A Democratic operative gained unprecedented access to the conference center in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where officials counted ballots on election night, investigative reporter Matt Kittle disclosed in recent stories.
Kittle, who is also executive director of “conservative information hub” Empower Wisconsin, obtained emails that reveal questionable activity during Wisconsin’s 2020 election. The Daily Signal has picked up his reports.
Kittle joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to share what he has learned about the role that the Democrat operative and $6 million from Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg played in Wisconsin’s presidential election.
We also cover these stories:
- Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine likely will be “paused” because of blood clots that developed in some Americans who got the shot.
- The Biden administration announces that it will pull out all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11, exactly 20 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
- The state of Texas sues President Joe Biden for rescinding the Trump administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy for asylum-seekers.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Virginia Allen: I am joined by Matt Kittle, the executive director of Empower Wisconsin and an award-winning investigative reporter. Matt, welcome to the show.
Matt Kittle: Thank you for having me.
Allen: So, before we jump in and talk about Wisconsin’s 2020 election and all the investigative reporting you’re doing on that subject, I would love for you just to share a little bit about Empower Wisconsin and the mission that you all have there.
Kittle: You bet. Yeah, Empower Wisconsin is a conservative news organization. We’re based in Madison, Wisconsin. So we’re in the heart of the liberal maelstrom.
Let’s just say, on the east side of Madison, where I’ve lived for nearly a decade now, not a lot of conservative lawmakers signs up during election season. It’s a very active place. Of course, Wisconsin is a very active place. And so, we like to consider ourselves as the headquarters for conservative news, thought, and action.
I also am the executive director of Wisconsin Spotlight, which is our investigative arm. That’s where you’ll find a lot of our records.
And I’ll tell you, we’ve been able to obtain a lot of records, thankfully, from some good sources and just some good luck over the last several weeks, involving what clearly has become an election scandal in Green Bay, and it looks like across the state of Wisconsin.
Allen: Yeah. So let’s go ahead and jump into talking a little bit about that. Wisconsin’s 2020 election was very close. In 2016, the state went for [Donald] Trump and then in 2020, the election results show that [Joe] Biden won 49.6% of the vote and Trump won 48.9% of the vote.
So you’ve been taking a really close look at what happened during this election. What kind of made you initially think, “I need to look at this a little closer. Something is not quite sitting right”?
Kittle: Yeah, sure. Well, it started really before the election, a lot of questions in Wisconsin. Obviously, Wisconsin was a battleground state in 2020, just as it was in 2016.
We saw a lot of activity in the Democratic strongholds of Madison and Milwaukee, in particular, but we saw everything from kind of vote harvesting, community drives sorts of things in Madison. And then, some of these other things that the rest of the country was experiencing, a huge, massive uptick in voting at home and absentee ballots.
And a lot of questions were raised at that time. Of course, then on Election Day, many more questions surfaced. And then, as Wisconsin was one of the states targeted in recounts, particularly in Madison and Milwaukee, a lot of questions came up from observers, both on election night and during the recounts, about how things were handled in places like Milwaukee and Madison.
But it wasn’t until, I would say early March, that we started to get an indication from sources that things were worse than thought at first, particularly in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where there had been some real concerns about these third-party groups that were funded by Facebook’s CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, and what those third-party groups indeed were doing in places like Green Bay.
Allen: Hmm. So let’s unpack a little bit about what happened in Green Bay. You’ve been writing some great pieces on this. You recently published a piece in the Wisconsin Spotlight and you explain that a Democratic operative was “given access to ‘hidden’ identifiers for the internet network at the hotel convention center where ballots were counted.” This is in Green Bay.
So tell us a little bit about who this Democratic operative is and what access he received at the Green Bay convention center where ballots were counted.
Kittle: Sure. Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein is the name of the long-time Democratic operative, who has spent the past several years working in voting activism roles, particularly on the tech ends of these things.
