Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Race for Democratic Chair Gets Dirty

Some mudslinging at the candidates may stick to Democratic insider and consultant Thad Nation. This story was updated at 6:30 p.m., May 26.

By - May 21st, 2015 02:54 pm
Aaron Camp. Photo from The Progressive Midwesterner.

Aaron Camp. Photo from The Progressive Midwesterner website.

Ladies and gentleman, meet Aaron Camp.

His bio, as he tells readers: “I was born on January 26, 1990, and I currently live with my parents in Westville, Illinois [just east of Champaign]. My main interests are blogging and watching sports on television. At a young age, I was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder known as Asperger’s syndrome. However, I’ve never let that define me.”

Indeed not. Aaron writes a blog called the “The Progressive Midwesterner,” and for some reason has decided to write not just about his home state, but also that partisan hotbed to the north, Wisconsin. He may well be the proverbial blogger in pajamas working on a basement computer, but Camp is hellbent on reshaping Cheeseland politics. He has already endorsed Russ Feingold for U.S. Senator, while calling him “a lot more boring, stale, and generic than the ‘old Russ Feingold,’” and has announced he is “officially calling for U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D) and Ron Johnson (R)… to resign from office immediately” for “their role in a scandal involving opiate pain pills being overprescribed at a Veterans Affairs medical facility in Tomah.”

Yes, Camp is a man of many opinions, but he’s also done some reporting that’s stirring up the race for state Democratic party chair. The issue is one of some importance given how horribly the Democratic Party has done during the six years (since June 2009) that Mike Tate has served as chair. That has generated lots of criticism of Tate by liberals, followed by his announcement that he would step down in June, and has also underlined the importance of the race to replace him.

Thad Nation

Thad Nation

Camp doesn’t like two of the five candidates for chair, but has spent the most time criticizing Jason Rae, an employee of Nation Consulting, and wrote an eyebrow-raising piece noting that Rae’s boss, Thad Nation, “has provided money to at least seven right-wing organizations, including at least four that are funded either directly or indirectly by the Koch Brothers. Nation himself was listed in a 2012 IRS 990 filing as the principal officer of Coalition for the New Economy…. a 501(c)4 organization” which has funded groups “that have actively opposed Democratic and liberal political candidates, have actively supported Republican and conservative political candidates, and/or… advocated for far-right policies. Tax records show the group run by Nation gave $15,000 to the National Taxpayers Union, $5,000 to the Center for Individual Freedom, $5,000 to Americans for Prosperity, $10,000 to Freedomworks, Inc., $5,000 to the Institute for Policy Innovation, $15,000 to the Taxpayers Protection Alliance and $14,740 to the 60 Plus Association.

Camp’s post got the attention of the Spanish Journal whose editor, the combative Robert Miranda, co-wrote a story with Chris Johnson, listed as editor of a shadowy website called They note that Nation “is a well known Democratic Party ‘strategist’ and party consultant. He sells his services working for Democratic candidates seeking political office. He is considered one of the most influential behind-the-scenes players in Democratic politics. But with the revelation about his company, it seems he’s playing both sides.”

When asked to comment about this, Nation told me “I run a firm with a lot of different clients. We work with both Republicans and Democrats and we employ Democrats and Republicans.” As for the Coalition for the New Economy, where Nation is listed as executive director, with a salary of $104,396, Nation says his work for this group is for “a business client” — presumably one that favors far right causes, given the groups it funds.

Certainly there are consultants who do work for candidates for both parties, though that has become a lot tougher to pull off, given the partisan divide in Wisconsin. But if you are trying to have an influence on the direction of the Democratic Party, your credibility will be badly undercut by involving yourself in a group like the Coalition for the New Economy.

The situation for Jason Rae is quite different. As Nation notes, any clients connected to the right-wing giving by Nation are clients that Rae “has never worked under and are irrelevant to his portfolio.”

Camp contends it would be a conflict of interest for Rae to remain employed at Nation Consulting while serving as state Democratic chair, but I would assume he would leave the company to serve full-time as chair. Miranda and Johnson also note that longtime Democrat Sachin Chheda is a partner in Nation Consulting, but Cheda is not an equity partner in the company and is not listed with the Coalition for the New Economy.

