Documents examined by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) expose a national effort funded by the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation to assess and expand right-wing “infrastructure” to influence policies and politicians in statehouses nationwide.
The documents were made public in October 2016 on two Twitter accounts that cyber security analysts have linked to one of the Russian hackers alleged to have breached the Democratic National Committee. The Bradley Foundation confirmed in a statement that the hack had taken place and was reported to the FBI. More information about how the Bradley files became public is available here.
Uncompromised, uncompromising news
Get reliable, independent news and commentary delivered to your inbox every day.
The documents open a window to the behind-the-scenes workings of one of America’s largest right-wing foundations. With $835 million in assets as of June 2016, the Bradley Foundation is as large as the three Koch family foundations combined, yet receives much less attention as a significant funder of the right.
CMD has examined thousands of these documents, including Bradley board documents between 2013-2016. The documents indicate that Bradley has a new stream of funding to build this “conservative infrastructure” and is using a metric to assess the strength and depth of that infrastructure in individual states — including “receptive” politicians, right-wing “think tanks,” symbiotic “grassroots” groups, friendly media, litigation centers, and opposition research — to guide Bradley’s strategic funding initiatives.
Bradley ranks states into four “tiers” of investment opportunities and prioritizes funding the top tier states. A re-creation of Bradley’s master chart listing all US states and scoring their infrastructure needs can be found here and below.
The documents also reveal that Bradley is bankrolling groups across the nation that are working to defund and dismantle unions. The political nature of this attack is underscored by Bradley grantees who boast in major newspapers and in Bradley-funded publications like the Daily Signal that the evisceration of public and private sector unions in states like Wisconsin and Michigan was successful in turning blue states red in the last presidential election cycle.
Bradley describes its goal as advancing “conservatism,” but the files link “receptivity to conservative policy reform” to “unified control” of governorships, legislatures, and state Supreme Courts by the Republican Party (The Barder Fund, August 18, 2015). A Bradley video geared toward enticing other funders to join the cause puts it more bluntly: “Together we can help keep our Great Lakes blue and our states red.”
The Bradley Foundation, organized as a tax-exempt “charitable” foundation under 501(c)(3) of the tax code, appears to be pursuing a highly partisan game plan: funding an “infrastructure” on the right that benefits the Republican Party, while at the same time attempting to crush supporters of the Democratic Party. “The trial attorneys and Big Labor” are the “two principal funding pillars of the left,” the Bradley documents claim on multiple occasions (Center for America, Grant Proposal Record, 8/19/214) (NRWLDF, Grant Proposal Record, 11/12/2013).
Regarding the Bradley Foundation’s efforts to defund and dismantle unions, Marcus Owen, who served as the Director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service for 10 years, told the Center for Media and Democracy, “There is no basis for the proposition that defunding labor unions is a charitable purpose within the Internal Revenue Code.”
The documents reveal that a key Bradley partner in this effort is the discredited Berman and Co. public relations firm and the many front groups it has spawned. Berman and Co. is run by Richard Berman, an aggressive propagator of industry spin and disinformation, profiled by “60 Minutes” as a “hired gun” for corporate America. Berman is best known for propping up propagandistic websites and launching public relations and social media campaigns to smear non-profit environmental, worker rights, consumer, and animal welfare organizations. The Center for Media and Democracy has specifically been targeted by Berman over the years.
Representing clients in the restaurant industry, Berman has long campaigned against any rise in the minimum wage or tipped minimum wage, which has stood at $2.13 for 30 years. He has battled efforts at the state and federal level that make joining a union easier, has attacked organized workers and their leaders, and has been a primary opponent of labor-backed campaigns to raise the minimum wage.
The documents reveal that Bradley is funding a new Berman project called the “Interstate Policy Alliance” to target its strategic infrastructure investments, as a “discrete channel” for cookie-cutter reports for member groups to publish to “maximize credibility,” and to train Bradley-funded groups in “crisis communication” and opposition research. Bradley cites the case of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which was “caught flatfooted,” the documents say, after the Center for Media and Democracy published ALEC’s secret library of “model bills” — voted on behind closed doors with corporate lobbyists — and launched ALECexposed.org in 2011.
