Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Wrath of Eric O’Keefe

He’s under investigation in John Doe II but turning the tables on the District Attorney and making him sweat.

By - Feb 13th, 2014 01:17 pm
Eric O'Keefe. Photo from

Eric O’Keefe. Photo from

In 1999, Eric O’Keefe was investigated by the office of Wisconsin Attorney General Jim Doyle, at the behest of the state elections board, for allegedly violating campaign finance laws. At the time O’Keefe was president of a independent third party group called Americans for Term Limits, which ran ads attacking then state assemblyman David Travis for opposing term limits.  “So call Travis today,” the ad declared. “Tell him to change his mind.”

Of course, the ad didn’t provide viewers with Travis’ phone number and it ran during the time Travis was running for reelection. It looked, as do many of these so-called “issue ad,” like a thinly disguised campaign ad, which in theory would be illegal. But all kinds of third party ads use a similar technique.

O’Keefe seemed quite unintimidated by the investigation and purposely didn’t wear a tie as a small protest against it. As he told the National Journal. “We’re not going to be shut up. That doesn’t mean we’re going to break their laws, and we haven’t. But that’s our attitude.” Ultimately, nothing came of the investigation.

O’Keefe is now under investigation in John Doe II, the secret probe instigated by the office of Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm. The investigation is assumed to be looking at potential coordination between the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker and third party groups like Wisconsin Club for Growth, run by O’Keefe, We know this because O’Keefe leaked information to the Wall Street Journal, which published a story about the investigation, calling it a “raid” on “free speech.”

Under the law, subjects of a John Doe probe are not supposed to divulge details of the investigation. So O’Keefe would appear to be violating this requirement. But he has done much more than this.

Subjects of John Doe probes normally avoid any criticism of the prosecutors, for fear this will just push them to show no mercy. But Keefe has blasted the investigation as politically motivated, charging the investigation is “intended to stop their (conservatives’) political successes in Wisconsin. The state cannot be allowed to silence political speech it does not like.”

O’Keefe has also hired a high-powered DC lawyer to sue Chisholm in federal court, arguing the Doe probe should be shut down because it violates the rights to free speech, free assembly and equal protection under the law of O’Keefe and other leaders of these conservative third party groups. He is also demanding civil damages.

O’Keefe’s Club for Growth are among a number of these conservative groups that also appear ready to fund a recall effort against Chisholm, as I’ve reported.

O’Keefe’s campaign against Chisholm is being aided and abetted by the conservative funded Wisconsin Reporter, which has run no less than 25 stories criticizing the John Doe probe, often filled with off-the-record comments slamming the prosecutors. The non-profit newspaper’s funding comes from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which in turn has gotten much of its funding from the Sam Adams Alliance, a group founded and run by O’Keefe

As one unnamed source in a Wisconsin Reporter story warned, O’Keefe is not about to lay down and take it. Noting the role of Chisholm’s key assistant DA Bruce Landgraf, the source said “he’s in for a very unpleasant time. He’s got a tiger by the tail, and he’s not up to it.”

So who exactly is this tiger stalking John Chisholm and company?

O’Keefe, 59, lives in Spring Green. His own website tells much of his story.

“Eric was born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, in the 1950s. He was politically interested from an early age,” his website tells us. As a teenager he was inspired by his membership in the Conservative Book Club, the Washington Post has reported.

He began to follow political developments through magazines and the Wall Street Journal and was later very influenced by a 1976 speech given by economist Milton Friedman.

Many young men develop fervent political beliefs but this one had a key advantage. “O’Keefe had money,” the Post story notes. “He grew up with some and made a lot more as an investor, allowing him to devote decades to a series of ambitious political crusades.”

In 1979, Eric was elected to the Libertarian National Committee, where Ed Crane was a key leader. Crane recruited David Koch as the vice-presidential candidate for the 1980 campaign.

In 1980, Eric worked full-time in the Libertarian presidential campaign, as a volunteer finishing the petition drives in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia, then as National Field Coordinator from the Washington, D.C. In 1980, Eric was elected National Director of the Libertarian Party.

Blogger and former journalist Hart Williams offers a jaded account of this, writing that Libertarian activist Howard Rich “and a rogue’s gallery of wealthy pals got buddy Eric O’Keefe ensconced as national director of the Libertarian Party until O’Keefe’s really ugly ouster at the national convention in 1981 or so, and they were set to get another of their cohorts elected party president until that plot unraveled on the convention floor in 1983.”