The ever-busy Miranda also wrote a piece for the Milwaukee Renaissance website throwing mud at Joe Wineke, the former legislator and former Democratic state party chair who is once again running for the post. Back in 2007, Wood County Democrats passed a resolution asking Wineke to resign because he was involved in lobbying for a bill that would allow AT&T and other telephone companies to raise their rates without getting permission from the state Public Service Commission. As Miranda notes, Thad Nation was also involved in pushing for this bill in his role as the executive director of AT&T-backed Wired Wisconsin. (A bill like this passed in 2011 with little opposition from Democrats.)

I think we can assume that Miranda does not support either Rae or Wineke for the position of state Democratic chair. Down in Illinois, Camp supports former Wisconsin assemblyman Jeff Smith, whom the blogger calls “the only one of the five candidates for DPW Chair who, at least to my knowledge, has laid out a highly-detailed plan for rebuilding the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.”

Another issue that has arisen is the speculation that Tate will get hired by Nation Consulting once he steps down as party chair. Nation says he’s made no job offer to Tate and Tate told me he’s looking at various options. That doesn’t definitively rule out Tate’s hiring. And it will add yet more gossip to discuss when Democrats hold their 2015 convention on June 5-6 at the Potawatomi Hotel in Milwaukee. From back at his parent’s house in Westville, you can bet Aaron Camp will be waiting for the results, ready to rain down thunder if his man Smith goes down to defeat.

Update 6:30 p.m., May 26: This story has generated a lot of comments and emailed responses, along with various misunderstandings and allegations, so I felt an update with added information was in order.

For starters, I have no horse in the race for Democratic party chair (nor any opinions on who should run the Republican party, for that matter). I ran this column simply because it presented information I thought of interest to readers. Secondly, while I might have been a bit wry about Aaron Camp and the world of bloggers, I think he did a nice bit of reporting in uncovering that Thad Nation of Nation Consulting has served as principal officer for a group, Coalition for the New Economy, which has made contributions to right-wing groups, including several associated with the Koch Brothers.

But while that may raise eyebrows about Nation, a longtime Democrat, it’s not clear it casts any shadow on Jason Rae, an employee of Nation Consulting who is running for state Democratic party chair, because he has had no involvement with the Coalition for the New Economy. Several readers have noted that Jason was involved with Wired Wisconsin, a group that pushed for telecom deregulations. That may be relevant to those choosing the next state party chair but has nothing whatsoever to do with the Coalition for the New Economy, which is what my story was about.

A reader also emailed me to note that Nation Consulting has been hired to do work for the state Democratic Party in the past, suggesting (as others have) an incestuous relationship. According to Mike Tate, current party chair, the company has indeed done consulting for Tate as well as his two predecessors as party chair. And the next party chair may call on Nation Consulting services as well, Tate says, because in a state this small there aren’t that many companies doing such work. Notably, Nation Consulting’s work for Tate was done by Rae, who filled in for a few months as interim membership director, when that position was vacant. Tate says Rae did “a good job.”

Whatever the facts are, those who support others for party chair will find ways to use them to attack Rae, or Joe Wineke, another target of mud slinging. For me what was newsworthy was simply the Koch Brothers connection.

It’s worth noting, however, that Dominique Paul Noth, who served for 11 years as editor of the Milwaukee Labor Press, and now writes a political blog, doesn’t see why any of this should concern Democrats. “I was somewhat surprised that a good journalist like Murphy,” he writes, “neglected to point out that public relations firms run by Evan Zeppos and Martin Schreiber have many Democratic friendly clients but also clients…some Democrats are not crazy about —  yet no one accuses Zeppos (who worked for Dave Obey and other leading Democrats) or Schreiber (who was a Democratic governor) of being Koch slaves or extending the guilt by association to anyone who works for some of their clientele. And these other PR firms have also worked for clients like ATT who want to control Internet lanes and yet are involved in supportive union employment or activities.”