The documents show that Bradley has funded ALEC to aid with “proactive reputation management,” and the “larger plan” includes “aggressive opposition research.” Bradley wants Berman to develop an “off-the-shelf public-relations strategy” for “conservative outfits caught in the media crosshairs.” The key to success, the documents say, is “well sourced opposition research already prepared and ready to deploy” against opponents (Center for Consumer Freedom, Grant Proposal Record, 8/21/12).
Berman engages in aggressive PR campaigns attacking teachers unions, a significant opponent of Bradley’s long-term agenda to advance taxpayer vouchers for private and religious schools, while other Bradley-funded institutions are funded to “defund teachers unions and achieve real education reform” (Barder Fund, 8/18/15). Bradley is so anxious to silence the organized voice of public school teachers it has pumped $1.77 million into a substitute, the Association of American Educators Foundation. “The NEA and AFT have already been substantially weakened by Wisconsin Act 10. AAE thinks it is well-positioned to help further weaken the unions and their political goals,” say the documents (AAEF, Grant Proposal Record, 8/19/2014).
“While I have not yet seen all of the documents, this appears to be more evidence that a few powerful private foundations are weaponizing philanthropy for their own private political purposes. The government gives charitable foundations tax breaks in exchange for furthering the public good. Instead, it sounds as if the Bradley Foundation has been furthering the good of its own political agenda. It really begs some serious legal questions,” said author Jane Mayer.
Over the coming week, CMD will roll out a series of articles based on its analysis of the Bradley documents, including articles focused on Bradley’s ties to Richard Berman, Bradley’s efforts to “defund the Left” and dismantle labor unions, Bradley’s funding of the State Policy Network of “think tanks,” and Bradley’s aggressive litigation strategy. You can find this series at ExposedbyCMD.org.
The Transformation of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation
The Bradley brothers, Lynde and Harry, started the foundation in 1942 to aid needy families in Milwaukee. Their wealth came from the Allen-Bradley Company, which developed early resistors for electrical products.
From its earliest days, the company was reliant on government contracts for its wealth. “WWI government contracts boosted sales to unprecedented levels,” the company’s official history states, and the same occurred when the United States entered WWII.
Harry Bradley was the long-serving chairman of the Allen-Bradley Company in Milwaukee after the death of his brother. Like Fred Koch, he was a big supporter of the John Birch Society, hosting its founder Robert Welch at company meetings. The Birchers’ opposition to the Civil Rights movement and their hysteria over the supposed “communist menace” kept them on the fringe of public discourse for many decades.
But there is nothing like money to make fringe, far-right ideas appear more respectable.
In 1985, the company was bought by defense contractor Rockwell International. The foundation’s assets zoomed from $14 million to $290 million after the sale of Allen-Bradley to Rockwell for $1.65 billion.
Flush with cash, Bradley hired Michael S. Joyce from the right-wing Olin Foundation to run its operations and to engage in what Joyce called “the war of ideas.” Joyce had a long history in Republican politics at the highest levels. “Joyce was on the Reagan transition team in 1980, advised President Bush and his father, and in 1993 helped establish the Project for the Republican Future, which developed strategies to help the GOP recapture the Congress and the presidency,” wrote the Washington Post upon his death in 2006. Joyce used Bradley’s money and influence to pass the nation’s first school voucher program for Milwaukee into law in 1991. He bankrolled the lawsuits that expanded taxpayer vouchers to religious schools in 1998.
From 2002-2016, prominent Republican attorney Michael Grebe took over as CEO and President of the foundation. Grebe’s Republican credentials were also impressive. He was the former general counsel to the Republican National Committee from 1996 to 2000 and the Republican National Committeeman for Wisconsin from 1984 to 2002. He chaired Scott Walker’s campaign for governor, not only in 2010, but also in 2012 — during the hotly contested recall campaign — and again for his reelection in 2014. Grebe signed on again as campaign chairman for Walker’s aborted run for the White House in 2015.
His decision to head a major foundation and be intimately involved in a Republican campaign was highly unusual. But “it was exactly the kind of hands-on political impact Joyce had sought when he set out to weaponize conservative philanthropy,” wrote Jane Mayer in her 2016 book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right.
When asked about his political activities by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Grebe said, “I’m very careful here. I don’t use foundation resources for any of my outside activities. I have a separate email address that I use for politics. I do my political and civic work on my own time.”