He was the Wisconsin lead for the National Vote at Home Institute. That is one of many left-leaning groups that were in this massive network from the Center [for] Tech and Civic Life, CTCL, which was the group that got $350 million in funding from Mark Zuckerberg, beginning in June, I believe, of last year. And that money was to go originally, and it did, to the largest cities in the country, particularly in battleground states.
In Wisconsin, what was known as the “Wisconsin 5″—Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Kenosha, and Racine—received a total of, well, actually, we thought it was $6.3 million. What we’re learning now is that it was significantly more than that. At least from what we’ve been able to tally, it’s north of $8 million at this point, but we believe there may be more money.
Well, Spitzer-Rubenstein was basically a partner in CTCL’s network. And the funding, I think it’s important to note the grant funding came with clawback provisions. Basically, a lot of strings attached that said, “If you don’t follow the terms of this contract, we can take this money back from you.”
For cash-strapped election agencies and city clerks in Wisconsin, it was very enticing. This money, in some cases, like in Green Bay, it more than quadrupled their amount of election funding that they received in taxpayer funds. So this was a lot of money and it made a huge impact.
Spitzer-Rubenstein came in and he was integrally involved. I think there’s some evidence to suggest that he infiltrated a lot of the election administration that went on. He was doing everything in other groups that he was working with, doing everything from communications and get out the vote to PSAs and promos, to actually curing the ballots. We have emails showing him offering to do this in Green Bay.
But thankfully, I think one could say, the clerk, now the former clerk in Green Bay, Kris Teske, at every turn was saying, “There is a problem here. This doesn’t seem to be within the confines of the law.” She grew so frustrated and so concerned about what was going on that she eventually resigned.
But we have a number of emails showing that frustration and the concerns about how the election was being handled from both the liberal mayor and his office in Green Bay, and these liberal organizations, outside groups funded by Mark Zuckerberg, but that really were doing things that, arguably, they should not have been doing.
Allen: Let’s talk a little bit more about that. I mean, I think when you kind of hear these things and you hear these large donations, obviously, we’re very familiar with that term, “Follow the money.” So how are you all doing that? And what are you learning as you investigate these large sums of money that Zuckerberg gave and how that potentially influenced the Wisconsin election?
Kittle: Yeah. Again, we’re seeing the money, at least according to the emails that we’ve obtained through Green Bay, and also the Wisconsin Elections Commission, that’s the state regulator for elections, we have obtained emails showing the connections between Milwaukee and Green Bay, the Wisconsin 5 in general.
We know that the city of Racine, for instance, led by a very far-left mayor, Cory Mason, they received tens of thousands of dollars, as I understand it, upfront to go after these grant monies and be the lead, if you will, for the Wisconsin 5.
And again, we have these five cities receiving just a massive amount of money to do everything from buy election equipment to hire poll workers.
What we found as well is that these groups, these outside groups, were responsible for helping locate poll workers for places like Milwaukee and Green Bay. We know in Milwaukee that they were using this funding to pay for hazard pay, if you will, significantly higher for poll workers.
But they were using poll workers recruited from the [Service Employees International Union] and other local unions, and the League of Women Voters, and these left-leaning groups that create some serious questions about the handling of absentee ballots and the administration of the election in the state’s largest city in general.
Allen: Well, Spitzer-Rubenstein, the lead for the National Vote at Home Institute in Wisconsin, he received an email from Trent Jameson, director of event technology at Green Bay’s Hyatt Regency and KI Convention Center, where the ballots were to be counted. This was shortly before the election. I want to read this email that you all acquired.
Now, in the email, it refers to an SSID. Essentially, a Wi-Fi network, more or less. But the email says, “One SSID will be hidden and it’s 2020vote. There will be no password or splash page for this one and it should only be used for the sensitive machines that need to be connected to the internet.”
So first off, why would a Wi-Fi network or SSID need to be hidden and only available for Spitzer-Rubenstein? And then, what exactly is meant by “sensitive machines”?
Kittle: Very good questions. And those are questions that we put to the Green Bay Mayor’s Office and to officials who should have knowledge of that. They have not returned any of our requests for comments.