Speaking as a reporter, I see a difference between working for a corporation and working on the funding of shadowy groups connected to the Koch Brothers, but Noth’s central contention, that Democrats should avoid a “purity test,” offers another way of looking at this whole muddy dispute that’s timely indeed.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

25 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: Race for Democratic Chair Gets Dirty”

  1. Noni Nameski says:

    “The situation for Jason Rae is quite different. As Nation notes, any clients connected to the right-wing giving by Nation are clients that Rae “has never worked under and are irrelevant to his portfolio.”

    That is not an accurate statement.

    Jason Rae was the Associate Director of Wired Wisconsin, is part of a nationwide set of telecom “astroturf” intentionally appearing as consumer groups, part of the of AT&T or other telcom operator in the network.

    More on Wired Wisconsin can be found here.:

    From the article: ” Governor-Elect Scott Walker and Republican leaders of the next state legislature called for a bill to “modernize the state’s outdated Telecommunications Act.”

    Without informing readers of what the unspecified bill would contain, the ad asserted that this murky “modernization” of state law “would create or save 50,000 jobs” in the state. And hey, that’s a fifth of the way towards meeting the new governor’s stated pledge. So I suppose we’d better get right on it.

    The ad sadly noted that “current law requires telecommunications companies to keep investing in old technologies,’ referring to traditional, landline, analog telephone service – what used to be Ma Bell. The open letter ended by echoing Walker’s proclamation that “Wisconsin is open for business.” Unless, the ad intimated, the telcom modernization law isn’t enacted.

    But if the telcom industry has its way, the state surely will be more open for a bad kind of business, as citizens nearly learned last spring, when an earlier run at deregulating telcoms died in the State Senate.

    Among main signers of the Dec.16 ad was Thad Nation, executive director of AT&T’s private mouthpiece Wired Wisconsin. Nation was shortly afterward also granted precious guest column space on the Journal Sentinel’s Op Ed page to tout the great virtues of deregulation and how it will benefit consumers and Wisconsin’s economy.”

  2. TF says:

    This is very interesting.

  3. Tracey Sperko says:

    Last time I check Thad Nation is not running for chair. Jason an experienced and dedicated democrat is.

  4. Mike Kostich says:

    Is there anything inaccurate about the statement, “Jason Rae, Associate Director of Wired Wisconsin?” (Which was the P.R. group for the telecom industry, helping Snotty Wanker tout inflated / bogus jobs promises, in order to promote cost-shaving programs in the state?)

  5. Mocking a person with autism and distorting facts just to defend Abele’s chosen candidate for DPW Chair? C’mon, Bruce. You’re better than this. Or so I thought.

  6. Noni Nameski says:

    WisBusiness Press Release:

    “Wired Wisconsin on Tuesday announced the addition of two new team members- Jason Rae and Megan Sullivan.

    Rae will be filling the position of Associate Director, formerly held by Emily Lenard. Sullivan joined Wired Wisconsin as Director of Online Strategies, a newly created position.

    “We’re pleased to have Jason and Megan on board,” said Thad Nation, Executive Director of Wired Wisconsin. “We’re confident that with Jason’s non-profit management experience and Megan’s talent for social media, the two have the right skills to grow our organization and effectively advocate for technological growth in Wisconsin.”

    As Associate Director, Rae will work to build a strong coalition of individuals, businesses, and organizations from across the state to support technology development and advancement. He has extensive experience managing both local and statewide non-profit organizations…

  7. Noni Nameski says:

    Thad Nation doesn’t dispute the fact that he works for RW and LW organizations. He does misrepresent Jason Rae’s role within Nation Consulting and fails to mention his position as Associate Director at Wired Wisconsin, which Thad Nation is Executive Director of.

    You, on the other hand, go ad-hominem on the blogger Aaron Camp. You don’t dispute the information he reported. But you do paint a demeaning personal portrait of a highly intelligent autistic young man that first broke the story.

    I understand what your are doing, framing the piece the way you did. And for that, shame on you.

  8. tim haering says:

    Inside baseball. Rank and file voters of both parties could give a rip who their official party chair is. Nobody ever polls name recognition of party chairmen, but I’ll bet it barely ripples outside Lake Madison. 2 blowholes surrounded by reality Tell me more about Gardening With Chance. When will we wake from his dream?

    Have a great weekend, Bruce!.

