Pot Meets Kettle in Wisconsin

Democrat behind attack on Walker has ties to group guilty of campaign finance violations

March 1, 2012

The Wisconsin Democratic Party released its first official campaign ad in the recall election of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) on Monday. The advertisement—which focuses on allegations of campaign-finance violations and embezzlement by two Walker aides from his time as a Milwaukee County executive—compares the governor to Richard Nixon and invokes the specter of the Watergate scandal.

Mike Tate, the chairman of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, has his own history of involvement with political organizations guilty of campaign finance violations, however.

In 2004, Tate served as deputy state director of the liberal, tax-exempt 527 political organization America Coming Together (ACT). In 2007, the FEC fined ACT $775,000 for using unregulated soft money to support John Kerry and other Democratic candidates during the 2004 election cycle. The FEC found that most of the $137 million ACT raised for its 2004 efforts came through contributions that violated federal limits. At the time, the ACT fine was the third largest enforcement penalty the FEC had ever given out. The FEC approved the fine unanimously.

"The reason we're running this ad," Tate said in a conference call with reporters Monday, "is because we believe people—particularly in northeastern Wisconsin and central and western Wisconsin—don't know as much about the John Doe probe as do voters in the rest of the state."

That same day, in an email to supporters, Tate wrote, "The ad is called 'Walkergate' because it highlights the eery [sic] parallels between Nixon's Watergate scandal and the criminal investigation into Scott Walker's current and former top-level aides."

Tom Evenson, press secretary for the Walker campaign, called the ad a "character assassination by Madison Democrats" in a statement to the Free Beacon Wednesday.

"The Democrat Party and the big-government union bosses funding them are using lies and distortions in their negative attack ad to discredit Gov. Walker in an attempt to take Wisconsin back to the failed days of billion-dollar budget deficits, double-digit tax increases, and record job loss," Evenson wrote. "The truth is, Gov. Walker immediately addressed any issues of misconduct when brought to his attention. The character assassination being conducted by Madison Democrats and big-government union bosses in this ad shows they are grasping at straws to deflect from the fact that Gov. Walker's reforms have laid the foundation for a more successful Wisconsin."

Tate previously served as regional political director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Council 40. AFSCME, one of the three largest labor unions in the United States, sent members to the Wisconsin state capitol last year to rally against Walker’s abolishment of collective bargaining rights for public sector employees.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin website currently features a link to a website called, which promotes the allegations against Walker. The tagline for the website is, "What Did He Know? And When Did He Know It?" The Wisconsin Democratic Party’s ad ends with a clip of MSNBC host Ed Schultz asking, "What did Scott Walker know, and when did he know it? links, on its homepage, to a site sponsored by the Democratic action group ActBlue that asks visitors to help fund the Walker investigation.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin pays for Tate’s name appears on the bottom left of as chair of the state party funding the website.

ACT was referred to by Roll Call in 2004 as the "mother of all 527s." It was founded in August 2003 when George Soros announced he was giving $10 million to the organization to ensure that President George W. Bush was not reelected. Soros eventually gave $14.5 million to ACT, which concentrated its activities on 17 battleground states in the 2004 election, including Wisconsin.

In October 2004, the liberal activist group sponsored the "Vote For Change" rock music tour, featuring Bruce Springsteen, to raise money for ACT. On Oct. 28, 2004, Springsteen performed at a Sen. John Kerry rally in Madison, Wis., in front of approximately 80,000. The Kerry campaign successfully convinced the Madison City clerk’s office to stay open three hours later than usual on the night of the event to enable concert-goers to file their early ballots immediately after the concert.

Five days later, on Election Day 2004, 30 vans rented by the Republican National Committee for get-out-the-vote efforts had their tires slashed in Milwaukee. A Wisconsin GOP spokesman at the time called the tire-slashing a "targeted effort to sabotage a political party’s effort to get out the vote."

ACT hired dozens of felons—including those convicted of sex offenses, assault, and burglary—to carry out door-to-door voter drives in at least three states. According to the Associated Press: "ACT canvassers ask residents which issues are important to them and, if they are not registered, sign them up as voters. They gather telephone numbers and other personal information, such as driver’s license numbers or partial Social Security numbers, depending on what a state requires for voter registration."

Tate and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin did not return a call for comment.