Yet, grant after grant displays the electoral underbelly of the right-wing infrastructure the foundation has worked so hard to construct.
Just two examples raise significant red flags.
Training Republican Candidates and Operatives
Bradley funds conservative groups that operate a lot like political parties themselves. Bradley has given large grants to a little-known group called American Majority contributing $1.8 million between 2010-2016 (American Majority, Grant Proposal Record, 8/16/16), and $220,000 was recommended for Wisconsin for 2016.
Bradley also funded a group called Media Trackers, both when it operated under the auspices of American Majority and later when it incorporated as a 501(c)(3) called Greenhouse Solutions. The group got “considerable in-state pick-up on quick-hit videos and pieces aimed at what it says are errors, hypocrisy or offensive behavior by labor unions and their Democratic allies” wrote Politico. As the 2014 election cycle approached Bradley gave Media Trackers $100,000 “to hire two camera crews whose daily work will be to follow candidates in their travels around the state” (Greenhouse Solutions, Grant Proposal Record, 2/25/2014) Predictably, Media Trackers produced a series of “hits” exclusively on Democratic candidates including AG candidate Susan Happ, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke. For Burke, a Media Trackers videographer went around asking Democrats if a candidate who “offshored” jobs was right for Wisconsin.
American Majority was founded by the sons of Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) specifically for the purpose of training people to run for office. “Today’s county commissioner, tomorrow’s congressman. You’ve got to feed the system,” said Ned Ryun (Jim Ryun’s son) at the time. Wisconsin dark money man, Eric O’Keefe, took credit for helping create American Majority while working with his Sam Adams Alliance. In documents listing matching grants, Republican industrialist “Barre Seid” is listed as an anonymous source of additional funds for American Majority, $2.1 million in 2011 alone.
American Majority says on its website that it has trained 38,000 people. The Bradley files describe its electoral activities in Wisconsin: “American Majority’s purpose is to train citizens and grassroots activists in the rules and methods necessary to run a successful political campaign.” “American Majority has trained 3,853 pro-freedom individuals at more than 100 training events. 208 trained candidates have run for state or local office, 181 advanced out of their primaries to the general election. 104 went on to win their elections. These include state legislators, 45 county board supervisors, 27 municipal office holders, 22 school board members and 5 judges.” “In the spring 2014 election American Majority trained New Leaders flipped the Menomonee Falls Village Board and the Kenosha School Board” (American Majority, Grant Proposal Record, 8/19/2014).
In its IRS filings, the group identifies itself as “nonpartisan,” but the institute was set up by Republicans to train Republicans.
“The Bradley Foundation’s limitless resources finance the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s shadow campaign operation at all levels,” said Scot Ross, Executive Director of One Wisconsin Now, which has long tracked the activities of the Bradley Foundation, especially in the education area.
Campaign schools have been tried before. In 1986, the National Republican Campaign Committee set up a school to train people for careers as campaign managers, communications directors, finance directors, and other political campaign professionals. They argued that the school offered broad benefits to American society and sought to make the school a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt, charitable organization. A US Tax Court took a look at the situation and told them they could not. A school operating for the private benefit of the Republican Party was not a charity, ruled the court.
CMD talked to former IRS official Marcus Owens about these grants and Bradley’s infrastructure investments.
“In the American Campaign Academy v. Commissioner case, the Tax Court held that an organization that offered educational classes on election law and similar subjects for campaign workers, but which was focused on supporting the candidates of one particular political party, was operated for the private benefit of the political party in question and thus not entitled to tax exempt status under section 501(c)(3),” said Owens.
Bradley Infrastructure and the Mysterious “Barder Fund”
When discussing the foundation’s grant-making, Bradley staff embrace the concept of “infrastructure” in an overt manner and even assesses the growth of its infrastructure over time using charts and metrics.
Board documents review the early roots of infrastructure grantmaking:
“In effectuating its mission, by necessity, Bradley’s grantmaking program has always emphasized the importance of what’s now being called “infrastructure.” Historically, Bradley used to be known and was lauded for providing ongoing, general-operating support to the national think tanks that laid the foundation for and then helped sustain the conservative ascendance beginning in the 1980s.”