  9. Steve says:

    The left wing version of the TEA PARTY is as ridiculous as the right wing version. Purity test are unseemly. Looking at the field of candidates for the Democrat Party Chair, all are good democrats and members. Jason has been a fantastic ambassador for Wisconsin with the national Democrats and will make an awesome chair.

  10. Becky says:

    It is ridiculous the employer of a candidate for the Dem Party is the focus of anyone considered relevant. This is why democrats will be a failure for decades – the fringe is allowed to drive the discussion. The dem party chair is a coordinator and convener of people interested in elevating the principles and values of the democratic party. Jason’s experience proves he is a thoughtful, competent, driven leader who will not only have the ability to do big picture strategy but get into the weeds of running campaigns state-wide to try and win back the hearts and souls of Wisconsinites. THAT should be the discussion among bloggers.

  11. Noni Nameski says:

    “It is ridiculous the employer of a candidate for the Dem Party is the focus of anyone considered relevant.”

    Really Becky? Jason Rae is the Associate Director of Wired Wisconisn, an astroturf that works in concert with a network of ATT funded groups fighting for deregulation of the telecom industry and working against net neutrality. And this same person wants to be DPW chairperson.

    You don’t find that relevant?

    Or that Thad Nation and other key players in Milwaukee County Democratic party politics head and heavily profit from organizations that work in direct conflict to Democratic interests? Not relevant?

    Maybe you missed this: “Wisconsin Republicans Rushing AT&T’s Deregulation Wishlist Into Law Before Recall Votes”

    Or this:
    “Wired Wisconsin’s chief partner and benefactor? AT&T It’s chief lobbyist and executive director? Thad Nation;
    Nation has run a whole assortment of “consumer” groups out of his lobbying firm Nation Consulting, including: Illinois Technology Partnership, TV4Us, and Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow. His work coincides closely with AT&T’s corporate agenda. When AT&T wanted statewide franchising of U-verse, TV4Us arrived on scene advocating exactly that. When AT&T wants to promote deregulation of its wired and wireless efforts and win government assistance with no strings attached, Wired Wisconsin, the Illinois Technology Partnership and Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow were ready to go to bat for AT&T.
    AT&T’s core involvement in all of these groups goes undisclosed.”

    Or this:
    “Both ITP and the ironically-named “Midwest Consumers for Choice and Competition” are both creatures of AT&T. Thad Nation, behind all of these groups, invents AT&T-supported astroturf campaigns in various states where the company delivers service. Over the past few years, Nation has cooked up TV4Us, Wired Wisconsin and Technology for Ohio’s Tomorrow, among others.”

    I could have given Jason Rae the benefit of doubt for possibly not knowing about some of the clients Nation serves.. If that were true, it wouldn’t make him a very savvy candidate to lead the state party. The fox is guarding the henhouse.. A quick google search is all it takes. DPW chairperson- it’s a big job.

    Now that the knowledge has become public, he has not distanced himself from Nation in any way. In fact, he’s still a Senior Associate at Nation.

    None so blind as those who refuse to see.

  12. Rob says:

    Slinging mud at a blogger reporting facts and calling HIM the mudslinger? Really? Candidates doing deregulation lobbying for telecom giants irrelevant? Really? Nothing muddy about who Urban MKE supports. That is now very clear.

  13. C McD says:

    Bruce Murphy ever so gently introduces the story with an ad hominem attack on Camp, Miranda and Johnson, drops names left and right yet fails to mention that Jason Rae was the Associate Director of Wired Wisconsin, one of Thad Nation’s ATT astroturfs. Wired Wisconsin works to deregulate telecom in Wi and against net neutrality.

    Neither Bruce nor Thad Nation dispute the work Nation does for RW groups nor that he personally donates a sizeable amounts of money to RW organizations.

    Bruce just sort of overlooked the most salient points relevant to the article and rather curiously explored the work Aaron Camp does instead.

    I’ve always been a fan of Urban Milwaukee, but this piece of faux journalism literally shreds years of credibility. I hope it was worth it.

  14. David Nelson says:

    I don’t think Murphy deserves the level of vitriol leveled at him. I think this piece was just a bit more hurried than it should have been. He is not making fun of Camp. When read carefully, the piece is mildly complimentary of Camp. And yes, Murphy might have spent a little more time checking Rae’s credentials.

