Citizens for a Strong America

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Citizens for a Strong America is a non-profit group that says it is "a diverse coalition of concerned citizens, businesses, non-profit organizations and other stakeholders."[1]

The Center for Media and Democracy, which publishes SourceWatch, discovered that this group was created in August 2010 and operates out of a UPS mail drop box, but spent $836,000 on ads in the 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court race, and additional undisclosed amounts on state Senate recall races that year.[2] Wisconsin Club for Growth provided CSA's entire $4.62 million operating budget in 2011; CSA's Treasurer is Valerie Johnson, wife of Wisconsin Club for Growth's RJ Johnson.[3] CSA also funneled money to other groups active in the recall elections, as well as the controversial "United Sportsmen" group that was the beneficiary of a $500,000 taxpayer-funded "sweetheart deal" cut by the outgoing Assembly Majority Speaker.

The President of CSA is John W Connors, the "Director of Special Operations" at the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, which operates Watchdog.org and Wisconsin Reporter. Connors is elsewhere listed as an employee of David Koch's Americans for Prosperity, and his consulting firm is at the same street address and building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as AFP-Wisconsin. Connors registered CSA's web domain.[4]

In November 2013 CSA was one of many conservative groups served with a subpoena in the Wisconsin John Doe campaign-finance investigation. This subpoena was later squashed in a ruling by Judge Gregory A. Peterson in January 2014.[5]

Support for 2011 Prosser Supreme Court Campaign

Citizens for a Strong America - Refused

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, CSA spent over $836,000 on "issue ads" supporting Justice David Prosser's 2011 reelection campaign.[6] The ads, which were not disclosed to election authorities because they did not explicitly tell viewers how to vote, were in essence attacks against Prosser's opponent, Department of Justice Attorney JoAnne Kloppenburg.[7] Attacks against Kloppenburg included accusations that she refused to take down ads claiming she supported sexual abuse victims and that she lacked courtroom experience. Another ad accused Kloppenburg of sending an 80 year old farmer to prison for refusing to plant native vegetation, which Politifact rated "pants on fire." [8]

In 2013, the blog Cognitive Dissonance revealed an email from a Wisconsin resident Paul Behling to Scott Matejov, Assistant to the Governor and Deputy Chief of Staff for External Operations in the Walker administration. The email stated that Behling "needed to get very creative with diverse State and National organizations to help [Prosser's] campaign due to being financially capped at $300,000 and it was a non-partisan race without the benefit of normal political party help…" This revealed the underhanded methods by which dark money organizations donated to the Prosser campaign.[9]

Support for 2011 Senate Recall Campaigns

Citizens for a Strong America Moore Ad

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimates that CSA spent $1,700,000 during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections.[10] This included attack ads against Democrats such as Shelly Moore, who was running in the 10th district against State Senator Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls).[11] WDC also reports that CSA sponsored a television ad in support of incumbent Republican Senator Alberta Darling of River Hills during her recall election.[12]

In addition to television ads, CSA sponsored radio ads against two Assembly Democratic candidates. One ad was against candidate Maureen May-Grimm who ran against incumbent Howard Marklein in the 51st Assembly District. The ad accused her of supporting tax increases as a Mineral Point School Board member. The other ad criticized the Democratic Assembly candidate int he 49th District, Carol Beals who ran against incumbent Republican Travis Tranel. These ads ran about about a month before the fall 2012 elections.

CSA also sponsored mailings attacking incumbent Democratic Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay who ran against Republican challenger John Macco in the 30th Senate District, and Democratic Assembly candidate Justin Pluess who challenged incumbent Republican Scott Krug for his 72nd District seat.[13]

Entirely Funded by Wisconsin Club for Growth in 2011

Although Citizens for a Strong America does not reveal funders on its website, through tax filings it can be ascertained that CSA was entirely funded by Wisconsin Club for Growth, which gave CSA $4,620,000 in 2011. This amounted to CSA's entire budget for 2011, the same year that it spent significant sums on the Supreme Court and Senate elections.

The treasurer for Citizens for a Strong America is Valerie Johnson, wife of RJ Johnson, a top "advisor" to Wisconsin Club for Growth.[3]

CSA, in turn, provided the majority of funding for a third nonprofit that was active in the recall elections, and also shuffled money to two other groups.