“Similarly, in Wisconsin, where there were receptive policymakers, Bradley’s creation of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute in 1987 helped pave the way for the innovative Milwaukee Parental Choice Program in 1990 and 1995’s innovative “W2-Wisconsin Works” welfare replacement, which itself paved the way for national welfare reform the next year. Milwaukee and Wisconsin, the foundation found, were “well-sized playing fields” on which to score policy victories” (Barder Fund, Subtab B, Aug. 19, 2014).
Bradley goes on to discuss the creation of “grassroots organizations that argued for and defended the reforms in public discourse,” the funding of “public interest legal groups that argued for and defended the programs in court,” and “investigative journalism that doesn’t rely on old or new organs of the left and is able to stand on its own.”
Bradley also supports “national capacity-building resources” to aid “the infrastructures in the states.”
The Bradley files contain a list of 20 Bradley-funded national organizations that support this state-based infrastructure (Barder Fund, August 18, 2015).
- America’s Future Foundation
- American Legislative Exchange Council
- American Transparency
- Americans for Prosperity Foundation
- Americans for Tax Reform Foundation
- Center for Consumer Freedom [Berman and Co.]
- Employment Policies Institute [Berman and Co.]
- Interstate Policy Alliance [Berman and Co.]
- Foundation for Government Accountability
- FreedomWorks Foundation
- Illinois Policy Institute
- Leadership Program of the Rockies
- Liberty Foundation of America
- Manhattan Institute for Policy Research
- Mercatus Center
- National Review Institute
- Sagamore Institute
- State Policy Network
- Texas Public Policy Foundation
- Think Freely Media
The Bradley files reveal that the foundation received a new infusion of funds in 2013 that it directed towards its infrastructure investments.
In 2013, the Caroline Bradley Trust transferred $203 million to the Bradley Foundation. Board documents indicate that, in February 2014, the full Board of Directors “met for a strategic planning discussion to address several questions concerning how to best deploy the unrestricted new endowment funds given to the Bradley Foundation by the Caroline Bradley Trust upon Sarah Barder’s death” (Barder Fund, Nov. 11, 2014). Caroline Bradley was Lynde Bradley’s wife; Sarah Barder was her adopted daughter, the documents explain.
Bradley’s new “Barder Fund” was created at this meeting, and it was decided that the money would be deployed in five areas: family, K-12 education, higher education, public discourse, and arts and culture (Meeting of the Board of Directors, June 17, 2014). In the past, Sarah Barder had funded merit-based scholarships for kids attending exclusive boarding schools, and colleges, a somewhat typical charitable endeavor.
By November 11, 2014, a sixth area of focus for the Barder Fund was added: “capacity-building.” Included in the board meeting packet for this date was a “request for proposals to build the capacity of conservative infrastructures in the states.”
It is notable that there is no publicly available information about the Barder Fund on the Bradley website and not all Barder Fund grants are listed on Bradley’s 2015 Annual Report. Yet the bulk of these funds are being used for a highly political project that largely benefits one party, the Republican Party.
To guide the Barder Fund giving, the Bradley files examined by CMD reveal a detailed effort to assess, map, and chart the density of each state’s right-wing infrastructure using a number of metrics. A graph in the Barder board files shows that only 28 percent of Bradley “state infrastructure grant making” went out of state in 2011. By 2013, that number had grown to 56 percent.
One document (Barder Fund, Aug 18, 2015) describes an internal study and chart, “Quantitative evaluation of state infrastructures, by selected characteristics,” that evaluates the “quality and promise” of each state’s right-wing organizations’ makeup. CMD recreated this chart for easy viewing.
States are rated based on what was learned from interviews with 54 key people in the “conservative movement,” including notables such as Arizona Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Trump EPA administrator Scott Pruitt (then Attorney General of Oklahoma) as well as Sarah Longwell and Michael Saltsman of the PR firm Berman and Co. (Click here for a full list of Bradley advisors.)
A sidebar in a Bradley document (Barder Fund, Aug 18, 2015) lists eight characteristics of “successful state infrastructure,” including:
- Respected and dynamic leadership
- Quality think tank(s)
- Investigative journalism
- Opposition research
- Legal component [later referred to as litigation centers]
- Receptive policymakers
- Symbiotic relationship with grassroots groups
- Committed local funding support
To evaluate states, each of these is given a score of 1-5. With eight criteria, each receiving up to five points, the maximum score a state can receive is forty. The states are then grouped into four “tiers.” “While numericized, the evaluation still reflects some subjective judgement, of course.”
