CRG Network, or Citizens for Responsible Government, is a Wisconsin-based set of small, right-wing organizations active in Wisconsin politics. CRG Network has received funding from the Koch-tied Donors Trust and Wisconsin Club for Growth, and has ties to David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. It is run by Chris Kliesmet and Orville Seymer. The network is composed of three separate entities: CRG Network PAC, CRG Foundation, Inc., and CRG Advocates, Inc. CRG Network PAC describes its mission as "to help citizens elect fiscally conservative candidates, assert property rights, and remove corrupt and/or fiscally irresponsible politicians from office." CRG Foundation, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) corporation that provides "the tools and training for ordinary citizens to become re-engaged in managing government." CRG Advocates, Inc. is the conservative lobbying arm of the CRG Network.
CRG Network's website claims that "CRG Network PAC has no executive board, only an unpaid, volunteer administrative staff" and "CRG Network has a very small, all-volunteer staff who work for free, travel and consult on their personal time, and often do not even receive reimbursement for expenses." However, its statements to the press have indicated that it does have paid staff. See below for more.
- 1 Failed Attempt to Intervene in Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawsuit
- 2 CRG Network Wins Challenge to Campaign Finance Law
- 3 CRG Network behind Anti-Streetcar Drive in Milwaukee
- 4 CRG Network Led Recalls
- 5 Funding
- 6 Ties to DonorsTrust, a Koch Conduit
- 7 Personnel
- 8 Contact Information
- 9 References
Failed Attempt to Intervene in Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawsuit
Wisconsin Club for Growth's lawyer, David Rivkin, asked on behalf of CRG Network that a judge dismiss a lawsuit brought in April 2015 by the Wisconsin Supreme Court's Chief Justice, Shirley Abrahamson, over how that court's leader is selected, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Rivkin is considered a "hefty and expensive" lawyer who was also hired by the U.S. House GOP to challenge the Affordable Care Act and who has represented Wisconsin Club for Growth (WiCFG) in other lawsuits. WiCFG has funded CRG Network in the past.
Abrahamson had been re-elected in 2009 to a ten-year term on the Supreme Court, having already been selected as chief justice. In a low-turnout April 2015 election, 53 percent of Wisconsin voters approved an amendment to the state constitution to allow the members of the Supreme Court to choose who will head the court, rather than having the job go to the most senior member, as had been the case. Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and her supporters sued to keep her position as the court's leader the next day, citing her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law.
CRG Network's Kliesmet and Seymer joined three other Wisconsin voters--Chris Martinson (founding member of Right to Work Wisconsin in 2012), Vincent Schmuki (who launched a "recall Doyle" effort in 2009), and Dara Maillette (co-wrote two books with former Tea Party legislator Kim Simac--in asking to intervene in the case in order to make arguments that Abrahamson's lawsuit should be thrown out. A federal judge denied their attempt, however.
CRG Network Wins Challenge to Campaign Finance Law
CRG Network sued the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) in federal court on June 23, 2014 to end enforcement of a Wisconsin campaign finance law limiting total contributions to candidates by political action committees. U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa sided with CRG, issuing a temporary injunction on September 5, 2014 that prohibited enforcement of the law. As of May 2015, the GAB had ceased enforcing aggregate PAC limits and a final decision on the case was still pending.
CRG's lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) and the suit was reportedly funded by Citizens for Self-Governance, an organization founded by Eric O'Keefe, who also sits on its board. At the time, O'Keefe's Wisconsin Club for Growth was at the center for a John Doe investigation into possible illegal campaign coordination related to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. One of O'Keefe's main complaints about the John Doe investigation, as described by his lawyer, David Rivkin, is that it was "chilling" free speech and the ability of political organizations to raise and spend money in Wisconsin.
CRG Network behind Anti-Streetcar Drive in Milwaukee
CRG Network has pushed for a referendum on the streetcar transportation system in Milwaukee, which has been projected to improve public transportation in the city. The group argues that the system is "ill-advised and wasteful." CRG Network had previously organized a petition campaign and had threatened to file lawsuits against the city of Milwaukee in an effort to stop the streetcar project. CRG Network's initial petition, which ended in March 2015, drive fell 6,000 signatures short of the approximately 31,000 needed to force a ballot referendum on the streetcar project after spending the full 60 days allowed on the petition drive, according to Milwaukee Magazine (CRG Network claims to have collected around 30,000 signatures.) Another group, STOP the Milwaukee Streetcar, announced in early May that it would attempt to revive the effort.
CRG Network has fought this public infrastructure project with the help of the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity. Urban Milwaukee asked David Fladeboe, the Wisconsin director for Americans for Prosperity, to detail the group's efforts in opposing the streetcar, and he responded, "We have been educating the public on why the streetcar is wrong for Milwaukee since the mayor started on this project. Now we are working on pushing the referendum to allow the people of Milwaukee to decide the fate of the streetcar. Our field teams are working with several coalition partners to gather the required signatures to have a referendum in Milwaukee. We have both paid staff and volunteers working on this project."