Whatever the reason, O’Keefe left the Libertarian Party in 1983. By then he had brfriended the Koch brothers, “with whom he has joined in many battles, mainly through independent groups that the courts have empowered to raise unlimited money, often without having to identify their donors,” the Post reports.

O’Keefe joined the board of the Cato Institute, where Crane was president, and went to to join or run a long list of often interconnected political organizations, most of which are listed in the Wikipedia entry on O’Keefe and many of which are connected to the Koch brothers, bringing to mind the phrase used by liberals, “Kochtupus.”

O’Keefe and Crane founded U.S. Term Limits, which pushed 23 states to put congressional term limit initiatives in front of voters. O’Keefe’s website says he helped raise and spend about $1.4 million on ads critical of various Democratic incumbents, including $300,000 attacking House Speaker Tom Foley of Spokane, Washington for suing to overturn the term limits law voters in his state had approved in 1992. “Foley lost by less than two percentage points, becoming the first Speaker to lose reelection since the Civil War.”

O’Keefe takes credit for inspiring other groups to join the fun, noting that “1996 saw a wave of issue ads from groups of all kinds, invigorating political discourse in America.”

In 1999 O’Keefe authored a book Who Rules America, arguing against the power of entrenched incumbent politicians. In response to the McCain-Feingold law’s campaign finance restrictions, he helped create the Center for Competitive Politics, which opposed these limits and “filed influential briefs,” his website says, in Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that opened the door to unlimited campaign spending by corporations and unions.

O’Keefe created the Sam Adams Alliance, which was a key support group for the Tea Party, and helped train citizen activists and bloggers.  He launched the Health Care Compact Alliance to push for an alternative plan to Obamacare.

In Wisconsin, “We’ve stepped in pretty big in support of Governor Walker’s reforms,”  O’Keefe told the Post. His Club for Growth spent $1 million on TV ads urging  support of Walker’s effort to make state workers “pay their fair share.”

As for concerns about the impact of wealthy people spending unlimited dollars anonymously to influence elections, O’Keefe told the Post “That’s inside baseball. There’s no moral issue involved.”

O’Keefe is close to Walker and, according to the Post, spent part of the time with the governor in Manhattan when Walker was raising campaign cash for the 2012 election. Meanwhile, longtime Republican operative R.J. Johnson has worked for the Wisconsin Club for Growth while also serving as an advisor to Walker’s campaign. These connections have raised suspicions that there has been coordination between the campaign and the third party group, which would be illegal.

Critics also question how money for issue ads is raised and distributed by O’Keefe. As the Center for Media and Democracy has written, “O’Keefe’s Wisconsin Club for Growth  took in $12 million, some of it from dark money conduits like the Koch-connected  Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR) and the  Wellspring Committee, and in turn shuffled millions to other organizations that spent money on ads during Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race and recall elections. (CPPR, which is connected to the billionaire Koch brothers, was  recently fined $1 million by California’s elections board for its role in what the  Washington Post called “a series of money swaps and transfers through a network of politically active nonprofit groups” to avoid donor disclosure. California prosecutors called it ‘campaign money laundering’).”

But O’Keefe has decades of experiencing working with these stealthy third party groups, and emphatically rejects the notion that anything questionable is going on. His Club for Growth’s “activities were conducted by meticulous operatives with many years of experience, with the review of the Club’s approach by skilled counsel familiar with the state of the law,” his website declares, “and with Eric’s oversight and overall responsibility for the operation.”

And now O’Keefe is devoting meticulous attention to a new cause, putting the heat on John Chisholm.

Short Take

-At his website, O’Keefe only claims credit for getting incumbent Democrats thrown out of office, but Wikipedia says his efforts to push term limits against incumbent politicians also resulted in the defeat of some Republicans.

-O’Keefe admitted to the Washington Post that decades of anti-government rhetoric by conservatives has helped sour Americans on the political process. “I spent a significant amount of time in the ’90s encouraging that (anti-government) view, and it did produce a deep cynicism that is an existential threat to democracy,” he confessed. “I’ve come to realize that the most important challenge in our country is disengagement with government.”



Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

28 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Wrath of Eric O’Keefe”

  1. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Actually O”Keefe gets his money from gray sources like Soros who plays both sides of fence to make money.
    He is challenging Landgraf and Chisiolm who are rank partisans as McCann was. They never prosecuted a Leftist in 50 years that I knew them despite all kinds of evidence.
    The Unions and the left have been in cahoots for decades holding inter campaign spots, running campaigns, getting money, doing doors. Despite numerous complaints they portect their own. The are a disgrace to those honest prosecutors that toil away. If you just checked Sandy Pasch in her race you would find everything that they are talking about for john doe.
    If they had added some of those races they might have had some credibility.
    O’Keefe and guys can keep this in court for decades.

  2. Urban Dweller says:

    And so spaketh the Propaganda Ministry, having honed its lying skills under the tutelage of Andrew Breitbart, right-wing dissembler extraordinaire.

    Comparing individual union members knocking on doors on their own time to nation-less billionaires frantically buying up American legislators, elections and media outlets is one hell of a leap in logic. It proves that the Wisconsin Conservstive Digest isn’t even a good mouthpiece for the criminal cartels it serves.

  3. Gene H says:

    I really don’t know much about Eric O’Keefe, but I’m wondering how he ever chose Spring Green, WI to be his “hang-out?” It’s a nice place but I’ve never known it to be a political movement-center. But it has a great golf course nearby.

  4. MkeFan says:

    ProPublica has a multi-part look at CPPR out today (2/14): I’m taken by how hard these groups work to undermine democracy.

  5. Justin says:

    Good job (again) Bruce in outing this very dangerous and well-connected man for the shark that he is. No matter WHERE you are employed, you continue to break the BIG stories that affect Wisconsin.

    However, if I were you Bruce, I would be pretty darn careful about reporting on Eric O’Keefe & his Koch friends. He & the Koch brothers OWN Wisconsin. Eric O’Keefe & David Koch could commit murder and walk away without any law enforcement agency daring to arrest them. In Wisconsin, guys like this are ABOVE the law. Wisconsin is the most CORRUPT state in America since Scott Walker was elected.

    As Mr. O’Keefe is proving on a daily basis, ANYONE who stands in his way or in the way of his Koch mentors, will face complete destruction of their personal lives and careers. Bruce, you’re a good guy, but this guy and his rich backers could destroy your life if you keep telling the truth about them. The rest of us in Wisconsin appreciate what you do, but don’t risk your career to do it.

  6. Chris Byhre says:

    Good job Justin and Urban on proving just how far out there the radical left is. I also would not worry about Bruce’s “career”. He is writing for Urban Milwaukee, a lefty web site with minimal impact that is not really on the radar screen for most people seeking news and or the truth. People like O’Keefe have a lot more important things to do then to worry about someone like Bruce or any other crusty old radicals. I used to come here for actual news on Milwaukee, thinking this might be a place for it based on the name. Now, I check in to see just how far around the bend you Liberals have gone. O’Keefe is the victim of a witchhunt and he is not going to take it lying down.

  7. It just seems a little peculiar that if Bruce is writing for website with such minimal impact that commenters continually show up to spout the right’s obfuscations and try to discredit him….thanks for unintentionally proving his worth!

  8. michael says:

    Actually, most of the commentators to urbanmilwaukee, conservative or liberal, offer thoughtful responses. Chris Byhre shows up repeatedly with mean-spirited comments that waste his time and ours. His comments would fit in well at jsonline but look pretty ugly in this context

  9. Chris Byhre says:

    I understand your confusion Ed. What we on the right try to do is present our side of the story, since it will never be presented formally on this site. Murphy is a liberal with an agenda. Mike, if you don’t like my comments don’t read them. If you want to go to a site where Libs can just pat each other on the back in your comments, this is not the place for you. There are other much more incendiary comments on this site, mostly posted by Liberals, interesting that those don’t bother your sensibilities.

  10. michael says:

    Chris, you haven’t presented “your side,” you’ve simply insulted people. If you feel there’s information missing from this story, by all means present it, that would be interesting and constructive.

  11. widgeon says:

    I agree with Michael; Byhre doesn’t add anything to the conversation, but is sure quick to call folks names. So in that regard I’ll call him out as ideologically constipated, and without any new ideas or even plausible alternatives to the status quo.

  12. Andy says:

    Does no one else see post #5 by Justin as more inflammatory and meaningless then anything Chris has said here? He actually states that people can get away with murder… literally, murder. Further, he warns Bruce to watch out for himself… as if he’ll suddenly disappear now because of this story.

