Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Will Art Museum Dump Stephen Einhorn?

The wealthy funder of voter fraud billboards creates negative publicity for Milwaukee Art Museum.

By - Nov 6th, 2012 11:56 am

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.

I contacted the museum’s executive director Dan Keegan, its board chair Raymond Krueger and its board president Ken Krei, asking whether there was any plan to ask Einhorn to resign. I never received a confirmation or denial. I did hear back from Vicki Sharfberg, the museum’s senior director of marketing and communications, who offered this statement: “The Museum is not a political organization and Mr. Einhorn’s statements, views, and actions, do not represent the views of the Board of Trustees of the Milwaukee Art 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.

Short Takes

-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.

-Was Tommy Thompson a key figure in the rise of the controversial conservative group, the American Legislative Exchange Council? Our story from yesterday offers an interesting analysis of that question and also references a good story by the Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice looking at the issue. Bice’s story was certainly newsworthy, but never made it into the paper’s print edition. Why?

Categories: Murphy's Law

12 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Will Art Museum Dump Stephen Einhorn?

  1. Michael Davidson says:

    It’s not the clash of viewpoints that is the issue, the issue is the lack of integrity in expressing a point of view. Both Democrats and Republicans are welcome and needed to support the arts. Those of either point of view severely lacking integrity do not make for good partners or good citizens. If- as the defense of the tactic claims- this was “just” a public education service, why the secrecy? Why the placement? Why not come out and explain rather than hide from being “found out”? Why act guilty if you aren’t doing anything wrong?

    No surprise of MAM’s lackluster and uninspiring (non)response, there’s an excellent track record of duck and cover that by all appearances seems dangerously institutionalized there. See Keegan’s statements on the China/Ai Wei Wei controversy. Museum management behavior can hardly be labeled as inspiring leadership.

  2. getch says:

    your “Short Takes Section” on corporate profits, seems to be missing a important note, quoted directly from the article you reference. “Corporate profits were incredibly depressed from the financial crisis in January 2009, when President Obama entered office. That low starting point makes growth through today look massive. If, instead of January 2009, you use January 2008 profit levels as a starting base, average annual corporate profit growth under President Obama is 6.8%.” Those tricky outliers!

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Getch: That’s why I referenced the story. You’re free to evaluate Obama from January 08, a year before he took office, but you would then be ranking all presidents uniformly except Obama. That doesn’t make sense to me.

  4. Doug says:

    Why is this embarrassing? Voter fraud is a felony. These signs were posted all over, not just in minority areas.

    Why dont they seem to mind all those billboards that basically claim they are terrible parents. Healthy babies and co-sleeping awareness. Don’t see many of those out in Oconomowoc.

  5. Joyce says:

    Why don’t they seem to mind all those billboards that basically claim they are terrible parents. Healthy babies and co-sleeping awareness. Don’t see many of those out in Oconomowoc.

    Actually those billboards *are* kind of a problem. One of the central tenets of the field of public health is that the effects of individual actions are often swamped by the effects of underlying structural problems. Another important principle is that health practices have different meanings in different cultures and so communication has to be two-way else nothing happens. So the focus on “educating” that we’ve seen on those billboards is probably not a good place to be. There are hopeful signs that the new Dean of the School of Public Health will be able to bring a more well-rounded approach to public health in Milwaukee. We’ll see.

  6. Mary Tooley says:

    Posters and anti-bullying campaigns are part of every school I work in. How sad that if you are rich, you can bully via your voter suppression billboards and still be considered assets to the community. At least we can say that the Einhorns are educational….they are educating the masses on the art of bullying.

  7. bruf says:

    This article provides the ultimate critique of Bush 41’s “Ten Thousand Points of Light”. In our society, some issues which should be the province of government are too often assigned to charities. The mixing of the charitable and the political in the case of the Einhorn Foundation can be toxic. Voter suppression is fundamentally antithetical to democratic society, while encouragement of the arts is vital. This also applies to the Bradley Foundation and, indeed, to the Walton Foundation of Bentonville, Arkansas. Both can be quite charitable to the arts, but they should not be able to attack public education while retaining their tax-exempt status.

  8. blurondo says:

    Perhaps the board of MAM and other similar boards will learn from this. Maybe they’ll need to adopt some written guidelines for their board members/officers rather than just taking the cash and assigning a seat in the board room.

  9. Tom Bosworth says:

    >> I think it would be a huge error for the art museum to even consider dumping Einhorn from the board<<

    Dumping Einhorn would be rewarding the bullying tactics of the Al Sharpton's of the country.

    Democrats are doing a great deal to make expressing different opinions too costly for anyone else, and that is extremely dangerous to our country. When the owner of Chik-fil-A expressed his opinion that he believed in a Christian definition of marriage, the Democratic Mayor and an alderman of Chicago said that Chik-fil-A would be denied permits to subdivide a piece of property they needed for the first store in Chicago, and denied business permits. The Democratic Mayor of Boston expressed the same intent. The Democratic Mayor of San Francisco was quoted as saying that there wasn't a Chik-fil-A within 40 miles, and "they'd better not try coming any closer". The Democratic head of the NYC Borough council wrote a letter to the head of NYU, landlord of the only Chik-fil-A in Manhattan, urging NYU to terminate the lease.

    This is what fascism looks like in modern America: when someone expresses an unpopular belief, the Democratic Party tries to put them out of business. The Democratic Party was once one of the great parties of our country, fighting for people's rights. That is no longer the case. Today they hold the 1st Amendment in utter contempt. The party has been taken over by plain old fashioned Italian style fascists who use government to punish their opponents.

    If we let them continue to getaway with it, someday they will turn their power against the rest of us.

  10. Bruce Murphy says:

    To Tom Bosworth: If you watch Sharpton’s commentary, I don’t think you could call it bullying. It is certainly opinionated. And whatever decision the art museum makes would be decided by a board that I suspect is dominated by Republicans.

  11. I would hate to see the museum forced into the middle of political squabbles.

    The real issue here, I think, is the use of tax deductible money to support the election of a candidate.

  12. bill hibbard says:

    Who conducted the urveys showing Obama No. 1 in caverage orporate profit growth and No. 4 in average stcok market growth? I have some conservative Republican friends to whom I’d like to recite chapter and verse. Thanx.

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