Gableman’s taxpayer-funded investigation has right-wing ties and is shrouded in secrecy.
The head of an organization that filed lawsuits in six states—including Wisconsin—on behalf of former President Donald Trump to overturn the 2020 election results said he is working directly with former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman’s election investigation, even though Gableman told lawmakers otherwise.
At a December Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee hearing, Gableman told state legislators that he was sharing office space with The Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society only to save taxpayers money.
But last Tuesday, Phill Kline, director of The Amistad Project, tweeted, he is “proud of our involvement in the Wisconsin Special Counsel investigation.”
Kline is a former Kansas state representative and state attorney general whose license was suspended by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2013 for presenting false testimony and illegally obtaining the medical records of women who were seeking abortions.
Gableman’s office and The Amistad Project did not respond to requests for comment.
Spreading Conspiracy Theories—On Taxpayers’ Dime
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) gave Gableman a budget of $676,000 in taxpayer funds to complete the investigation by Oct. 31. Gableman himself is receiving $11,000 per month in salary. But two extensions later, the investigation is ongoing with nothing to show for it.
Gableman has indicated he is focusing on funding the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL) provided to election administrators across the state to help run the 2020 election amid the pandemic. The nonprofit, which received funding from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, has a stated goal of fostering “a more informed and engaged democracy.” It has also been a target of Kline’s conspiracy theories about the election outcome.
Republicans in Wisconsin have called into question the grants CTCL provided to Wisconsin’s five largest cities, which are overwhelmingly Democratic, even though the organization gave money to more than 200 communities throughout the state.
Gableman’s testimony indicated CTCL’s involvement in election administration is a key component of his investigation, citing the Facebook CEO’s contributions to the organization and saying it is evidence the organization tried to help President Joe Biden win the presidency. There is no evidence Zuckerberg supported Biden, and Facebook is only one of CTCL’s many funders and partners.
During the hearing, Rep. Mark Spreitzer (D-Beloit) questioned Gableman about the people he had chosen to hire for the investigation, such as Ron Heuer, president of the Wisconsin Voters Alliance. Heuer’s group filed a lawsuit to stop the Wisconsin Elections Commission from certifying the election so the Republican-led Legislature could choose the state’s electors.
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That lawsuit was so riddled with errors that US District Judge James Boasberg mocked it, referring its attorney, Erick Kaardal, for discipline.
“Why do you feel it is appropriate to hire Mr. Heuer, who specifically sued to overturn the will of the people of Wisconsin?” Spreitzer asked Gableman. “Do you agree with him about that?”
On the revelation of Kline’s involvement in the investigation, Spreitzer said, “We can add this to the long list of reasons that taxpayer money should not be lining the pockets of Mike Gableman and his conspiracy theorist cronies.”
“Gableman has demonstrated repeatedly that he should be fired, and this sham investigation should have ended long ago,” Spreitzer said.
Secrecy and Subpoena Standoffs
Gableman’s investigation has also been largely shrouded in secrecy.
American Oversight, a nonpartisan nonprofit watchdog organization that specializes in open records, requested records from Vos’s office on the Gableman investigation. After filing multiple records requests, American Oversight filed a lawsuit in Dane County court in October after Vos’s office allegedly failed to comply.
Vos’ office has released so few records that the judge in the case openly questioned how the investigation had apparently produced so little despite its scope and budget.
Vos filed motions in Dane County Court and before the Wisconsin Supreme Court to avoid testifying under oath, but both motions were denied.
A spokesperson from American Oversight said they were unable to complete the deposition last week due to time constraints and will soon announce next steps in the case.
Gableman has also sought to conduct interviews in the investigation in private, even though his office is part of the Legislature, which is supposed to operate in the public view. In his Tuesday tweet about the Gableman investigation, Kline also said Gableman “scored a major victory in court yesterday when a judge refused to quash subpoenas of the leftist mayors of Madison and Green Bay.” He was referring to a ruling last week that did not actually pertain to the Madison and Green Bay mayors, but rather to Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC) administrator Meagan Wolfe.
Attorney General Josh Kaul, filing on Wolfe’s behalf, argued Gableman’s subpoenas were invalid because he wanted to hold the interview behind closed doors. Wolfe has said she would comply with Gableman’s request in a public hearing.
“What the Gableman investigation is trying to do is create a secret star chamber where you go into a conference room … and you give secret testimony, never to be seen or heard from again,” said Ann Jacobs, WEC’s chair, in a recent appearance on the Up North Podcast.
Mayors Satya Rhodes-Conway of Madison and Eric Genrich of Green Bay have made similar arguments in their lawsuits pushing back against Gableman’s subpoenas. Genrich asked a judge to force Gableman to take out a full-page newspaper ad stating that Gableman had mischaracterized Genrich’s response.