    And somehow you think Chris is the one that’s gone off the deep end and adding nothing to this conversation??

    While overall conversations can be constructive on this site (especially compared to JSonline) I’ve noticed a pattern when any moderate or conservative calls a far lefty out on a bogus comment, that poster will be ridiculed like none other. I think just about everyone in the center or right of center who visits this site has had a blowup or made an exasperated post at some point or another because of the ridiculous things that are said on here from time to time or because a factual comment is ignored/ridiculed because it doesn’t conform to the lefty newspeak.

    The fact that you all jumped on Chris instead of Justin demonstrates exactly what I’m talking about.

  13. Chris Byhre says:

    Thanks Andy for helping me make my point, though I doubt they will admit their double standard. The fact is, this second probe during a gubernatorial election cycle, is on such a massive scale that over 30 Conservative groups have been targeted. Homes were raided before dawn and personal effects such as computers were seized as though it was some kind of huge drug raid. The Milwaukee DA is a Democrat who has appeared in ads for Walker opponents and donated many thousands of dollars to Democrat candidates. Additionally, more then 40 people in his office signed the Walker recall and candidate donations from that office are 4-1 in favor of Democrats. His assistant DA Bruce Landgraff is on such a power trip that he had an innocent business owner, Christopher Brekken, jailed for not violating the law and turning over a customers credit card number. Landgraff was sued by Brekken and the presiding judge in the case, Judge Doyle, stated that is was obvious that Landgraffs actions were politically motivated and that his “conduct is nothing that we as Wisconsinites should be proud of.” The first John Doe cost millions, we will never know exactly how much because Chisholm refuses to release the dollar amount, and ended up with very little new info that the Walker people had not already given the DA when Walker asked for the probe. As a taxpayer (I assume some of you are) you should want to know how much that probe cost you and how much this larger investigation is going to cost. I suspect this protracted probe that just happens to coincide with another election cycle, will end just like the last one and that part of the story won’t be widely reported by the mainstream media nor lefty sites like this one.

  14. widgeon says:


    I hope you were all as upset when the R’s went after Georgia Thompson. They ruined her life and career, and bankrupted the poor woman. Talk is one thing, but action is something else.

  15. chris byhre says:

    widgeon, as a matter of fact I was upset when Georgia Thompson was unjustly charged and jailed when it appeared as though she had given a contract to a Doyle crony in a pay for play scheme. Since I was upset by that but you are not upset by this, what does that say about you? Also, as you probably know, further investigation into that case showed there to be no partisanship by the prosecution at all. I am always upset when any facet of the government tramples on the rights of citizens. It is why I am bothered, and I am certain that you being a person interested in this type of injustice are as well, by Obama illegally changing and delaying his own failed healthcare law 29 times without consent of Congress. This trampling of the Constitution is dangerous and does not bode well for the future.

  16. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    It is so easy to insult the Left, all you have to do is tell the truth. Milwaukee is in top ten for violent crime and they spend all their time and money chasing witches and Scott Walker. Everyone has seen the Left coordinate with the unions, Soros, planned parenthood for decades. The Koch brothers are something like 29th on list of political donors with unions holding the top ten spots and Soros way above them.

  17. widgeon says:


    I didn’t say if I was upset or not regarding the current Doe investigation. Since no one had been charged or convicted as a result you can’t make any comparison to the Thompson affair.

    If no one is indicted out of Doe II then we will know they were innocent. Based on Doe I we can’t make any assumptions at this time , one way or the other.

    And you are certainly entitled to your opinions regarding ACA. And I to mine.

  18. Chris Byhre says:

    widgeon, you certainly did not say you were for or against this investigation, that is correct. However, I think one could surmise that your calling me “ideologically constipated” when I stated that I felt O’Keefe is the victim of a witch hunt, that you are not opposed to this massive probe being run out of the DA’s office. As for making comparisons to the Thompson affair, I would like to remind you that you were the one who brought that into this discussion, not me. Thank you for stating that I am allowed an opinion, that is certainly not the tone you took earlier. However, having less people in America insured as of Jan 2014 then before Obamacare became law and Obama making 29 changes and delays to his own law without consent of the Congress is not an opinion, those my friend are facts.

  19. widgeon says:


    DA’s and law enforcement agencies undertake investigations all the time. That is how the system works. If it didn’t we would have anarchy. I thought you folks on the far right were all for the rule of law?