Funding Recipients

United Sportsmen of Wisconsin

CSA transferred $235,000 to United Sportsmen of Wisconsin in 2011 (the first year the group was in existence). The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel confirmed that in 2011, CSA was United Sportsman's only funder.[14] United Sportsmen became embroiled in scandal in 2013 after outgoing Assembly Majority leader Scott Suder cut a $500,000 taxpayer-funded "sweetheart deal" for the group, which Governor Walker rescinded after public outcry. [15][3] [16][17]

United Sportsmen also "worked with Wisconsin Family Action and Americans for Prosperity on an operation during the 2011 recall races in which absentee ballot applications were sent with the incorrect date for elections." [17]

Wisconsin Family Action

Another group CSA supported was Wisconsin Family Action, to which it gave $916,045 in 2011. CSA's funding was was over 90% of the $1,009,616 in grants that the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage group received that year. In addition to its anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage campaigns, Wisconsin Family Action spent an estimated $850,000 on the Senate recall campaigns in 2011, and an additional undisclosed amount on the Prosser-Kloppenburg race.[11]

Wisconsin Right to Life

CSA also gave $347,582 to Wisconsin Right to Life in 2011, a group that was the plaintiff in a high-profile 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down regulations on the so-called "issue ads" that many groups in this dark money network have engaged in.[11]

Operates Out of UPS Mailbox in Beaver Dam, Phone Located Hours Away

The group's website has a street address, but in 2011 the Center for Media and Democracy discovered that the organization's listed address is a UPS box in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. PRWatch also contacted the phone number on the website and the voicemail was full, and contacted the phone number on the domain registration and reached Connors' home. [18] A local television news station, WFRV, found that the phone number on the website goes to a phone number located a couple of hours from Beaver Dam, but near the Wisconsin capitol in Middleton, Wisconsin.[19]

Successor to "Coalition for America's Families"

CSA appears to be the successor to an earlier dark money group named the Coalition for America's Families, which had many of the same directors, including CSA Treasurer Valerie Johnson and was also supported by the Wisconsin Club for Growth.[11]

Board Members

As of 2011:[20]

  • Jessika Stauffacher: Director
  • Virginia Marchmann: Director
  • John Connors: President
  • Valerie Johnson: Treasurer

Sourcewatch resources

External resources

Contact

Citizens for a Strong America
834 Park Avenue #306
Beaver Dam, WI 53916-2206

Phone: (608) 831-2974

Email: citizensforastrongamerica@gmail.com[21]

References

  1. Citizens for a Strong America About, organizational web page, accessed April 3, 2011.
  2. Lisa Graves, Group Called "Citizens for a Strong America" Operates out of a UPS Mail Drop but Runs Expensive Ads in Supreme Court Race?. PRWatch.org, April 2, 2011.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Brendan Fischer, Kohler Heir and Walker Backer Plumbs Dark Money Depths, prwatch.org, Nov 5, 2013
  4. Madison Who's Who VIP Member Biography, John W. Connors, business listing, accessed April 4, 2011
  5. Wisconsin Political Speech Victory, Wall Street Journal, Jan 10, 2014
  6. Buying Time 2011: Judicial Public Financing in Wisconsin, Brennan Center for Justice, April 5, 2011.
  7. Bill Leuders David Prosser waffles on vow to denounce dishonest ads in Wisconsin Supreme Court race, The Isthmus, April 1, 2011
  8. Ad says JoAnne Kloppenburg jailed an 80-year-old farmer for refusing to plant native vegetation on his farm, Politifact.com, Mar 31, 2011
  9. Capper, Son of Doe: Gunsmoke, Cognitive Dissonance, Nov. 22, 2013
  10. Recall Race for Governor Cost $81 Million, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Report, Jan 31, 2013
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 Brendan Fischer, WI Club for Growth, Target of Walker Recall Probe, at Center of Dark Money Web, prwatch.org, Nov 18, 2013
  12. Hijacking Special Elections and Recall 2011: Citizens For A Strong America, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Report, Aug 5, 2011
  13. Hijacking Campaign 2012: Citizens for a Strong America, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Report, Oct 22, 2012
  14. Jason Stein, United Sportsmen seeks exemption from penalty for faulty tax filings, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Jan 12, 2014
  15. Brendan Fischer, Wisconsin Prepares to Hand Half-Million in Taxpayer Funds to Koch-Tied GOP Lobby Shop, PRwatch.org, Aug. 27, 2013.
  16. Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, "Fishing trip underscores close ties between Suder, United Sportsmen", Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Sept. 30, 2013.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Brendan Fischer, Why Is the Franklin Center's "Wisconsin Reporter" and "Watchdog.org" Attacking the John Doe?, PRwatch.org, Dec. 19, 2013.
  18. Lisa Graves, Group Called "Citizens for a Strong America" Operates out of a UPS Mail Drop but Runs Expensive Ads in Supreme Court Race? PRWatch.org, April 2, 2011
  19. WFRV News (Channel 5) Ad Wars in state Supreme Court Race, WFRV television news, April 2, 2011
  20. Form 990, IRS Filing, 2011
  21. Citizens for a Strong America Contact, organizational web page, accessed April 3, 2011