On Saturday we posted an article detailing the similarities, and apparent coordination, in misleading “Absentee Ballot Application” mailers sent out to Democratic voters by both the David Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity – Wisconsin and a mysterious group calling themselves United Sportsmen of Wisconsin.
The Americans for Prosperity mailer, sent out in Wisconsin last week in advance of tomorrow's state Senate recall election of six Republican state Senators, included instructions that absentee ballots must be submitted by August 11th —- even though the election in question is actually tomorrow, August 9th.
The PO Box described as the “Absentee Ballot Application Processing Center” on those mailers belonged to a Rightwing family group tied to the anti-abortion movement. A spokesperson for the group, as we reported, said that while they were part of a “coalition” with AFP, they claimed to have had no idea AFP was using their PO Box on the mailers until they started receiving them, and that they hadn't seen the mailer before it went out. For their part, AFP claimed the incorrect date was simply a “typo” in two districts where they had sent the mailings, and that “liberals” were making a “mountain out of a molehill” about it all. Late last week, however, in a followup mailing, the group admitted that it had gone out to “everyone” in all of the state Senate districts, rather than just the two where Democrats will face recall elections next week (as opposed to tomorrow's GOP recalls) and blamed the incorrect date on their printer.
The United Sportsmen of Wisconsin (USW) mailers, almost identical in form, font, content, and type-setting, as we showed, had no information about who had paid for the mailings on them, and instructed voters that they needed to return their absentee ballots to the elections clerk by August 4th —- even though ballots may be delivered to the Wisconsin election clerks as late as the close of polls on August 9th.
Since we ran our article over the weekend, which suggested, among other things, previously-undocumented coordination between AFP and USW, and since there was little information to be found about USW on the web, a number of readers have been digging in to try and figure out exactly who the so-called United Sporstmen of Wisconsin actually are, as have we.
And, whaddaya know, a bit of digging reveals that the group was very recently founded by one John W. Connors, a long-time staffer and director of Americans for Prosperity, a College Republican leader, and a rather prolific founder of a number of hard-right political front groups with a record of deception in recent Wisconsin elections…
As we noted over the weekend, the web presence for United Sportsmen of Wisconsin is sparse at best, including a hastily slapped together Facebook page (which now appears to be either removed or set to private, following most of the comments on the page coming from critics of their recent misleading absentee ballot request mailing); a members-only Facebook page just created last month, days prior to their absentee mailing having gone out, and a one-page UnitedSportsmenWI.com page featuring little more than an application to join their group, along with the promise that, in doing so, “you will join a network of thousands of sportsmen across Wisconsin who will stay informed about important issues and band together to protect their rights.”
Examination of the HTML for the application web page reveals that the form is an iFrame embed from a webpage at: https://jconnorsandco.us2.list-manage2.com
A reader who filled out the form found and then confirmed her web application via email, was invited to “continue to our website.” Clicking on that link then took her to the website of J Connors Company, LLC at JConnorsAndCo.com.
Neither the UnitedSportsmenOfWi.com or JConnorsAndCo.com websites seem to actually offer any information whatsoever about gun ownership or hunting legislation or issues.
So who is John W. Connors?
Connors is listed as the president and owner of J Connors and Company LLC, whose address is listed at 1126 South 70th St S240, Milwaukee WI 53214.
The same building on 70th St. in Milwaukee houses the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity in a suite just down the hall, S219A. The shared building could be considered a coincidence, but for the fact that Connors turns out to have been a longtime staffer and director for AFP. The dots suggesting coordination between the two groups, as we detailed over the weekend, are quickly becoming very well connected.
Connors is described at the website of Americans for Prosperity —- a non-profit activist group founded by oil and chemical conglomerate billionaire brother CEO David Koch —- variously in 2007 and 2008 as “National Coordinator for Americans for Prosperity”, “AFP-WI staff member” and “National Director, Students for Prosperity”. Connors is not currently listed on their Staff page.
In an in-depth article published earlier this year by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), Lisa Graves, a former Deputy Asst. Attorney General in the US Dept of Justice's Office of Legal Policy, revealed that Connors is deeply involved with other front groups in Wisconsin which sound very similar to United Sportsmen of Wisconsin. Those groups have also been responsible for similarly misleading campaign material.
Graves details several misleading television spots by a group calling themselves “Citizens for a Strong America” (CSA), which aired earlier this year attacking WI Asst. Attorney General JoAnne Kloppenburg and supporting state Supreme Court Justice David Prosser prior to their exceedingly contentious and disputed election contest last April (as covered in great detail by The BRAD BLOG.)
Graves investigative reporting at CMD reveals that CSA was a very well-funded front group with little more than a claim to having a 501(c4) non-profit status and a mailbox address at a UPS Store.
“This mysterious group lists no information about its leaders, employees, or funders on its website, citizensforastrongamerica.net,” reported Graves before updating her story with the discovery that the Internet domain for the group had been purchased by John W. Connors of Milwaukee, who quickly had its Internet domain registration set to private after the CMD report was published.
The United Sportsmen of Wisconsin registration is similarly private, though the links embedded within it's single web page clearly lead to J Connors and Company, LLC., which describes itself as “an all-inclusive grassroots strategies company located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin,” that “serves the political, non-profit and corporate sectors, making us an extremely experienced and well-connected company.”