    The main point to be taken from this article is that Democrats are often the tools of Corporations, hence they are hardly more likely to serve the public than does the GOP. The Democratic party lacks dedication to strong ethical principles which lead to citizens seeing improvement in their lives. None of this should be surprising. Camp and Murphy are shedding light on the back room style of politics and hidden agendas. That is what should draw your anger.

    I wonder why it is so hard for people to read for context and to employ the critical faculty with a bit more skill.

  15. Scott says:

    A thorough vetting of Rae’s “experience” is certainly in order. What big things has he accomplished? What big ideas has he implemented? What big ideas does he have?

    He would throw out that he “created” the Wisconsin LGBT Chamber — but (some believe) that group existed in a format before him and he basically coopted the group and took all the credit. Even so, what big things has that group even accomplished and how is it a credential for the post he seeks?

    He’s still riding the publicity of being the state’s youngest Democratic delegate — which, let’s be honest — involved little work on his part and was more of a novelty than an award for anything of substance. It’s still not clear whether it established him as a thought leader or power broker in the party. Actually, it seems as though the contrary is more likely. Opportunity squandered.

    In my sincere opinion, he is unqualified for the post, unprepared to lead it and offers no greater bona fides than the predecessor.

  16. C McD says:

    Context- the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood and assessed.


  17. TF says:

    @David Nelson: agreed completely. I’m impressed with Camp’s work, and I didn’t think the piece was overly hostile to him. There’s a sort of inherent snark to Murphy’s work that’s more idiosyncratic than offensive. I am pretty disillusioned with this race, due in part to this info and due to its divisiveness. Why is Wisconsin a one-party state these days? Why is the Legislature essentially governing Milwaukee through education “reforms?” Why is the state Supreme Court essentially a third legislative chamber? Because the Democrats have utterly failed to get their act together and unify as a party around simple, straightforward progressive ideals like those articulated by Kathleen Vinehout and Doug La Follette in their respective gubernatorial runs. Instead, we’re stuck with a party that’s eating itself alive while the world around it falls apart.

  18. Aaron Camp says:

    Since I’ve been mentioned in the article, I’ll respond to the points made in the article, as well as some of the comments.

    – Bruce Murphy claimed in the article that my hometown of Westville, Illinois is “just east of Champaign”. That’s an inaccurate description, as “just east of Champaign” would describe places like Urbana, Illinois or St. Joseph, Illinois, not Westville, which is roughly 32.5 miles east by south of Champaign, near the Illinois/Indiana border. People in my region of Illinois take offense to being essentially called a suburb of Champaign.
    – Murphy referred to me in the article as “the proverbial blogger in pajamas working on a basement computer”. While I don’t find that offensive, I do find it to be inaccurate. I usually wear sweatpants, and my computer is located in my bedroom, which is not in the basement of the house where I live. I don’t quite fit the proverb.
    – I find being called a “man of many opinions” to be a badge of honor. I take pride in speaking my mind.
    – As a couple of commenters above noted, Murphy neglected to mention that Jason Rae either is or was the head of Wired Wisconsin, one of Thad Nation’s astroturf groups. While, to my knowledge, Wired Wisconsin has not donated any money to groups that have actively supported Republican/conservative causes, they have actively supported legislative proposals that are supported by the telecom industry and are, at least in my opinion, clearly non-progressive. Rae became an Associate Director for Wired Wisconsin in mid-2010; it’s not clear as to whether or not he is still involved with Wired Wisconsin in any official capacity.
    – There’s nothing in the DPW Constitution, DPW by-laws, or Wisconsin state law that I know of that would prohibit the DPW Chair from working for Nation Consulting (or, for that matter, any other organization) at the same time that he or she is DPW Chair. Because of that, I would assume that Jason Rae would remain at Nation Consulting and any other groups he currently works for, even if he is elected DPW Chair, unless Rae himself leaves Nation Consulting and any other groups he currently works for.
    – Regarding Murphy’s claim that I claimed that Feingold is boring in one of my blog posts, I did, in fact, claim that Feingold was boring in my blog post about Feingold’s entrance to the U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin. However, since I wrote and published that blog post, Feingold has posted two web videos that I know of showing Feingold meeting with ordinary Wisconsinites, and Feingold did not come across as boring at all in those two videos. However, Feingold did come across as boring, at least to me, in the web video in which he announced his candidacy.
    – Criticizing political figures is not mudslinging unless the claims being made are blatantly false.
    – I find my work being called “eyebrow-raising” to be a badge of honor.
    – Coalition for the New Economy is a Thad Nation-led political group that opposes government-owned broadband internet networks in areas where private-sector companies operate broadband internet services of their own.