    We have no idea if this is a witch hunt until the investigation is over. That is the nature of a John Doe. If no charges are files O’Keefe is still an innocent man. Since he is the one that initiated the leak and filed suit, perhaps he protests too much. And being engaged in this line of work, he should have been aware of the high profile and target visibility he presents.

    And again, you can have your opinion re ACA, but not your own facts. If I felt so inclined I could cite numerous arguments from a variety of sources contradicting your opinion. But you are a smart guy and can do the research yourself..

  20. Kyle says:

    widgeon – I’m sure you won’t like the source, but here’s a graphic put together to show the major alterations made to the PPACA. If you’d like to dispute any of the dates and changes, then go ahead. “Because Google” isn’t really supporting evidence of your position.

  21. widgeon says:


    There have been changes to how laws have been implemented for decades. Just look at the history of the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, National Environmental Policy Act, etc, to see how different administrations have altered how the laws were implemented, funded, enforced, etc. If we use your metric Reagan should have been impeached.

  22. Kyle says:


    What metrics did I use? You were telling Chris he couldn’t have his own facts about the PPACA. The only fact he seemed to be using is that it has been altered or delayed 29 times. Admittedly, that graphic is probably out of date and doesn’t include all 29, but Chris does not seem to be creating his own facts. Now, if you want to argue that this is the way things have always been done, that the bureaucracy of regulations has far more effect than legislation, that’s a whole different topic. It doesn’t change the facts Chris is using though, just the context.

  23. Andy says:


    Just because someone is in a public position does not leave the law to cast wide netted fishing expeditions to troll for any wrong doing (fun with fishing puns!).

    John Doe I was a huge investigation that spanned a very long time and used a lot of resources w/ relatively few results. Meanwhile false and partial information was leaked and in turn hurt the image and reputation of people who were never charged with anything. I can’t help but to think that if I was the victim of a second round of investigations like the original John Doe that I might also consider being the one to leak the information myself before it’s done in a way that causes me unwarranted harm.

    Regardless of how/who/why the information is leaked… John Doe investigations are supposed to be SECRET and anyone who leaks sealed information should be dealt with accordingly. Also, should these investigations have signs of being the “fishing expeditions” that some claim to be, that too should be looked at for any impropriety and also dealt with accordingly.

  24. Andy says:

    Widgeon… I’m also confused now…

    Regarding your ACA comments… First you say Chris was giving an incorrect opinion that is counter to the facts. Then in your response to Kyle you said the facts are correct, but it’s ok because of precedent. Which is it?

    If the latter, does that mean you believe that if one person gets away with breaking the law that all those who commit that offense should also be allowed to get away with it? That is not even addressing whether Obama’s actions are on the same level or scale as any predecessor… that’s a whole different discussion.

  25. widgeon says:


    We can continue to disagree regarding ACA, and probably about round versus flat earth, sun orbits earth ( 25% of citizens recently polled by Nat Geo believed the sun rotated around the earth) vs earth orbits sun, climate change, Jesus-black or white, and if UFOs exist.

    As far as Doe I, sure it was big and wide reaching, but it also netted (get the fishing jargon?) a big catch. If there is suspicion of similar wrong-doing by the Dem’s I say let the dogs loose as well.

  26. Andy says:


    If Widgeon wants to believe the world is flat, there isn’t much we can do to help him.

    But on another note, which conviction do you think Widgeon believes is the “big catch?” Do you think it was the embezzlement that Walker brought to the DA himself…? Or do you think it was the misdemeanor charges against the small handful of staffers?

    I’m all for applying the law… but was it worth a 3 year investigation, a massive amount of time and resources, and the trampling of innocent people’s lives and reputations? I wouldn’t even have as much of a problem with it if the John Doe I investigation stayed just that… a JOHN DOE investigation. Instead it was used for political purposes to spread propaganda through the media. That’s hardly defensible and highly suspect… which is why there’s such great suspicious that John Doe II is a “witch hunt” as well.

  27. rob says:

    Widgeon, it would be a very good time for you to stop making yourself look foolish. True facts always make someone look foolish. In this case, that would be you. Hopefully i am not the victim of an early morning raid for pointing out the obvious. Stop while your behind

  28. sarge says:

    Wow…so Widgeon holds his own, the others demonstrate to varying degrees, the veracity of the Dunning -Kruger Effect.

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