Following the assessment, the states are grouped into Tiers 1-4, Tier 1 being states that scored 30-40, Tier 2 20-29, Tier 3 10-19, and finally, Tier 4 below 10.
On its chart of all states, Wisconsin and Michigan scored the highest 39 on Bradley’s infrastructure scale of 40. Bernie Sander’s Vermont was at the bottom with a score of 8; liberal Hawaii scored 9.
The documents indicate Bradley was considering deepening investments in Colorado, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Georgia, Maryland, Virginia, and California in that order.
Colorado was a top priority because “Colorado is an important swing state with a broad base of center-right organizations and donors,” writes Bradley (Barder Fund, Feb. 23, 2016).
Bradley’s goal was to beef up strategic investments in top tier states and replicate the success of its investments in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Network
The Milwaukee-based foundation takes pride in its Wisconsin infrastructure and calls it the “Wisconsin Network.” Bradley’s Wisconsin infrastructure includes:
Receptive Policymakers: Bradley has poured money into a little-known organization, “American Majority” ($1.7 million), which trains candidates to run for public office and to watchdog “voter integrity” and “public school accountability,” as well as the American Legislative Exchange Council ($1.1 million), whose members dominate the Wisconsin legislature, regularly introducing verbatim ALEC model bills.
“Think Tanks”: Bradley funds the MacIver Institute ($1,079,640) and Wisconsin Policy Research Institute ($13,055,000 since 1987). The State Policy Network “think tanks” work closely with ALEC legislators on model bills, including recently on ALEC’s private sector union-busting legislation, ALEC’s rollback of prevailing wages and more.
Grassroots: Bradley bankrolls manufactured grassroots organizations to back favored policy proposals and politicians. Bradley funds the discredited “True the Vote” organization ($205,000, according to IRS documents). Bradley gave $1,305,000 to the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity Foundation, including $100,000 for the first AFP-Wisconsin field office. Although the group claims its efforts are entirely educational, nine AFP field offices in Wisconsin knocked on doors and handed out literature benefiting GOP candidates like US Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) in 2016.
Litigation Centers: Bradley saw a need for a better litigation infrastructure in Wisconsin, so it poured money into the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) in recent years ($3,655,355) to defend its favored policy proposals and politicians. WILL has worked to defend a key Bradley agenda item — school vouchers for private and religious schools — and to privately enforce Scott Walker’s union-busting Act 10 bill against local governments. (Bradley “matching grant” documents suggest that WILL also received $75,000 from Scott Walker’s top donor Diane Hendricks and $10,000 from Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric Stephen O’Keefe.)
Media: Bradley kept Matt Kittle at the Wisconsin Watchdog media site going as its parent organization (the Franklin Center for Government Integrity) started to sink ($795,500 to the Franklin Center). Bradley also gave two $250,000 “Bradley Prizes” to key players on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, Paul Gigot and Kim Strassel, and the editorial board promptly started “breaking” news on Walker’s Wisconsin.
Opposition Research: Bradley funded Scott Jensen (formerly the GOP Speaker of the Assembly) and his former chief of staff, Brett Healy at the MacIver Institute to secretly “map Wisconsin’s progressive infrastructure” in 2008 and 2015. Bradley funds Media Trackers specifically under the category of “opposition research” (over $1 million between 2010-2015).
Bradley knows well what this deep investment could accomplish, the astonishing ability to force an extreme right-wing agenda through a state legislature over unprecedented mass protests and historic efforts to recall state elected officials.
Bradley Infrastructure in Action
On February 11, 2011 Scott Walker “dropped the bomb” on Wisconsin working families with his Act 10 bill targeting public-sector unions and effectuating the steepest cuts to education in Wisconsin history.
The American Federation of County State and Municipal Workers (AFSCME) was born in Wisconsin. AFSCME and Wisconsin teachers’ unions were heavy hitters in Democratic politics. Walker’s Act 10 bill stopped government withholding of union dues and implemented a poison pill union recertification requirement that made it extremely difficult for these unions and all public-sector unions to recertify.
As teachers, nurses, cops and firefighters, their families and supporters surrounded the state capitol in crowds of 100,000 or more and a 16-day capitol occupation began, Bradley’s “Wisconsin Network” swung into action. Grebe was included in the crisis calls with Walker’s closest campaign advisors, the Koch crowd held small rallies and bus tours.