Now, in talking with tech people and experts on this subject, really what you have here is, it’s the SSIDs are basically when you hit your laptop and all of those area networks pop up that you can click into and be a part of. Well, in this case, you would obviously want some security on that. …
The question is, why does an outside individual from a left-leaning group have access to these things? And the sensitive machines, a lot of folks are concerned about, were the sensitive machines that involve voting.
We know that Spitzer-Rubenstein had access to live-time vote numbers. And again, the question keeps coming up, why? This is also a gentleman who was given the keys to the KI center room where the absentee ballots were kept. The question again is, why?
And state lawmakers are asking those questions related to his access to technology on election night, as well as his access to absentee ballots in the days leading up to and on election night.
Allen: So he was present, he was there the night that ballots were being counted, the night of the election? He was at that convention center?
Kittle: Yeah, that is correct. And we have emails showing him in these rooms. We have contracts that say he received four of the five keys to these areas that had the ballots and the equipment and all of this stuff. And he’s in there by himself, talking to a Green Bay official in this email, trying to get information on where ballot boxes should be placed and all of these sorts of things.
Now, election observers on election night raised questions about this gentleman and why he was present at Central Count, where all of the ballots were counted on election night. And eventually, he was asked by the city to leave, which is curious because it was Mayor Eric Genrich, his chief of staff, and city officials who had this guy in there in the first place. And this was the guy who was making up, basically, the program on how things would run on election night.
Allen: Wow. How did you all get access to these emails? I mean, this is really critical information that’s now coming out to the public.
Kittle: Yeah. Through sources that, obviously, we can’t talk about at this point, but there are some sources that we need to talk about and thank because without their persistence, I don’t think this story gets told.
State Rep. Shae Sortwell, a Republican from the Green Bay area, shortly after the election had filed an open records request along with state Rep. Ron Tusler, they were members of the Wisconsin Assembly election committee.
Also, we have received emails, a number of other communications from individual citizens in Green Bay, who were very concerned about what took place on election night. And it’s because of their actions that we were able to obtain some very key information surrounding what happened in Green Bay.
We also filed a number of open records requests, and we have many out as well. We filed an open records request to get the information from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, for instance, which shows the administrator of that regulator not only enthusiastic about the work of Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, but promoting it to cities in Wisconsin, which raised some serious questions, as was noted this week in a complaint that was filed with the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Allen: Hmm. And is there any sort of precedent for a non-election official having the kind of involvement that Spitzer-Rubenstein did?
Kittle: Unprecedented is the word that best describes all of this. And that’s problematic. It’s problematic for a couple of reasons.
It’s problematic because, do we want third-party groups, whether they’re conservative or liberal, involved in the administration of our elections? But more so, it’s problematic because there really aren’t any laws in this area.
And that’s what we see now, after the investigative reporting, after the emails have been released. We’re seeing the state Legislature now saying, “We need to address this because we cannot have this sort of thing continue to happen.”
It is a huge voter integrity question. It puts the integrity, it puts transparency, just the concept of election fairness in doubt. And that’s the last thing that we need, especially after what happened in November of 2020.
Allen: Yeah. Well, I want to talk a little bit more about that investigation in just a minute. But first, let’s go back to, you had mentioned Green Bay City Clerk Kris Teske earlier. Let’s chat a little bit about her.
Now, she’s a former city clerk. She resigned at the end of 2020. On August 26, 2020, she sent an email to her boss and she wrote this: “There is one more thing I want to say: If I am ever asked to do anything against the law, the answer will be NO,” in all caps.
So ultimately, Teske resigns. What do we know about her and what she was being asked to do that made her uncomfortable?
Kittle: That’s a striking email, among many other striking emails. That may be the most striking. But what we see in her emails—and there are many, because she is the clerk for the city of Green Bay, and that’s a huge issue here and that is at the center of litigation that is playing out and I think will continue to play out for the next several months in this state.
The clerk, under the Constitution, is the election official in Wisconsin. There are two entities that are in charge of, responsible for elections in Wisconsin. One is the Wisconsin Elections Commission. They have broad state oversight. The other are the municipal clerks that run the elections.
