Verona Swanigan is a Milwaukee Attorney who ran for Milwaukee County District Attorney against incumbent DA John Chisholm in the 2016 Wisconsin partisan primary. According to her campaign website Swanigan is a "conservative democrat," yet she appears to be tied to right-wing money sources. Opponents of the John Doe appear to have backed her campaign in a retaliatory effort to unseat Chisholm. As the Center for Media and Democracy's Mary Bottari reports, Swanigan backers were "prepping to go after Chisholm in a low turn out primary, using the new tools they worked so hard to legalize in Wisconsin, a flood of coordinated secret money and phony 'issue' ads."
Swanigan made the John Doe investigation an issue in the campaign. A message posted on her website proclaims "although (Milwaukee County District Attorney) is a partisan office, it should not be a platform for individual political agendas." Chisholm has a long record of prosecuting political corruption, most of which has targeted Democrats.
Verona Swanigan was defeated in the August 9 partisan primary by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent. There are no Republican candidates running for the seat, Chisholm will be serving his 4th term as Milwaukee County DA.
- 1 Swanigan Propped Up by Craig Peterson, Wisconsin GOP Operative with Ties to Eric O'Keefe
- 2 "Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance" Ran Ads Supporting Swanigan, Attacking Chisholm
- 3 Right-Wing Radio Host Vicki McKenna Praises Swanigan, Urges Republicans to Vote for Swanigan in Democratic Primary
- 4 Swanigan Represented Milwaukee "Slumlord" in 296 Eviction Cases
- 5 Swanigan Failed to Respond to Multiple Motions in a Federal Case, Eventually Replied Ten Months Later
- 6 "Make Love to My Page", V.E. Swanigan Published a Set of Erotic Poetry in 2014
- 7 Swanigan Backs Out of Scheduled Debate with Chisholm
- 8 Contributors
- 9 Contact
- 10 References
Swanigan Propped Up by Craig Peterson, Wisconsin GOP Operative with Ties to Eric O'Keefe
Swanigan is an African American who has participated in community rallies calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate police brutality. Although calling herself a "conservative democrat" Swanigan's campaign advisor was long-time GOP operative Craig Peterson who has worked closely with Wisconsin Club for Growth's Eric O'Keefe on numerous Milwaukee projects. 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.'" Peterson has also spent on radio ads to elect controversial Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke.
Eric O'Keefe, a right-wing political operative with deep ties to the Koch brothers and director of the Wisconsin Club for Growth, has declared that Chisholm "is not fit for public office" and "should not be allowed to serve out his term." He has threatened to get him disbarred, he has tried to get Scott Walker to fire him, and O'Keefe's high-powered, D.C. lawyers are suing Chisholm in federal court on behalf of Cindy Archer. Archer claims to be 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.
O'Keefe donated $5,000 to Friends of Verona Swanigan on July 12, 2016 and Peterson reported $250 in monetary contributions and $2,625.10 worth of in-kind contributions to Swanigan's campaign. Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee wrote that Peterson is "clearly preparing to go after Chisholm."
"Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance" Ran Ads Supporting Swanigan, Attacking Chisholm
Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance is a group registered as a corporate entity by Craig Peterson, but does not appear to be registered with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board. According to Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance is registered as a 501(c)(4) non profit. The group, which engages in electioneering, was spending on Swanigan's behalf in the race, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
A spot out this month starts with a dramatization of a woman calling her husband after a carjacking, and says Chisholm "could care less about keeping thugs off the street," and that his real focus is partisan politics. The ad is paid for by Milwaukeeans for Self Governance, the same group run by local conservative operative Craig Peterson that backed various candidates in the spring Common Council elections. Peterson has said he helps spend O'Keefe's money.
Peterson said Milwaukeeans for Self-Government isn't quite an organization, but rather described it as a "conduit" to influence local and city politics.
Inaccurate Claims in Pro-Swanigan Ad
Urban Milwaukee reported that the voice in the ad "sounds like that of Republican PR man Craig Peterson, the only person who has ever claimed allegiance to (Milwaukeeans for Self-Governance)." The same group spent $200,000 influencing local Milwaukee races in April 2016, and continued to spend money pushing misleading information about John Chisholm. Bruce Murphy debunked a number of these claims in Urban Milwaukee.
The ad's claim that Swanigan worked as a prosecutor was given a "false" rating by Politifact.. 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. Her LinkedIn page does not list any experience as a prosecutor either.