CRG Network Led Recalls
CRG Network has been behind many recalls in the state of Wisconsin. It assisted in the recall of the following politicians, according to its website:
- Tom Ament (2002 - CRG filed)
- Karen Ordinans (2002)
- Kathleen Arciszewski (2002)
- David Jasenski (2002)
- LeAnn Launstein (2002)
- James McGuigan (2002)
- Penny Podell (2002)
- Linda Ryan (2002)
- Basil Ryan (2003)
- Mary Heins (2004)
- Jeff Nowak (2005)
- Neal Weare (2005)
- Dave Hansen (2011)
- Jim Holperin (2011)
- Robert Wirch recall (2011)
The Citizens for Responsible Government Foundation has received $50,000 or less in revenues for the years 2008 through 2013, according to its filing with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. In 2007, it reported $40,959 in total revenue, $13,977 in total expenses, and $34,409 in net assets.
CRG Advocates, Inc. reported receiving $134,289 in total revenue, spending a total of $133,430 in expenses, and maintaining $1,379 in net assets as of the end of the 2009 fiscal year.
None of CRG Network's organizational entities is legally required to notify the public of the identities of its donors. Its president, Kliesmet, has adamantly refused to disclose its donors. However, the following organizations have reported funding Citizens for Responsible Government, Inc.:
- Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program (a donor-advised fund): $15,000 for general operating expenses (between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014)
- Wisconsin Club for Growth: $126,500 to "promote education and mobilize support for a fiscally responsible budget in Milwaukee County including proposals to lower costs by outsourcing services" (2009). (The Center for Responsible Government Foundation reported $50,000 or less in total revenue in 2009. CRG Advocates, Inc. shows $134,289 in total revenue in 2009.)
The following organizations have reported funding Citizens for Responsible Government Foundation:
- Donors Capital Fund (a donor-advised fund): $10,000 "for the public education project on the budget and finance" (2009)
Ties to DonorsTrust, a Koch Conduit
DonorsTrust is considered a "donor-advised fund," which means that it divides its funds into separate accounts for individual donors, who then recommend disbursements from the accounts to different non-profits. Funds like DonorsTrust are not uncommon in the non-profit sector, but they do cloak the identity of the original donors because the funds are typically distributed in the name of DonorsTrust rather than the original donors. Very little was known about DonorsTrust until late 2012 and early 2013, when the Guardian and others published extensive reports on what Mother Jones called "the dark-money ATM of the conservative movement."
A report by the Center for Public Integrity exposes a number of DonorsTrust funders, many of which have ties to the Koch brothers. One of the most prominent funders is the Knowledge and Progress Fund, a Charles Koch-run organization and one of the group's largest known contributors, having donated nearly $9 million from 2005 to 2012. Other contributors known to have donated at least $1 million to DonorsTrust include the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, Donald & Paula Smith Family Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust, Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, and the John M. Olin Foundation.
Since its inception in 1999, DonorsTrust has been used by conservative foundations and individuals to discretely funnel nearly $400 million to like-minded think tanks and media outlets. According to the organization's tax documents, in 2011, DonorsTrust contributed a total of $86 million to conservative organizations. Many recipients had ties to the State Policy Network (SPN), a wide collection of conservative state-based think tanks and media organizations that focus on shaping public policy and opinion. In 2013, the Center for Media and Democracy released a special report on SPN. Those who received DonorsTrust funding included media outlets such as the Franklin Center and the Lucy Burns Institute, as well as think tanks such as SPN itself, the Heartland Institute, Illinois Policy Institute, Independence Institute, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, South Carolina Policy Council, American Legislative Exchange Council, Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs, and the Cascade Policy Institute.
People affiliated with CRG Network include:
- Chris Kliesmet, President/Director, CRG Advocates Inc. and Citizens for Responsible Government Foundation, Inc.; Communications Director, Citizens for Responsible Government, 2002
- Orville Seymer, Vice President/Director, CRG Advocates Inc. and Citizens for Responsible Government Foundation, Inc.
- Victor Huyke, Secretary/Director, CRG Advocates Inc. and Citizens for Responsible Government Foundation, Inc. (President, Citizens for Responsible Government Milwaukee, 2003-2006)
P.O. Box 371086
Milwaukee, WI 53237
- CRG Network, Who are we?, CRG Network, 2015.
- Patrick Marley, Conservative group seeks to intervene in chief justice case, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 13, 2015.
- CRG Network, Nominate Judge Ralph Adam Fine to Appeals Court 1, organizational website, accessed April 16, 2015.
- Center for Responsible Government Foundation, 2007 Form 990, foundation's annual IRS filing, May 15, 2008.
- Jessica McBride, "Milwaukee Insight: CRG Extending its Influence Statewide," WisPolitics, September 6, 2005.
- Eric Bilstad, "Ten Stories That Changed Our Lives: #6 Milwaukee Co. Pension Scandal," WTMJ Newsradio, accessed April 27, 2015.