And what we see in these emails is a clerk who is growing increasingly frustrated by the constant meddling and the bullying of the mayor, his chief of staff, Celestine Jeffreys, who is in many of these emails. And the point of real concern about, not only her involvement, the mayor’s involvement, the city’s involvement with these third-party groups, Spitzer-Rubenstein.
We have an email where she’s telling her boss, the finance director for the city of Green Bay, “Listen, we can’t have these third-party groups, particularly this individual, in the clerk’s office, counting or looking over ballots.”
They’re actually saying this at this time. She raises the concern because of COVID, but also she notes, “We’re hearing a lot … from folks outside, who have raised questions about CTCL, that this is not a nonpartisan group. That this is a left-leaning group and that’s making us look bad.”
So she repeatedly raises these questions and she grows more and more frustrated by the system. Eventually, on Oct. 22 of 2020, just days before the election, she says, “Enough is enough.” She goes on family medical leave. And then, by the end of the year, she resigns her position.
Before she did that though, she filed a complaint a couple of months before, in October. And she alleged workplace harassment, a hostile work environment. And a lot of it had to do with a liberal mayor in Green Bay, his staff, and what they were allowing these third-party groups to do, and basically taking over her office.
And that gets back to the original point, is you just cannot have anybody take, not even the Zuckerberg-funded groups, we can’t have the mayor take over the operations of elections.
Allen: Yeah. So then speaking of the investigation, the Wisconsin Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee, they’re taking action to investigate what happened. Are you pleased with kind of how this investigation is looking so far? Do you think the right steps are being taken? Does more need to be done?
Kittle: Yeah, I think I’ll give a lot of credit to Janel Brandtjen, a state representative who is chair of the Assembly election campaign and elections committee. She’s already held two hearings. One of the hearings included the administrator for [the] Wisconsin Elections Commission having to explain some of these very concerning things we saw from the top at the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
… Also, the Republican-controlled Legislature in Wisconsin has now taken the step that they haven’t taken in decades. I think this actually is something they haven’t done since the ’50s or ’60s. They’ve given this committee subpoena power to go after documents and to compel witnesses to testify under oath.
Just as we see so often in the halls of Congress, we’re seeing that now for the first time in a long time in Wisconsin. And I think that is a very crucial tool to get to the bottom of this mess in Green Bay. And quite frankly, in Milwaukee, and Madison, Racine, Kenosha, and wherever else CTCL has left its footprints.
Allen: Yeah. So what plans do you and Empower Wisconsin have moving forward? Are you all planning on really continuing to investigate this situation and keep calling for transparency?
Kittle: Yeah, absolutely. We never allege in any of our reporting that there was voter fraud or election fraud. What we are saying is, “Look at the emails, look at the documents.” And what those emails and documents are showing, really, is a pattern of concern. That if there wasn’t voter fraud, if there was no election fraud, there certainly was the opportunity presented.
And there certainly is a bad smell coming out of all of this. It just does not pass the smell test. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Like I said, we have numerous open records requests into these municipalities in Wisconsin. …
You know how it goes with investigations. I know The Daily Signal has the same experience. Once you start exposing some of these areas, then other people step forward and say, “Hey, I have some information.” So we’re vetting through that information. We’re going through that. And then we will indeed continue to follow this story.
Allen: Yeah. Well, we’ve been so pleased to carry some of your work, Matt, at The Daily Signal on this subject. It’s so, so critical. Tell our listeners how they can keep up with you, follow you on Twitter, and really keep up with the critical work that you’re doing on this issue.
Kittle: Yeah, absolutely. You can find us online at empowerwisconsin.org and at wisconsinspotlight.com. As I said, Wisconsin Spotlight is where we have the vast majority of the records we’ve uncovered and we’ll continue to put there as well. You can also find us Facebook and Twitter. And if you’re so interested, you can sign up for our daily and weekly mailings, too.
Allen: Wonderful. Matt, thank you so much for your time.
Kittle: Thank you for having me. I appreciate the time to shed some light on this very important issue.