Club for Growth Wisconsin
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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.
The Club for Growth Wisconsin (CFGW) is a state arm of the far right-wing national issue ad group, the Club for Growth, which is funded by the wealthiest Americans  and supports Republican candidates for office. The Green Bay Press-Gazette, in a March 9, 2011 article, noted that CFGW has ties to New York real estate developer Howard S. "Howie" Rich, who has put millions into Republican and libertarian causes.
Governor Scott Walker's Budget Bill
On February 14, 2011, three days after Gov. Scott Walker introduced his budget bill, the Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCFG) aired  a commercial that accused state workers of not having to sacrifice like private sector workers. In an effort to divide the house of labor, the commercial urged private sector workers to support Walker’s budget repair bill and make state workers “pay their fair share.” When the commercial failed to dissuade protesters from going to the capitol, WCFG along with Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the Koch brothers, organized a pro-Walker rally on February 19. 
WCFG criticized protesters for taking off of work because private sector workers “would like [public workers] to contribute more towards their healthcare and pensions,”  even though state workers said they were willing to do so if they could keep their collective bargaining rights. According to the Nation’s John Nichols, WCFG is “an organization funded by extremely wealthy conservatives to carry out their budget-stripping goals [and] has been a key player in Republican Governor Scott Walker's move to take out the state's organized workers.”  In addition to this, WCFG, in a press release, targeted eight Republican State Senators that did not initially commit to Walker’s budget repair bill. Club For Growth, according to Think Progress, funded several “hard-hitting attack ads” against candidates who supported raising taxes on the rich or “have done anything to hold powerful corporations accountable.” 
Budget Issue Ads
During the February 2011 battle over the "budget repair bill", CFGW sponsored a black-and-white television ad that featured working-class faces and superimposed newspaper headlines about the economic downturn which asserted that public employees have made no sacrifices while ordinary people have suffered substantially. The ad cited concessions by workers at Harley-Davidson, Mercury Marine and Sub-Zero while somber music played in the background. The narrator intoned, "But state workers haven't had to sacrifice. They pay next to nothing for their pensions, and a fraction of their health care. It's not fair. Call your state legislator and tell them to vote for Governor Walker's budget repair bill. It's time state employees paid their fair share, just like the rest of us."
PolitiFact Wisconsin reported that "officials with the Club for Growth -- Deb Jordahl and R.J. Johnson -- told us the ad meant to highlight just two issues regarding state employee compensation: pension and health care payments.... The portion of health premiums paid by employees more than doubled under then-Gov. Jim Doyle, from 2.5 percent to 5.6 percent in 2011.... But the most notable change for state workers has come on pay.
"The Club for Growth ad dramatically highlights 'frozen wages' and 'pay cuts' accepted by unions at the private companies -- and then says 'state workers haven’t had to sacrifice.' In fact, state workers have taken a hit on wages -- in the form of furlough days.... Doyle also rescinded 2 percent raises for non-union employees in the 2007-2009 state budget.... Doyle also suspended merit awards in November 2008.... So state workers have in fact given up some pay, which is the definition of sacrifice."
The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that as of March 13, 2011, CFGW had spent $805,610 on broadcast TV ads over Wisconsin's budget fight.
WCFG also released four other videos promoting Walker’s budget reforms and endorsing Supreme Court Justice David Prosser and Senator Alberta Darling. During the April 5 Wisconsin elections, WCFG provided over $400,000 for Prosser’s campaign. Prosser’s conservative law history ensured that Walker’s budget bill would clear the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In March, when recall efforts achieved over 30,000 signatures for recall, WCFG released another commercial praising Darling for “keeping Wisconsin open for business without raising taxes.” 
Recall Election Spending
After Gov. Walker's controversial budget repair bill prompted a massive recall effort by Wisconsin residents to recall both he and other state legislators, 15 recall elections were held. "Overall, the Club spent over $9.1 million supporting Walker and Republican legislators in the 2011 and 2012 recall elections."
Wisconsin Supreme Court
Club for Growth Wisconsin spent more than $1 million on outside electioneering activities in the 2007 and 2008 state Supreme Court races and the 2008 and 2010 fall elections.
The Club for Growth Wisconsin was the first outside special interest group to promote a candidate in the 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court race, spending at least $321,000 on the race, and out-spending all candidates combined, and accounting for 70% of all spending in the race. The group has hired the Republican polling firm, Public Opinion Strategies, to health defeat efforts to obtain universal health insurance in Wisconsin.
In the primary for the 2013 elections alone, CFGW spent "more than $300,000 on television advertisements in support of incumbent Justice Pat Roggensack."
