign it.