Right-Wing Radio Host Vicki McKenna Praises Swanigan, Urges Republicans to Vote for Swanigan in Democratic Primary
In a speech on June 27, 2016 right-wing radio host Vicki McKenna introduced Swanigan to the North Shore Republicans, a Milwaukee Republican club, and praised her record, urging Republicans to cross over and vote in the Democratic Primary for Swanigan. McKenna also attacked Chisholm for his record on crime, the homicide rate in Milwaukee, and the John Doe investigation, which she described as a partisan political attack. Chisholm has in fact used the John Doe to investigate corruption against Democrats more often than Republicans during his tenure as Milwaukee County District Attorney.
Swanigan Represented Milwaukee "Slumlord" in 296 Eviction Cases
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in May that Swanigan filed eviction lawsuits against 296 people on behalf of Elijah Mohammad Rashaed, a landlord who is notorious for offering substandard housing in Milwaukee:
- "Rashaed, who is also known as Dennis Bell, is linked to about 24 companies that own and rent at least 194 properties, with 670 rental units, in Milwaukee. In addition to the court fines for code violations, as of April, the companies owed $484,472 in delinquent taxes. He was convicted of disorderly conduct in 2007 after he was initially charged with battery for punching a city building inspector."
Swanigan, justifying why she worked for Rashaed for two years, told the Journal Sentinel she initially represented him in cases without serious complaints about the condition of the properties. "When those issues started to become clear to me, that's when I got off the cases," she said. "It was an eye opening experience."
Swanigan claimed that during her representation she learned of Rashaed's "seriously bad practices" and the inferior housing he offered. "That's one reason I'm not working with him," she said. "I am a very ethical person ... I couldn't continue."
Rashaed disputed Swanigan's claim that she had stopped representing companies linked to him because she thought he was a problem landlord. According to Rashaed, she stopped because "she had gotten really sick and she wasn't able to practice."
Chisholm said in a statement that "good prosecutors have to be able to make a judgment call on who's good or bad faster than their 296th case."
Swanigan Failed to Respond to Multiple Motions in a Federal Case, Eventually Replied Ten Months Later
In a 2012 Swanigan represented a 14 year old female student against the Mequon-Theinsville School District and two older male students convicted of having sex with the girl. The case was dismissed by U.S. district Judge Lynn Adelman in June, 2013 after she failed to respond to motions for evidence by the defendants. Adelman gave Swanigan three weeks to file a motion asking him to reverse the order. Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that she waited 10 months before contacting Adelman about the case.
"During the time of the (Adelman) dismissal, I made several errors on this case and others — some of which I was able to find other counsel for, others I withdrew from, others were involuntarily dismissed similar to this case, and some court dates were missed," she wrote in an April 14, 2014 affidavit.
Swanigan followed up with a sworn affidavit on May 11, 2014. "I, Attorney Verona Swanigan, am the party that suffered from a debilitating illness that impacted my physical and mental capacity... The illness directly affected my ability to think clearly and analytically, formulate words, speak fluidly, and concentrate," Explaining why she failed to respond to a motion for discovery in the case.
Adelman eventually reopened the case and it was settled for a small, undisclosed sum. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing anonymous sources, reported that the defendants paid out $10,000, a third of which would be taken by the plaintiff's attorneys.
"Make Love to My Page", V.E. Swanigan Published a Set of Erotic Poetry in 2014
In 2014 Swanigan published a 62-page book of poems titled "Make Love to My Page" with titles such as "Wrapped in Your Manhood," "Deep" and "The Forbidden Fruit."
Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel writes, "the book describes the 27 poems as 'intensified love written to steam off the page and into your heart.' The poems are, for the most part, often-awkward rhyming couplets filled with romantic and sexually charged terms. The book is available on Amazon.com. Accompanying the work is a short video in which Swanigan, seductively dressed in a low-cut red dress, poses for the camera and then a scantily clad young couple makes out and undresses in a hotel room as one of her poems is read in the background:"
I feel it in my fingertips
Running up all the way to my lips
Trickling down my spine
Damn, love, you came right on time.
The full 21 1/2 minute video was pulled from both Youtube and Vimeo shortly after Bice's article was published.
