Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance

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Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance is a secretive electioneering group that was registered as a corporate entity with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions by right-wing operative Craig Peterson.[1] According to Dan Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the group registered as a 501(c)(4) in June 2016 and Peterson -- along with right-wing allies Eric O'Keefe and Chris Wiken -- sits on its board of directors.[2] Peterson said Milwaukeeans for Self-Government isn't quite an organization, but rather described it as a "conduit" to influence local and city politics, as reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on April 4, 2016.[3] Bruce Murphy wrote that Peterson "sold his services to O’Keefe to operate as his liaison in Milwaukee. As Peterson told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, O’Keefe is 'good at raising [money]; I’m good at spending it.'"[4]

Working to Flip Milwaukee Red

Misleading Ads in Milwaukee District Attorney Partisan Primary

Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance spent big on behalf of Verona Swanigan in her race against sitting District Attorney John Chisholm for Milwaukee County District Attorney. Swanigan's campaign was run by Peterson, who was also one of her largest donors. Eric O'Keefe, a right-wing political operative with deep ties to the Koch brothers and director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, contributed $5,000 to her campaign. O'Keefe has declared that Chisholm "is not fit for public office" and "should not be allowed to serve out his term."[5][6] He has threatened to get him disbarred, tried to get Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker to fire him,[7] and had his high-powered, D.C. lawyers sue Chisholm in federal court on behalf of Cindy Archer.[8] Archer claims she was a victim of a renegade prosecutor, but she was a top Walker aide caught up in Chisholm's investigation of a sordid bid-rigging scheme detailed by the Center for Media and Democracy. Cindy Archer's claims of abuse were later disproved by a recording of the search of her home, which demonstrates that investigators read her the search warrant, Mirandized her, and treated her cordially.[9]

The Peterson-led dark money group spent an estimated $200,000 to $400,000 in an effort to get the self-described "conservative Democrat" Swanigan elected, despite serious ethical concerns and questions regarding her judgement and overall fitness for office:

  • Swanigan represented Milwaukee "slumlord" Elijah Mohammad Rashaed in 296 eviction cases.[10]
  • Swanigan failed to respond to multiple motions in a federal case until 9 months after the deadline given by Judge Lynn Adelman, claimed she "suffered from a debilitating illness that impacted (her) physical and mental capacity... (It) directly affected (her) ability to think clearly and analytically, formulate words, speak fluidly, and concentrate."[11]
  • Swanigan has never served as a prosecutor. The Milwaukee District Attorney oversees the largest team of prosecutors in the state of Wisconsin.
  • In 2014, Swanigan published a 62-page book of erotic poetry, along with a 21 1/2 minute video.[12]
  • While running as a Democrat, Swanigan has spoken at Milwaukee Republican events. Right-wing radio host Vicki McKenna urged voters to cross over to the Democratic primary in order to get Swanigan into office.

Sachin Chheda, a Democratic consultant, said independent groups with unidentified donors spent “at least $250,000 on TV, digital, radio and billboard ads" in the race.[13] Dan Bice reported the total to be an estimated $300,000 to $400,000.[2]

Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance released an ad that made inaccurate claims regarding Swanigan's experience and pushed misleading information about John Chisholm. Bruce Murphy debunked a number of the the advertisement's claims in Urban Milwaukee.[14]

The ad's claim that Swanigan had worked as a prosecutor was given a "false" rating by Politifact.[15] Her website says that she worked for the Fresno, California District Attorney office, which confirmed that she worked there for part of 2006 as a paralegal, not as a prosecutor.[16] Her LinkedIn page does not list any experience as a prosecutor either.[17]

Chisholm defeated Swanigan on August 9, 2016 by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.[18]

Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance Spent an Estimated $200,000 on Local Races in Milwaukee Spring Elections

Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance spent an estimated $200,000 on Milwaukee city races that took place on April 5, 2016. This figure includes spending on the Mayoral race between Tom Barrett and Bob Donovan, as well as key aldermanic races. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:[3]

"Craig Peterson -- a veteran GOP operative -- said last week that his group, called Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance, has been involved in just about all of the 14 competitive Common Council races. Only one incumbent, Ald. Jim Bohl, isn't facing a challenger. Peterson insisted the group and others that he's created are focused on improving conditions in Milwaukee, such as combating crime and improving job opportunities for city residents, especially African-Americans. 'We're not registered with anybody because we don't need to be,' Peterson said. 'However, we are going to be around for a long time, so there may be multiple organizations.'

Group Ran Ads for Right-Wing Alderman Bob Donovan in Unsuccessful Bid for Mayor

Peterson and his group initially backed Alderman Joe Davis in the Mayoral primary, contributing $1,000 to his campaign on January 29, 2015.[19] He eventually shifted support to Alderman Robert Donovan after Donovan defeated Davis in the primary.