When close to one million signatures were filed to trigger a recall of the governor, True the Vote produced laughable “data” claiming that the signatures were forgeries and frauds and Media Trackers released a false video showing “underage” women signing the recall petition. (The Democratic Party produced their proof of age.) Later, the MacIver Institute “think tank” would engage in a remarkable $3 million ad campaign to defend Act 10 in partnership with the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity.
When a bipartisan group of five district attorneys launched a “John Doe” probe into allegations of illegal campaign coordination between the Walker campaign and “independent” electioneering groups during the recall races, the Wall Street Journal broke exclusive “news” provided by a subpoenaed party, Wisconsin Club for Growth’s Eric O’Keefe, and pounded prosecutors as partisan “speech police,” Wisconsin Watchdog penned 376 hyperbolic articles defending Walker and O’Keefe as Media Trackers attacked the experienced investigators at the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, which enforced the state’s campaign finance laws. WILL defended Walker in the media and behind the scenes. “WILL has been front and center in the fight against the John Doe investigation,” the Bradley staff writes approvingly (WILL, Grant Proposal Record, 11/10/2015).
Remarkably, Grebe also gave Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce Foundation Inc. $600,000 in 2011-2012 for unknown purposes (Barder Fund, August 18, 2015, Table 2). WMC, the trade association, was one of the biggest spenders for Republicans in the 2011-2012 recall period. Bradley could not give the association or its campaign arm funds, but funneled funds to the “charitable” arm. Bradley records indicate that WMC Foundation Inc. also received matching funds of $600,000 in 2011 from M&I Foundation (a foundation associated with M&I Bank, now BMO Harris). A 2016 expose in The Guardian showed that Grebe was included in recall planning sessions organized at WMC for Walker’s recall race. WMC was one of the groups subpoenaed in the John Doe investigation.
In the midst of the recall tumult, the Bradley files indicate that Grebe planned the first private “Kohler Action Conference” in the fall of 2011 at the exclusive five-star American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin. This was after the summer’s hotly contested Senate recalls and as the party was gearing up for Governor Walker’s June 2012 recall election.
Invited was a who’s who of Wisconsin’s Republican elite, a long list of millionaire and billionaire backers of Walker, and a handful of dark money gurus and GOP operatives. According to the documents, Scott Walker, Karl Rove, Charles Krauthammer, and Charlie Sykes were featured speakers. Just a few months past, in May 2011, Walker had begged Rove for $1 million for his recall, telling him that he always referred to his top campaign advisor R.J. Johnson as “my Karl Rove.”
R.J. Johnson and his business partner Deborah Jordahl were listed as “presenters” for the 501(c)(4) dark money group Wisconsin Club for Growth, along with Walker’s campaign manager Keith Gilkes and the Koch’s Americans for Prosperity-WI leader Matt Seaholm. Johnson’s role coordinating the recall ads run by “independent” groups during the 2011-2012 recall period helped spark the “John Doe” criminal investigation of the Walker campaign and dark money groups, which only became public in 2013. The documents indicate that Wisconsin’s dark money man and Wisconsin Club for Growth director, Eric O’Keefe, and his wife Leslie Graves, a Bradley grantee who runs Ballotpedia, were also in attendance.
A year later, after Walker and “independent” big money groups spent unprecedented sums to prevail in Walker’s June 2012 recall, the gang got together again for a victory lap at the Kohler conference. Having beaten back a recall campaign sparked by almost 1 million signatures, the crowd of Walker donors and political apparatchiks must have been abuzz with talk of a possible Walker presidential run.
“Americas future is at stake. Will our nation move in the direction of Western European Socialism or will we return to the free market principles that have unleashed human potential?” reads the breathless invitation signed by Grebe and Diane Hendricks, head of Hendricks Holding Company, Inc. and ABC Supply Company Inc. Hendricks is Scott Walker’s top donor, who famously revealed Walker’s true agenda by asking him on tape how he would “divide and conquer” the unions and turn Wisconsin into a red state (you start with the public-sector unions replied Walker who would later go after private-sector unions in 2015). The documents indicate that she helped fund the conference and the Bradley Foundation staff did the legwork.
