RACINE — In October, a federal judge ruled it was permissible for communities to accept grants from private organizations to fund their presidential election operations. Eight months later, the City of Racine and the Wisconsin Elections Commission, along with a number of other cities, are still dealing with complaints about that topic.
This week, the City of Racine and Wisconsin Elections Commission Administrator Meagan Wolfe filed responses to one of the complaints they’re facing that alleges “Racine failed to comply with state laws” by accepting grant funds with conditions for the operation of the 2020 presidential election, even though no state laws ban such action.
In a response to the complaint, notarized Monday, the city claims that the complaint is “inaccurate, misstated, and inflected with bias.” The complaint was received by the WEC on April 23.
Before the complaint goes before the full WEC, the group that issued the complaint has until June 29 to reply to the city’s reply.
“Until the reply is received and we have done a complete analysis of all materials filed in the matter — which number in the hundreds of pages — we cannot comment on the next procedural steps,” attorneys Jon P. Axelrod and Deborah C. Meiners, who work with the WEC, said in an email.
Racine and other cities facing similar allegations have argued that agreeing to such conditions is a normal and accepted practice, that donors are allowed to guide how their money is used by another entity, public or private.
Similar allegations have been levied against the cities of Kenosha, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Madison. Each community, along with more than 200 other Wisconsin communities, accepted money from the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life for the operation of their pandemic-affected 2020 elections.
The City of Racine stated that it “dispute(s) the facts as alleged by Complainants in their entirety as inaccurate, misstated, and inflected with bias. An overarching and tainting flaw in the Complaint is that there was something unique or targeted about the City of Racine’s award, acceptance, and use of CTCL COVID-19 elections grant funds, or that of the Cities of Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, and Milwaukee.
“Contrary to the Complaints (sic) efforts to paint the Cities of Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine as a distinctive, hand-selected group of municipalities, in fact more than 200 cities, villages, towns, and counties in Wisconsin received COVID-19 response grants from CTCL. The hundreds of diverse municipalities and governmental entities to have received CTCL COVID-19 response grants are situated all over Wisconsin. While Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine may have been among the first municipalities in Wisconsin to receive these grants, they certainly weren’t the only municipalities.”
Although it is accurate that more than 200 communities received money from CTCL, the city’s response did not address the fact that the five communities in question appear to have received significantly more than other communities.
As reported on in April by Wisconsin Spotlight: “The City of Waukesha, with a population of 72,000 people, eventually received a CTCL grant for $42,000, according to elections officials. Racine, slightly larger (with a population of approximately 77,000), got a grant for $942,000 ... $900,000 more than Waukesha.”
Connections to Republicans
Many of the arguments made in the complaint are similar or identical to those former President Donald Trump has been unsuccessfully making in his apparent effort to dispute the outcome of the 2020 election, even after it was called in President Joe Biden’s favor and Biden was sworn in nearly five months ago.
The complainants include five Racine residents. Among them is Martin Prujansky, a Racine resident who reportedly was kicked out while serving as a Republican election observer at Festival Hall on Nov. 3 for allegedly repeatedly entering areas he wasn’t allowed to be in. Also involved is Kenneth Brown, the vice chairman of, and a spokesman for, the Republican Party of Racine County.
Among the reasons the city called for the complaint to be dismissed was timeliness. The complaint was received by the WEC on April 23, more than five months after polls closed.
On top of that: The CTCL money had also been accepted by the City Council in the summer of 2020 and courts ruled that such money was acceptable in October, more than six months before this new complaint was filed.
Erick Kaardal, with hands raised, speaks April 22 on Monument Square about the complaint he filed with the Wisconsin Elections Commission on b…
Attorney Erick Kaardal — who has filed numerous complaints in several states following the 2020 election — has argued that his complaints aren’t aimed at overturning Trump’s election loss, Kaardal and those who have taken similar actions have been accused of aiming to sow doubt in the legitimacy of Biden’s presidency.
According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll of Americans conducted May 17-19, 53% of Republicans said they believe Trump is the “true president.” That same poll found that 56% of Republicans, and about 1 in 4 of all Americans “believe the election was rigged or the result of illegal voting.”
The city’s response also noted that the original complaint alleged wrongdoing committed by Mayor Cory Mason and City Clerk Tara Coolidge, even though it was the City Council that actually accepted the CTCL money; Mason had coordinated acquiring the funding and Coolidge, in her capacity as clerk, administered the city’s election.
No laws ban grants
While the complaint alleges laws were broken, the city pointed out in its response that there is “no specific statutory provision that prevents a municipality receiving grant funds subject to conditions from the grantor.” The complaint argues that no law allows the acceptance of such a grant, despite the fact that the acceptance of such grants has been legal for decades.
It remains unclear exactly what conditions Racine agreed to. What is known, according to documents included in the complaint, is that it agreed to:
- Use CTCL’s grant money to fund the administration of the current and future elections.
- Report back to CTCL how the money was used.
- Not cut the city’s own budget because of the CTCL spending, as the CTCL money was to be used in addition to the city’s plans.
- Not use CTCL grant money to give a grant to someone else without CTCL approval.
The documents also showed that CTCL could call off the agreement or change it. But it’s not been stated that the contract was ever changed, and the city is still using some of the money.
On March 12, The Journal Times submitted an open records request to the city for “the City of Racine’s contract and related documents related to donations/aid/etc. with The Center for Tech and Civic Life as it relates to the operation of the 2020 presidential election.”
As of Wednesday, more than 90 days later, that request remains unfulfilled.
When The Journal Times has inquired as to when that request would be fulfilled, the City Attorney’s Office said in an email: “Please be advised that the City is currently processing a large number of public records requests, and they are being processed in the order that they are received. Due to limited staff available to respond to these requests, we are not able to process the requests as quickly as many requesters would like. Your request will be processed as soon as practicable and without delay.”