Swanigan Backs Out of Scheduled Debate with Chisholm
Just over a week before the only scheduled debate for Milwaukee District Attorney hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Milwaukee, Swanigan canceled citing her objection to former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske moderating the event and the $25 admission price. Kiwanis Club administrator Julie Gmeinder told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the move was prompted by GOP operative Craig Peterson who did not like Geske and thought she would be biased towards Chisholm. Chisholm has insisted that Geske does not support his campaign in any capacity that he is aware of. She has not donated to his campaign nor endorsed him.
"They waited two weeks to say they didn't like our moderator," Gmeinder said, noting that Swanigan promoted the event on Facebook several times after it was announced. According to Gmeinder, the announcement of the debate made the registration process and date very clear and the $25 attendance fee would cover lunch and parking.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gmeinder also "said she felt 'it was quite a coup' when Geske, now a distinguished professor of law at Marquette University, agreed to moderate the debate, since she is generally considered the area's nonpartisan authority on law and ethics."
According to the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, Swanigan received 50 contributions totaling $5,476 in 2015 and 78 contributions totaling $30,679.10 in 2016, including two $1,000 loans from Swanigan herself.
This total includes $5,000 from Eric O'Keefe, $2,625.10 from GOP operative Craig Peterson, $5,000 from right wing mega-donor Richard Uihlein, $1,000 from Terry Considine, a founding member of Club for Growth and board member of the Bradley Foundation and a $700 monetary contribution plus two $1,000 loans from herself.
Office: P.O Box 1622
Milwaukee, WI 53201
- Verona Swanigan, About, Swanigan for District Attorney, accessed June 23, 2016.
- Mary Bottari, Secret Money Advocates Prepare to Unload on Milwaukee DA John Chisholm, PRWatch.org, April 28, 2016.
- Verona Swanigan, A Message From Verona Swanigan, Swanigan for District Attorney, accessed June 23, 2016.
- Brendan Fischer, GOP Prosecutor Defends Scott Walker Criminal Probe, Says "Let's Get the Truth Out", PRWatch.org, May 1, 2015.
- Bruce Vielmetti, Chisholm wins big in DA race, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 9, 2016.
- Bruce Murphy, The Bizarre War Against John Chisholm, Urban Milwaukee, June 14, 2016.
- FoxNews.com, Scott Walker supporters claim police raided homes over politics, Fox News, April 24, 2015.
- WPR News, Head Of Organization Targeted In John Doe Probe Calls For Prosecutor's Firing, Wisconsin Public Radio, July 17, 2015.
- Andrew Hahn, Subject in John Doe probe wants Scott Walker to remove prosecutor from office, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 17, 2015.
- Mary Spicuzza, Cindy Archer, longtime aide to Scott Walker, sues John Doe prosecutors, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 1, 2015.
- Brendan Fischer, Scott Walker Aide's Claim of Prosecutorial Abuse Refuted by New Audio, PRWatch.org, August 4, 2015.
- Friends of Verona Swanigan, January 2016 CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT STATE OF WISCONSIN, Wisconsin Campaign Finance Information System, January 19, 2016.
- Friends of Verona Swanigan, CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT STATE OF WISCONSIN ETHCF-2, Wisconsin Campaign Finance Information System, July 15, 2016.
- Friends of Verona Swanigan, CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT STATE OF WISCONSIN ETHCF-2, Pre-Primary, Wisconsin Campaign Finance Information System, accessed August 8, 2016.
- Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, MILWAUKEEANS FOR SELF-GOVERNANCE, INC., Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, accessed August 4, 2016.
- Daniel Bice, Bice: Milwaukee primary races attract dark money, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 8, 2016.
- Bruce Vielmetti, John Chisholm faces off with Democratic challenger Verona Swanigan, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 30, 2016.
- Daniel Bice and Mary Spicuzza, Secretive group tries to remake Milwaukee City Hall, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, April 4, 2016.
- Bruce Murphy, Radio Ad Blasts John Chisholm, Urban Milwaukee, July 20, 2016.
- Tom Kertscher, Candidate for district attorney doesn't say she worked as a prosecutor, but radio ad says she did, Politifact, August 4, 2016.
- Verona Swanigan, Verona Swanigan, LinkedIn, accessed August 1, 2016.
- Cary Spivak, DA candidate represented landlord in 296 eviction cases, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 4, 2016.
- Daniel Bice, Democrat challenging John Chisholm has uphill battle, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, November 15, 2015.
- Daniel Bice, DA hopeful downplays erotic poetry book she published in 2014, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 13, 2016.
- Bruce Vielmetti, Milwaukee County district attorney candidate debate canceled, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 21, 2016.