Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Radio Ad Blasts John Chisholm

Secretive group blames DA for carjackings, lauds his opponent Verona Swanigan.

By - Jul 20th, 2016 02:15 pm
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John Chisholm. Photo by Grace Fuhr.

John Chisholm. Photo by Grace Fuhr.

A new radio ad running on WISN essentially blames Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm for letting carjackings happen “all the time” in Milwaukee and praises his opponent Verona Swanigan.

“Our current district attorney could care less about keeping thugs off the street,” the ominous voice claims. “He fights political battles rather than going after criminals.”

The ad is by Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance and the voice sounds like that of Republican PR man Craig Peterson, the only person who has ever claimed allegiance to the group. Peterson has told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance isn’t really an organization but more a “conduit” to influence city politics.

Verona Swanigan. Photo from Swanigan campaign website.

Verona Swanigan. Photo from Swanigan campaign website.

Whatever is it, Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance spent as much as $200,000 on ads influencing the April city elections, the story estimated, and the “conduit” is now targeting a county official, Chisholm. It makes a number of mostly misleading claims:

-Chisholm “has never even taken a bar exam.” Like the vast majority of attorneys in Wisconsin, who graduated from either the UW-Madison or Marquette law schools, no bar exam was necessary for Chisholm. The claim is true, but so meaningless it’s pretty funny.

-Swanigan “has never lost a trial.” But how many cases has she actually taken to trial? I had trouble finding any in Circuit Court Access records. Peterson didn’t get back to requests for comment and Swanigan responded that “I am not making any more statements to the media.”

-Swanigan has “worked as a prosecutor.” Her Linked-In profile lists no such experience and Swanigan and Peterson have so far been non-responsive.

-Carjackings happen all the time in Milwaukee. The implication, given this is a county race, is that they happen routinely in the county, which is untrue. In the city there has certainly been an increase in auto thefts, but what about carjackings, where force is used to steal a car? Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn has said carjackings went up in the city in 2015, which led to the creation last December of a new task force targeting the problem. “The whole idea of this was to focus on what was clearly a significant upsurge in carjackings,” Flynn told WISN-TV. “There were 94 carjackings in the six weeks before the formation of this task force Dec. 1.” Flynn said the new effort was working and the city was on pace to cut the number of car jackings in half.

-Chisholm “fights political battles rather than going after criminals.” This is presumably a reference to John Doe investigations Chisholm oversaw. In fact, John Doe I resulted in the conviction of six people. John Doe II was never concluded as the Wisconsin Supreme Court shut the investigation down, a decision that has been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Naturally, Chisholm campaign spokesperson Garren Randolph decried the new ad: “As predicted, Verona Swanigan can’t stand on her own two feet, and now is benefiting from unaccountable and deceitful dark money from outside groups,” he charged. He noted that Chisholm has a “90 percent conviction rate” for homicides and “is actively working with the police through the community prosecution unit to stop crime before it starts. That’s why homicides and nonfatal shootings are down this year. No one has done more for crime victims than John, who helped create the Sojourner Family Peace Center, Wisconsin’s only Witness Protection Unit and the Child Protection Advocacy unit to make sure victims get what they need.”

The “dark money” charge is because the donors to Milwaukeeans for Self Governance have never been disclosed. Nor were the donors to Citizens for Urban Justice, which did ads overseen by Peterson to help reelect Sheriff David Clarke in 2014. This suggests the money was spent by a non-profit which legally isn’t required to disclose donors’ names, so long as the ads don’t use words that urge people for vote for or elect someone. Thus the anti-Chisholm ad, though it’s clearly intended to help elect Swanigan, never expressly says this.

While the ad aims to suggest Chisholm is soft on crime, it’s really part of a complicated plot to punish the DA for investigating the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker and the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth, whose leader Eric O’Keefe launched an aggressive series of suits and legal efforts targeting Chisholm. Peterson has told the media that O’Keefe has helped fund some of the ads he’s run.

Swanigan’s campaign has had problems from the beginning. Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice has had a field day with her candidacy, reporting that she submitted an affidavit to a court that she was “significantly physically and mentally impaired,” and thus unable to function as an attorney, that she filed eviction notices against hundreds of people on behalf of a slum landlord and published a steamy book of erotic poetry marketed with a short video where Swanigan was “seductively dressed in a low-cut red dress.”

Not long after the story about the poetry book, Swanigan withdrew from a scheduled debate against Chisholm at the downtown Kiwanis Club.

To date there has been no debate between the two candidates. The election is less than three weeks away, on August 9.

Swanigan is being championed by conservative talk radio. Talk radio host (WISN & WIBA) Vicki McKenna gave a speech for Swanigan, where she urged Republican voters to cross over into the Democratic primary to vote for Swanigan. If Swanigan is no longer talking to the media, she may need all the help she can get from talk radio.

7 thoughts on “Back in the News: Radio Ad Blasts John Chisholm”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    I’ve seen a bunch of Verona Swanigan yard signs in River Hills and Glendale recently. Would love to ask why these folks support her so strongly.

  2. Milwuakee Native says:

    Vincent, from what Bruce reported here it sounds as if those ads are aimed at suburban voters, as is consistent bashing of Chisholm by talk radio hosts. So their efforts are having some effect.

    As for the call to Republicans to switch parties to vote for Swanigan, does anyone know which races have GOP primaries that would restrict voting options in those races?

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Yeah that sounds about right. I only noticed the signs this week but they are all over the place in the North Shore burbs. There are no carjacking problems whatsoever here. It’s sad that people go for this shameful fearmongering. It matters not that the DA’s opponent is a total joke?

  4. Ryan N says:

    @Milwuakee Native the south burbs have Paul Ryan vs tea party/far right dude who’s making a push so that will help. I’d cross over and vote Chrisholm if there wasn’t tjay race.

  5. Bruce Thompson says:

    Neither Peterson nor the dark money folks will admit it, but this campaign is all about punishing Chisholm for the John Doe investigation. There was a similar campaign against Iowa county DA Larry Nelson, one of the three DAs appealing the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision shutting down the investigation, when he ran for judge.

  6. Thomas says:

    Good reporting, Bruce. Calculated misinformation from talk radio and tons of dark money helped Clarke win a narrow victory recently to keep his job as sheriff. That same combination could result in the ouster of a scholarly and respectable District Attorney in favor of a clown who would owe allegiance to self interested individuals who have no regard for our community.

  7. J says:

    I wonder if Governor Walker’s lower approval rating will affect the outcome?

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