  19. Eau Claire Dem Voter says:

    Jeff Smith is a weak. lackluster, and ineffectual leader locally, he has not been personally able to win race in a while. Even after trying in a more boring district that involves less of Eau Claire proper, he still ignited no excitement. As far as “purity testing” goes – purity in what sense? The ability of NW WI to produce a very pure and unending stream of Ron Kind Democrats? Wisconsin Democrats have had years to enjoy weakness and cluelessness, ostensibly this change in party leadership is supposed to put an end to all that. In all honesty, I’d rather have Tate back (and I hate Tate). The only reason I am aware of that anyone wants Smith is that they think they personally have influence with him. It’s popular locally to think narcissistic figurehead types holding office will be susceptible to the machinations of those behind the scenes i.e. “elect her, she’ll be easy to control”. That’s often not the case, and once the puppet becomes a master they become a lot less malleable. One thing we can all count on is that a Smith chairmanship means a whole group of Peter Principle yahoos will come careening in on his coattails. Reason number 856 to vote for really anyone BUT Smith. Having said all that, this article is absurd in the extreme. Suddenly one pajama clad blogger is a headline news-maker? What, is it the trendy autism thing? I’m wearing pajamas now, I’m pretty darn irritating, and I can do autism and quirky interpersonal ineffectiveness no problem if it gets me headline cred. So, let me know. I’d love to be the next maladapt to be randomly chosen to hold the political rudder of the mighty SS Wisconsin.

  20. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    They are doing the Alinsky rules on each other? Actually the Left has been nasty twirps forever, what else is new? They cannot win on the issues so they use lying attacks.

  21. PMD says:

    I agree WCD. It’s so refreshing to have a Republican party that completely avoids attacks. No name-calling, no nastiness from talk radio, no purity tests of any kind. And conservatives here prove how mature and upstanding the right is by coming here and never calling anyone names like “white liberal racist.” Thank you GOP and conservatives for being so above the fray.

  22. PaulS says:

    This fascinating discussion omits two important observations:

    1. It took a “blogger” to do the real journalism of researching and breaking this story. Bruce Murphy can’t be faulted for getting scooped; he’s the only journalist in MKE today. The serious point is that you don’t need a masthead to do honest, investigative work. You need a clear mind, a healthy curiosity, and a willingness to write. None of those are easy but Camp manages to do it well. Along the way, he exposes the larger problem facing WI Dems: the field for Chair is very, very thin. This is a party on life support and seems to be unable to make the connection b/n its very corporate-looking bosses and the diversity of people harmed by this Republican/fascist onslaught.

    2. In 2020, there will be a new census. Following that, there will be redistricting. If the Ds can’t pull off something as simple as electing a Chairperson without dividing themselves, the Rs will gerrrymander this state out of the category of representative government. So far, it looks like they’ll be changing drivers but keeping the Tate ethos. That’s Game Over for the Ds. On the positive side, it clears debris from the decks for the Greens to grow statewide.

  23. Eau Claire Dem voter,

    You must be pissed off that only four people showed up to hear Martha Laning at last weeks meet and greet prior to the Eau Claire County Dem party monthly meeting. It’s some hard cheese, for sure, but it’s not Jeffs fault.

  24. Skeptic says:

    The point is: is that Thad Nation’s name on those donations or not? If the answer is yes, then he didn’t think through the consequences of that information becoming public and how it would look, or he never thought it would come to light. Either way, his professional abilities are in question as one assumes it’s his JOB it is to anticipate consequences and communicate.

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