Local Judicial Elections
Most recently, Club for Growth Wisconsin has also had a hand in 2013 local judicial elections. In the Milwaukee county race, Club for Growth has spent $167,000 on TV ads in support of incumbent Judge Rebecca Bradley. "Club for Growth is also reportedly spending on a judicial election in Ozaukee County, where lawyer Joseph Voiland is challenging incumbent Judge Thomas Wolfgram," and attacking him for signing a petition in support of Walker's recall.
Previous Negative Ads
"Club for Growth Wisconsin spent an estimated $950,000 on negative broadcast advertising and other electioneering activities in the 2007 and 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court races and the 2008 fall elections," according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "The group sponsored a radio ad about three weeks before the November 2010 elections against Democrat Elmer Monk of Kimberly, who is running for the 1st Senate District open seat against Republican Frank Lasee. The ad criticized Monk for voting to raise property taxes as Kimberly school board member."
The Club for Growth Wisconsin "seek[s] to extinguish the voice of public labor unions... because those unions... provide the most important bulwark of campaign-season defense via volunteers and dollars against the corporate interests' unimpeded domination over elections." The Club for Growth Wisconsin's other efforts are aimed at helping corporations "avoid... their fair share of taxes, blocking minimum wage efforts and preventing any 'mandate' in environmental or workplace regulation they find inconvenient." The Club's overall strategies are aimed at splitting the middle and working classes by "pitting unionized workers against non-unionized workers, public-sector workers against nonpublic, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don't believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class," according to former labor secretary Robert Reich. Reich said, "By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans want Americans to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we need to do as a nation. They hope to deflect attention from the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish." 
Climate Change Denial
The Club for Growth Wisconsin calls global warming/climate change a "fraud." 
Backing "Tort Reform"
The Club for Growth Wisconsin supports and works to advance tort reform, a "movement" propagated by companies and entire industries -- such as the tobacco and asbestos industries -- that are vulnerable to legal actions seeking damages for the impacts of their products. Proponents use the term "tort reform" to refer to legislative measures designed to limit the ability of individuals to sue companies and to restrict the amount of potential damages available to individuals who take legal actions against companies.
Ties to Wall Street, the Kochs
Almost all of the board members of Club for Growth have extensive ties to Wall Street and Energy companies. Media Matters lists several donations and connections CFG board members have with the Koch Brothers’ charities, Exxon Mobile and other right leaning organizations.  According to ThinkProgress, CFG collected funds from “employees of J.P. Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, while being buoyed by large donations like a $1.4 million contribution from investor Stephen Jacksons of Stephens Groups Inc.” Furthermore R.J. Johnson, one of WCFG’s main organizers, was a strategist for Walker’s campaign. 
Club for Growth does not just back just any GOP candidate, Rep. Steve Latourette (R-OH) referred to the group as the “Spanish Inquisition” after their campaigns ousted moderates from the GOP.  In May 2010, the group “organize the GOP uprising in Utah … that toppled three-term Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R), and …Florida Gov. Charlie Crist out of the GOP as well.”  With strong ties to Wall Street and the Tea Party, Club for Growth has already endorsed over 20 candidates and provided funds and organizers for their campaigns. Their goal, according to the Washington Post, is “to capitalize on the Republican-dominated "tea party" movement that has coalesced in opposition to President Obama's health-care overhaul, the Wall Street bailouts and other fiscal concerns.”  “They just like to take money from anonymous donors, fire shots at folks without any accountability,” said Mike Huckabee to Fox News. 
Some Republicans have accused Club for Growth of backing right leaning candidates that lose to democrats; however, the endorsed candidates have already begun the work they were hired to do. Candidates such as State Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC), Mike Lee (R-UT), Trey Gowdy (R-SC), Sharron Angle (R-NV), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Mike Pompeo (R-KS) are supporting big businesses such as BP and “rushing to defend the rights of corporation over the American victims of the [BP oil disaster].”
Staff, Board, Personnel and Advisers
As of the filing of Club for Growth Wisconsin's 2011 IRS Form 990 in November 2012, its board members are:
R.J. Johnson, a former political strategist for Wisconsin's embattled Governor Scott Walker, is a key adviser to the Club for Growth Wisconsin. In the 2008 tax year, R.J. Johnson's eponymous consulting business made $33,791 on activities performed for the Club for Growth Wisconsin. In 2010, Walker paid RJ Johnson & Associates, Inc. $30,000 for "Consulting Fees- General."
Eric O'Keefe is also a board member of the CFGW. O'Keefe is part of the Koch Brothers' political network, having attended the Kochs' 2010 Aspen strategy soiree. He is also the chair and CEO of the Sam Adams Alliance, and a board member of the Institute for Humane Studies, which has taken millions from the Kochs and for which billionaire Charles Koch serves as chairman. 