Who they are “well-connected” to is not stated.
“We are not hired by our clients,” their slogan reads, “we support our clients.”
On its “What We Do | Grassroots Strategy” page, the company claims:
The J Connors & Company team provides the help that most companies need concerning grassroots and community organizing. From coalition building to volunteer efforts, J Connors & Company will give you the tools to make any campaign a success. We are dedicated to helping our clients to complete their projects and makes [sic] big changes that impact their communities.
Indeed, “tools” provided by Connors for the United Sportsmen of Wisconsin effort appears to include telephone scripts and instructions on how to make automated GOTV phone calls from your home phone, in support of Republicans in the recall races. As brought to our attention by a reader following our weekend report, this Google site page for USW, is a bare bones page claiming “USW is a very unique group in contrast to other hunting or gun organizations because it will be the voice for sportsmen in Madison and stand up against legislation that threatens hunting, fishing and gun rights.” The page then goes on to explains the phone system used to make these calls: “The impact dialer allows you to make phone calls efficiently without having to manual dial on your phone. The dialer is a predictive dialer so it will mostly deliver 'live' people to your phone.” Quite a sophisticated operation for a newly formed “gun group,” eh?
There is no information on that page, or any other, about who is funding either it or the USW group itself.
Connors' History of Deceptive, Mysteriously-Funded Political Organizations
The same address for Connors' company in Milwaukee is also used, as Graves discovered, by a group calling itself “Campaign Now,” another domain name registered to Connors. Campaign Now, according to Graves, “uses the same phone number AFP used to register riders on the buses used to get people to the capitol hearing of the 'Joint Finance Committee,' a committee meeting other citizens did not learn about until the morning of the meeting,” during the state's extraordinary battle over Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union legislation.
“It seems he has been very busy,” adds Graves, who reports that during college, “Connors interned for Walker and worked on his campaign” and had been the President of Marquette University's chapter of the College Republicans (Karl Rove's old group of dirty tricksters.)
As Graves explains at the Center for Media and Democracy, there are a number of questions surrounding the background and funding of Connor's CSA, questions which are remarkably similar to those now surrounding the so-called United Sportsmen of Wisconsin whose deceptive absentee ballot mailers were almost identical to the ones sent out by his former(?) employers at AFP:
At recent AFP events, Connors has helped AFP's Mark Block launch AFP's new “home headquarters kit,” an update on the “pyramid-type campaign” that Block and then-candidate George W. Bush initially used in Wisconsin to identify voters and get them out to vote for his run for president.
All this raises questions of whether a recent college graduate is somehow bankrolling the CSA's ads, or whether others who fund Connors' work at AFP are involved in any way. (AFP Wisconsin was led until recently by Mark Block, who paid a fine in a settlement of a case a few years back after the state alleged that Block had coordinated a campaign worth $200,000 with an outside group when he was serving as Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox's campaign manager.)
[T]here is literally zero information about who is actually giving Connors or others associated with CSA the money to create or make the expensive ad buys in this election. What is clear is that CSA is most definitely linked to people backing and leading the extreme agenda of the Tea Party.
Accordingly, a virtually anonymous group is running ads on the eve of a major election with no public disclosure of who runs the group or who funds the group. Voters have no idea who paid for the video editing for the ad or who underwrote the purchase of the ads. There is no indication whether the group's funders are one person or a handful of people, or a company or business group or CEO. There is no indication, besides its postal box and its link to Connors, that it is funded by anybody in Wisconsin, or where its donors actually live in the United States or elsewhere.
Graves goes on to point out just one more, somewhat ironic (or perhaps not) reason why it was difficult to figure out exactly who was funding CSA earlier this year, and why the same is still true concerning Connors' so-called United Sportsmen of Wisconsin:
So, the voters of Wisconsin are now being bombarded by a virtually anonymous group being bankrolled to the tune of perhaps a million dollars or more to run ads which are demonstrably misleading. There is no physical office a voter can go to in order to complain or demand the group's tax filings. And even if those filings were available, they would not disclose who CSA's major financial backers are. CSA is exploiting the fact that
Justice Prosser and a narrow majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court enjoined the state from enforcing rules to require key disclosures by groups like CSA running so-called “issue” ads to influence elections.
Messages left by The BRAD BLOG at both Connors business phone number, as well as at the offices of J Connors & Company, LCC, where an associate said Connors was currently on the phone, have so far gone unanswered.
Nonetheless, evidence seems to suggest that, in addition to the money that AFP spent on their own misleading absentee ballot mailer, they are likely to have funded —- or at the very least, coordinated —- with Connors' United Sportsmen of Wisconsin front group on their misleading absentee ballot mailers.
So, who, other than the Koch brothers, funds Americans for Prosperity (and thus “United Sportsmen of Wisconsin” most likely)? AFP is notoriously secretive about their own funding sources, despite their widespread political activities across virtually every state in the nation, including their funding of the so-called “grassroots” Tea Party movement, as well as the Global Warming Denialist movement.
The vaunted secrecy behind some of the Koch brothers' anonymous sources of funding for their political operations, however, may soon experience a few cracks. But more on that in the coming days…