Koch-Funded Group Backs Anti-Streetcar Drive
Americans for Prosperity has provided paid staff for petition drive, its state director says.
For weeks, organizers of the petition drive calling for a referendum on the streetcar have emphasized the grass-roots nature of the effort. After all, as Chris Kliesmet of the CRG Network, which is organizing the petition drive, put it: “the sentiment in the city is wildly against” the streetcar.
Kliesmet laughed off the idea that the effort was getting any funding from conservative groups outside the city. They’ve received “no funding” nor was any on the horizon, he assured me. Republican PR operative Craig Peterson, also involved in the petition drive, said he had paid personally for anti-streetcar radio ads and not one dollar of support (“No. None at all”) was coming to the group from elsewhere.
When I pressed for more detail, Fladeboe said, “Our field teams are working with several coalition partners to gather the required signatures to have a referendum in Milwaukee. We have both paid staff and volunteers working on this project.”
How many paid staff, how much money is being spent? I asked. Fladeboe did not respond.
When I confronted Kliesmet about this, he conceded that he did contact Fladenoe asking him to contact AFP members in Milwaukee. And come to think of it, Kliesmet had met a staffer of AFP and “I’m pretty sure the guy is paid staff.” And yes, a petition organizer was spending money on sponsored Facebook posts, but this would not be paid for by AFP, Kliesmet assured me. “CRG is paying for it,” he said.
The AFP was also involved in a past anti-streetcar effort by Ald. Bob Donovan. Back in August 2012 he announced a drive to get the signatures of streetcar opponents, even including those who lived in the suburbs. Luke Hilgemann, who now serves as Executive CEO of the AFP nationally, attended the press conference to promote an anti-streetcar online petition. The effort ultimately went nowhere.
Koch Industries is heavily involved in oil and gas production, and the billionaire Koch Brothers have generously funded the Americans for Prosperity (with $122 million annual budget, according its most recent federal tax form) and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation ($25 million annual budget). The Wisconsin chapter, it appears, is part of national group and not separately incorporated.
An anti-transit campaign in Nashville was funded by the Koch Brothers and the advocacy group they fund, the Americans for Prosperity. The AFP also fought mass transit in Indiana and opposed the streetcar in San Antonio, as I’ve previously reported.
“Almost no issue appears to be too small for the Kochs’ activists,” a story in the Huffington Post noted. “Americans for Prosperity jumped into an Iron County board of supervisors election in northern Wisconsin to attack candidates opposed to an iron ore mine. The group also flexed its organizing muscle over a 1.75 percent food and beverage tax in Fremont, Nebraska, to fund emergency capital improvement projects and a 1 percent tax increase in Gahanna, Ohio, to prevent cuts to the local police force.”
The Wisconsin branch of the AFP shows up as a lobbyist in records compiled by the Government Accountability Board. Fladeboe has already registered as a lobbyist on the proposed right-to-work bill. And for the prior biennial budget, 2013-2014, the AFP spent just over $100,000 on five lobbyists, including Fladeboe, Hilgemann, Robert Seitz, Thomas Fonfara and Sean Lansing. Much of the lobbying was on the mining bill, but overall the group lobbied on 20 different legislative bills with a wide of range of subjects.
In short, the group is very involved in Wisconsin politics.
Back when Kliesmet was touting the grassroots purity of the drive, he said his group’s goal was to get the targeted 35,000 signatures and present them to the Common Council at their meeting on January 21st. Now he concedes that won’t happen. The new goal to complete all signatures is February 8, he says.
The group, however, wanted to get its request for a referendum before voters in the spring election on April 7. Under the law, this would mean the petitions must be completed by 70 days before the election — and that’s around February 1. That seems to rule out the possibility of the measure being voted on in April and would push this to the next election, in February 2016. That would come a year after the Common Council’s vote on the streetcar project, and probably many months after the project broke ground. The issue would be moot by then.
The curious question is why Donovan and Ald. Joe Davis waited so long to launch a petition drive requiring a referendum to approve any rail transit project of $20 million or more and to enlist the help of CRG network, given that the council voted in favor of the streetcar project way back in July 2011. In the case of Davis, the answer is obvious: back then he still supported rail transit, as he had for many years. He made the flip-flop in his position around the time he announced an interest in running for mayor.
In the case of Donovan, he faced a tough 2012 reelection in a district with an increasing population of Latinos, and was considered anything but a shoo-in for reelection. He might have feared making the streetcar a lightning rod issue that would rile up opposition to him. As soon as he was re-elected, he was all over the issue, but only recently has he hit on the idea (if it was his idea) of going directly to voters to demand a referendum on all rail transit
Whatever the reason for his delays, he made this petition drive, from a timing standpoint, almost impossible to accomplish.
Urban Milwaukee Streetcar Coverage
- Streetcar Backers Say They Have the Votes – Jeramey Jannene – January 20th, 2015
- Who is Funding the Anti-Streetcar Effort? – Bruce Murphy – January 20th, 2015
- Will Anti-Streetcar Referendum Succeed? – Bruce Murphy – January 9th, 2015
- The Story Behind the Streetcar Referendum – Michael Horne and Bruce Murphy – January 8th, 2015
- Council Delays Streetcar Until January – Jeramey Jannene – December 16th, 2014
- Committee Takes No Action on Streetcar – Jeramey Jannene – December 10th, 2014
- Committee Approves Milwaukee Streetcar – Jeramey Jannene – December 9th, 2014
- RACM Approves Tax Funding for Streetcar – Michael Horne – December 8th, 2014
- How to Sell the Streetcar – Michael Horne – November 28th, 2014
- Next Stops for the Streetcar – Michael Horne – November 24th, 2014
- Barrett Moving Forward with Streetcar – Jeramey Jannene – November 18th, 2014
- Who Will Be Streetcar Operator – Michael Horne – May 8th, 2014
- A Streetcar Named Cooperation? – Dave Reid – April 27th, 2014
- How a Streetcar Spurs Development – Angie Schmitt – November 3rd, 2013
- Streetcar Social – Michael Horne – September 12th, 2013
- Mayor Says Streetcar is a “Trojan Horse” – Michael Horne – April 17th, 2013
- Whoops, We Changed Our Mind – Dave Reid – September 27th, 2012
- Battle of the Bobs: Donovan vs Bauman Streetcar Press Conference – Jeramey Jannene – May 18th, 2012
- Important Hoan Bridge and Milwaukee Streetcar Meetings This Week – Dave Reid – November 14th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Passes Common Council – Jeramey Jannene – July 26th, 2011
- Keep the Milwaukee Streetcar Moving Forward – Jeramey Jannene – July 8th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar at Apex – Jeramey Jannene – June 16th, 2011
- Milwaukee Streetcar Takes Key Step Forward – Jeramey Jannene – May 6th, 2010
- Milwaukee Streetcar Meeting This Thursday – Jeramey Jannene – October 5th, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Routes Unveiled by Mayor Barrett – Jeramey Jannene – September 21st, 2009
- Milwaukee Streetcar Round-Up – Jeramey Jannene – April 19th, 2009
- Vote for your Favorite Milwaukee Streetcar Route – Jeramey Jannene – March 25th, 2009
- Design Your Own Streetcar Route – Jeramey Jannene – March 23rd, 2009
- Streetcars Coming to Milwaukee – Dave Reid – March 14th, 2009