Mayor Tom Barrett defeated Donovan by a margin of 70 percent to 30 percent on April 5, 2016.[20]

Attempts to Remake Milwaukee City Council, Derail Milwaukee Street Car

Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance was active in local Milwaukee city council elections in an attempt to pack the council with opponents of the city's street car proposal. The Peterson-led effort fell short.

Candidates supported by Craig Peterson or his group Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance are listed below in bold:

  • Ashanti Hamilton defeated Vincent Toney 79 percent to 21 percent in District 1. Hamilton became president of the council in April with the backing of Peterson.[21][22] Peterson contributed $250 to Hamilton's campaign on September 3, 2015.[23] Hamilton has been allied with Peterson, but supported Chisholm in the August 9 partisan primary.[24]
  • Shannan Hayden was defeated by Nik Kovak 73 percent to 26 percent in District 3.[3]
  • Monique Kelly was defeated by Robert Bauman 58 percent to 42 percent in District 4.[25][3][3]
  • Torey Lowe was defeated by Milele Coggs 65 percent to 34 percent in District 6.[25]
  • Bob Donovan defeated Justin Bielinski 52 percent to 48 percent in District 8.[3][22][25]
  • Mark Borkowski defeated Tim Kenney 64 percent to 35 percent in District 11.[25] Borkowski told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that Peterson is his "svengali."[3]
  • Chris Wiken was defeated by Terry Witowski 54 percent to 46 percent in District 13.[22]
  • Tony Zielinski defeated Meagan Holman 68 percent to 32 percent in District 14.

FCC Documents on Group's Ad Buys


  1. Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, MILWAUKEEANS FOR SELF-GOVERNANCE, INC., Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, accessed August 8, 2016.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Daniel Bice, Bice: Milwaukee primary races attract dark money, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 8, 2016.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Daniel Bice and Mary Spicuzza, Secretive group tries to remake Milwaukee City Hall, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 8, 2016.
  4. Bruce Murphy, The Bizarre War Against John Chisholm, Urban Milwaukee, June 14, 2016.
  5. Scott Walker supporters claim police raided homes over politics, Fox News, April 24, 2015.
  6. Head Of Organization Targeted In John Doe Probe Calls For Prosecutor's Firing, Wisconsin Public Radio, July 17, 2015.
  7. Andrew Hahn, Subject in John Doe probe wants Scott Walker to remove prosecutor from office, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 17, 2015.
  8. Mary Spicuzza, Cindy Archer, longtime aide to Scott Walker, sues John Doe prosecutors, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 1, 2015.
  9. Brendan Fischer, Scott Walker Aide's Claim of Prosecutorial Abuse Refuted by New Audio,, August 4, 2015.
  10. Cary Spivak, DA candidate represented landlord in 296 eviction cases, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 4, 2016.
  11. Daniel Bice, Democrat challenging John Chisholm has uphill battle, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 15, 2015.
  12. Daniel Bice, DA hopeful downplays erotic poetry book she published in 2014, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 13, 2016.
  13. Bruce Murphy, Can Chisholm Be Beaten?, Urban Milwaukee, August 8, 2016.
  14. Bruce Murphy, Radio Ad Blasts John Chisholm, Urban Milwaukee, July 20, 2016.
  15. Tom Kertscher, Candidate for district attorney doesn't say she worked as a prosecutor, but radio ad says she did, Politifact, August 4, 2016.
  16. Bruce Vielmetti, John Chisholm faces off with Democratic challenger Verona Swanigan, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 30, 2016.
  17. Verona Swanigan, Verona Swanigan, LinkedIn, accessed August 9, 2016.
  18. Bruce Vielmetti, Chisholm wins big in DA race, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 7, 2016.
  19. Political Contributions Tracker: Joe Davis Sr., Urban Milwaukee, accessed September 7, 2016.
  20. Mary Spicuzza, Mayor Barrett wins easy re-election victory over Donovan, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 6, 2016.
  21. Jeramey Jannene, Meet the New Boss, Urban Milwaukee, April 19, 2016.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 Bruce Murphy, Will Murphy Lose Council Presidency?, Urban Milwaukee', April 6, 2016.
  23. Urban Milwaukee, Political Contributions Tracker, Ashanti Hamilton 2016 January Continuing, Urban Milwaukee, January 2016.
  24. Bruce Murphy, 19 Election Winners and Losers, Urban Milwaukee', August 10, 2016.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 Bruce Murphy, The Plot to Deaft Bob Bauman, Urban Milwaukee, March 29, 2016.