The Bradley Files indicate that R.J. Johnson gave the audience a PowerPoint presentation titled “Recalling the Recall” featuring many of the ads he had engineered during the recall period for Wisconsin Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, and the Walker campaign side by side with analysis — including the impact of this pounding rotation of ads on ticket splitters. “As the focus turned to Barrett, ticket splitters broke for Walker and stayed there,” said the PowerPoint.
Normally, tax-exempt organizations lean over backward to separate themselves from political operatives, campaigns, and elections. But the documents included in the Bradley files indicate that R.J. Johnson, Keith Gilkes, and Walker all made an appearance.
Michael Grebe’s personal call list of people “A-OK to transfer directly to Mike Grebe or his voicemail” is another revealing document from the Bradley files. The document includes family, plus a list of key figures from the Walker team, including Scott Walker; Walker’s lawyer who defended him in the John Doe, Steve Biskupic; Walker’s campaign manager, Keith Gilkes; Wisconsin GOP party head Stephen Thompson; and, perhaps most surprising, federal Judge Rudolph Randa.
Randa was the federal judge who, on May 6, 2014, called a halt to the criminal investigation of Walker and dark money groups, ordering state prosecutors to destroy all evidence gathered in the investigation. Judge Randa shocking intervention in a state criminal matter was promptly overturned by conservative Justice Frank Easterbrook of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals who held that Randa’s ruling was “imprudent,” “unnecessary,” and “an abuse of discretion.”
With the aid of Bradley-funded groups and the people on Grebe’s personal call list, Walker survived his recall election and the John Doe investigation.
A Bradley movie designed to rally other deep-pocketed donors to the cause takes credit for the role the Wisconsin Network had in Walker’s Act 10 bill. “With the help of the Bradley Foundation and Bradley Impact Fund, conservative state policy organizations have had many wins in recent years, especially in the midwest. We have realized wins in educational choice and in battles against Big Labor…” says the narrator. The video concludes: “Together we can help keep our Great Lakes blue and our states red.”
In 2016, Walker’s Act 10 delivered for the Wisconsin GOP. With union membership down by 132,000 or more, the state swung Republican for the first time since 1984, by only 23,000 votes. Ironically, some Wisconsin Republicans including Grebe were not pleased with Trump’s nomination. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that Grebe gave up his delegate slot to protest the Trump nomination.
CMD asked tax expert Marcus Owens about the activities of Wisconsin’s largest charitable organization. He explained that Bradley could be held responsible for any inappropriate political spending.
With regard to Bradley’s overall pattern of grant-giving, Owens stated: “It appears that the Bradley Foundation may have made a series of taxable expenditures in the form of grants for non-charitable purposes, and grants conferring an excessive private benefit. Taxable expenditures trigger a cascading series of penalties on private foundations, and potentially on the foundation managers personally, that only increase if the improper actions — the taxable expenditures — are not promptly unwound and excise taxes paid to the Treasury. In a worst-case scenario involving willful and flagrant violations, the penalty is a forfeiture of a foundation’s assets to the government.”
In the end, Act 10 survived and so did Scott Walker. Now Bradley was ready to take the Wisconsin “model” national by decreasing its investments in Wisconsin and increasing investments in other states on the Bradley chart. Once again a key component of the Bradley blueprint would be a deliberate effort to defund and dismantle unions at both the state and local level.
The Bradley Foundation did not respond to requests for comment on this article. Bradley’s President Richard Graber did an interview with WTMJ radio May 5th discussing the ethics of reporting on hacked materials. The Bradley-funded Wisconsin Watchdog printed at least four articles on the Podesta email leaks, using the hacked emails to attack Democrats and promote school vouchers.
Current members of the Bradley Foundation Board are Richard W. Graber (President), Art Pope (Chairman; Variety Wholesalers), Patrick J. English (Vice Chairman; Fiduciary Management, Inc.), Terry Considine (AIMCO), Curt S. Culver (MGIC), Robert P. George (Princeton University), Victor Davis Hanson (Hoover Institution), Diane Hendricks (ABC Supply Co. and Hendricks Holding Co.), Cleta Mitchell (Foley & Lardner), and James T. Barry III (The Barry Company). Former board members include Michael W. Grebe and George F. Will.
David Armiak, David Johnson, Evan James, Nick Surgey, and Lisa Graves contributed research to this series.