The Club for Growth Wisconsin webpage has a "Congressional Corner with Congressman Paul Ryan" featuring links to various statements made by him 2007-2010.
Wisconsin Club for Growth Inc.
1223 West Main Street, #304
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin 53590
Phone: (877) 707-0571
Resources and Articles
- Organizational web site: http://wicfg.com/index.cfm
- Mary Bottari National Right-Wing Spin Machine Gears Up In Wisconsin, PRWatch.org, March 3, 2011
- Club For Growth Commercials: http://www.youtube.com/user/clubforgrowthwi?feature=mhum#p/u/0/im9DfnOW8XM
- ↑ Abe Sauer A Blueprint for a Takeover: Wisconsin Republicans Lied While the Kochs Schemed, The Awl, March 8, 2011
- ↑ Steve Contorno Budget battle hits airwaves, groups spend $620,000 on ads, Green Bay Press Gazette, March 9, 2011
- ↑ Wisconsin Club for Growth Benefits YouTube, Feb. 14, 2011.
- ↑ Ed Shultz  YouTube, Feb. 17, 2011
- ↑ Club For Growth Update Facebook, Feb. 16, 2011.
- ↑ Ed Shultz  YouTube, Feb. 17, 2011
- ↑ Club For Growth Update Facebook, Feb. 14, 2011.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 .” Lee Fang Club for Growth Radical Success Think Progress Editorials, Jun. 26, 2010
- ↑ Paul Fanlund Madison360: Why the revolt downtown is even bigger than it appears, The (Madison, WI) Capitol Times, February 21, 2011
- ↑ Group says Wisconsin state workers 'haven’t had to sacrifice', Journal Sentinel PolitiFact Wisconsin, February 18, 2011
- ↑ Craig Gilbert Budget fight TV ads top $3 million, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, March 15, 2011
- ↑ Ian Millhiser Leader of Koch Front Group is Behind Ads Supporting Wisconsin Justice David Prosser Think Progress, Apr 4, 2011
- ↑ Tom Tolan Democrats confirm it: Pasch will run against Darling in recall Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 5, 2011
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 14.2 Bredan Fischer, "In a Divided Wisconsin, Scott Walker Even Looms Large in Local Judicial Races", PRWatch, March 28, 2013
- ↑ Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Hijacking Justice 2011 Club for Growth Wisconsin, February 17, 2011
- ↑ Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law Special Interest Group Outspends Candidates on TV in Wisconsin Judicial Election, Press release, February 15, 2011
- ↑ Gene Ulm Confidential memorandum to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Club for Growth - Wisconsin, Public Opinion Strategies (polling firm), August 21, 2007
- ↑ Brennan Center for Justice, "Club for Growth Dominates TV Spending in Wisconsin Supreme Court Primary", February 21, 2013
- ↑ Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Hijacking Campaign 2010 Club for Growth Wisconsin, organization website, accessed May 9, 2011
- ↑ Paul Fanlund Madison360: Why the revolt downtown is even bigger than it appears, The Capital Times Political Blog, February 21, 2011
- ↑ Ibid.
- ↑ Robert Reich The Republican Strategy, Robert Reich Blog, February 17, 2011
- ↑ Club for Growth Wisconsin Breaking News/Global Warming: a Fraud Running on Fumes, article, October 28, 2009
- ↑ Club for Growth Wisconsin Tort Reform, organizational web site/position statement, undated, accessed March 17, 2011
- ↑ Media Matters  Conservative Transparency
- ↑ Dan Eggen Club for Growth’s Electoral Tactics Causing Headaches for GOP Washington Post, May 19, 2010.
- ↑ Fox News Transcript: Mike Huckabee on ‘Fox News Sunday’ ‘Fox News Sunday’ Interview, Nov. 19, 2007
- ↑ Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2011 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, November 15, 2012.
- ↑ Don Walker Wisconsin Club for Growth plans to stay active, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 22, 2011
- ↑ Club for Growth Wisconsin, United States Internal Revenue Service Club for Growth Wisconsin's 2008 Tax form 990 (pdf), accessed/uploaded to SourceWatch on March 17, 2011
- ↑ Government Accountability Board Friends of Scott Walker Fall Pre-Primary 2010 Report, Campaign Finance Report, accessed/uploaded to Sourcewatch May 9, 2011
- ↑ Government Accountability Board Friends of Scott Walker July Continuing 2010 Report, Campaign Finance Report, accessed/uploaded to Sourcewatch May 9, 2011
- ↑ Little Sis Koch Network Participants, Aspen 2010 photos, accessed March 17, 2011
- ↑ Abe Sauer A Blueprint for a Takeover: Wisconsin Republicans Lied While the Kochs Schemed, The Awl, March 8, 2011