- CRG Network, Who Are We?, organizational website, accessed April 16, 2015.
- Motion of Chris Kliesmet, Orville Seymer, Chris Martinson, Vincient Schmuki, and Dara Maillette To Intervene as Defendants, No. 3:15-cv-211-JDP, case in the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, filed April 13, 2015.
- GOP Hires Hefty and Expensive Lawyers to Take on Obama, JDJournal, August 26, 2014.
- Wisconsin Club for Growth, Inc., 2009 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, November 12, 2010.
- Patrick Marley, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson sues to keep her job for four more years, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 8, 2015.
- Jason Stein, Conservative activist launches push for Wisconsin 'right to work' law, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, December 1, 2014.
- Joe Petrie, Doyle recall moving forward, The Freeman, March 31, 2009.
- Abbey and Dara Maillette, Amazon.com, accessed April 16, 2015.
- Federal judge denies attempt by voters to intervene, stop Abrahamson lawsuit over amendment, Associated Press, April 15, 2015.
- "CRG Network vs. THOMAS BARLAND, HAROLD FROELICH, MICHAEL BRENNAN, ELSA LEMELAS, GERALD C. NICHOL, AND TIMOTHY VOCKE, each in their official capacity as Board Members of the WISCONSIN GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY BOARD," Case 2:14-cv-00719-WED, Filed June 23, 2014.
- Bruce Vielmetti, "Political action group sues over Wisconsin campaign money limits," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, June 23, 2014.
- Patrick Marley, "Federal court ruling removes limits on donations to political parties," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, September 15, 2014.
- Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "G.A.B. Stops Enforcing Aggregate PAC Limits," press release, September 9, 2015.
- M.D. Kittle, Another blow for Wisconsin’s restrictive campaign finance law, WisconsinWatchdog.org, September 9, 2015.
- Patrick Marley and Daniel Bice, "Subject in Doe probe says prosecutors engaged in 'domestic spying'," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 2, 2014.
- Daniel Bice, "Rindfleisch, O'Keefe identified as subjects in John Doe probe," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 10, 2014.
- Bruce Murphy, Koch-Funded Group Backs Anti-Streetcar Drive, Urban Milwaukee, January 20, 2015.
- CRG Network, Stop the Trolley Madness, organizational website, accessed April 2015.
- Sean Ryan, "Milwaukee streetcar opponents to force delay on council decision to help referendum effort," Milwaukee Business Journal, January 20, 2015.
- "Streetcar opponents threaten legal action," Milwaukee Business News, January 25, 2015.
- Larry Sandler, "Sidetracked," Milwaukee Magazine, April 17, 2015.
- CRG Network, "Streetcar Referendum Petitioners Plan New Strategy to Gather Required Signatures," press release, March 5, 2015.
- Sean Ryan, "New group revives anti-streetcar referendum," Milwaukee Business Journal, May 1, 2015.
- Michael Cass, "Koch brothers group works to stop Nashville Amp," The Tennessean, March 31, 2014.
- Americans for Prosperity, "AFP-Indiana Disappointed in Senate Vote, but Continues Fight for Hoosier Taxpayers," organizational press release, February 4, 2014.
- IRS, Exempt Organizations Select Check for EIN 68-0626635, governmental agency website, accessed April 16, 2015.
- CRG Advocates, Inc., 2009 Form 990, organizational annual IRS filing, November 12, 2010.
- Lisa Kaiser, Right-Wing CRG Attempted to Influence County Budget With Undisclosed Funds, Shepherd Express, December 2, 2009.
- Vanguard Charitable Endowment Program, 2013 Form 990, foundation's annual IRS filing, November 11, 2014.
- Karoli, Did WI's 'Citizens For Responsible Government' Forget To File Its Tax Returns?, Crooks and Liars, May 23, 2012.
- Donors Capital Fund, 2009 Form 990, foundation's annual IRS filing, November 16, 2010.
- Rebekah Wilce, A Reporters' Guide to the "State Policy Network" -- the Right-Wing Think Tanks Spinning Disinformation and Pushing the ALEC Agenda in the States, PRWatch.org, April 4, 2013.
- Andy Kroll, Exposed: The Dark-Money ATM of the Conservative Movement, Mother Jones, February 5, 2013.
- Suzanne Goldenberg, "Secret funding helped build vast network of climate denial thinktanks," The Guardian, February 14, 2013.
- Center for Media and Democracy, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund Grant Recipients, SourceWatch.org, accessed November 2014.
- Paul Abowd, Donors use charity to push free-market policies in states, Center for Public Integrity, February 14, 2013.
- Donors Trust, GuideStar.org, IRS form 990, 2011.
- UW Oshkosh, Palmeri Commentary, public university website, September 2, 2002, accessed April 2015.
- Victor Huyke, Victor Huyke, LinkedIn profile, accessed April 16, 2015.