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Holding the Bag
Power elite backed doomed comptroller candidacy. Survivor may owe victory only to himself, not financial supporters.

Milwaukee’s political power elite made a bad bet in the comptroller’s race. Their only hope now is to support a candidate who doesn’t need their help. Is there a lockstep political mentality in this city that must be addressed?

Milwaukee County Supervisor and recent comptroller candidate Johnny Thomas (at left) submitted his Campaign Finance Report to the Board of Election Commissioners of the City of Milwaukee with less than an hour to spare before the 5 p.m. deadline Jan. 31.

The paper document provides an interesting look at the money raised in 2011 for a candidate who had been anointed as the chosen one by the political establishment. If there is such a thing as a Who’s Who of the Usual Suspects, it can be found on the pages of contributors – and, especially, the candidate’s expenditures. (More on that below.)

Over the course of his aborted campaign, which was suspended when Thomas was charged with bribery and misconduct Feb. 2, he managed to raise $30,578.69 – and to spend $24,749.

It does not include funds raised in 2012, such as the “Special Event with Mayor Tom Barrett in Supporting Johnny Thomas” held at Charro Jan. 4, where Thomas received the official support of Mayor Barrett, Rep. Gwen Moore and others. The event was held exactly a month after Thomas was said to have accepted a $500 bribe at the DunkinDonuts restaurant at 622 W. Wisconsin Ave, just down the street from the courthouse, police administration building and county jail.

The 2011 support came from such folks as H. Carl Mueller, of Mueller Communications, a public relations firm with long political ties in the community. He gave $100 on two occasions to the campaign. Fellow PR representative Moira E. Fitzgerald, formerly of Broyderick and Associates, and now President of the Fitzgerald Consultancy of Cudahy [Tower], gave $400 in two installments. Evan N. Zeppos pitched in $250. Former Gov. Martin Schreiber came up with $500 for the Thomas cause, while current county executive Chris Abele issued a $1,000 check. Dependable donor and former Department of Administration head Atty. Marc Marotta issued a $200 check from his Ozaukee County home.

Thomas’ funds also came from some of those who are not as well known as these public figures, including Christopher Orr of Seaway Bank, who contributed $100; Sushil Pillai of Joxel Group of Mequon, who offered $1,000; and Shantel Bacchus of Bacchus Financial Services, who gave $100. Thomas got $500 from Scott Wilder of Mt. Castle Corporation, a housing organization for the developmentally disabled. I had never heard of any of these folks.

Donors from government included La Keisha Wright Butler [Vanbderbilt ’07], an attorney at the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, who gave $100. Her husband, Rev. Don Darius Butler, is pastor of Tabernacle Community Baptist ChurchAld. Nik Kovac pitched in $100 toward the end of the year, after the Thomas incident, and Judge John Siefert, whose $20 donation, though modest, will at least spare him any occasion to preside over Thomas’ eventual trial. Money well spent.

Political committees that donated to the doomed campaign included that of Eyon Biddle, a fellow supervisor who gave up his seat to run against Common Council President Willie Hines; State Sen. Lena Taylor, who had a thousand bucks to spare; and former Ald. Michael DAmato, who forked over $250 from his otherwise dormant campaign account.

As robust as were the receipts of the Thomas campaign, so were its expenditures.

The prime beneficiary was Nation Consulting, which received more than $11,000 for “Campaign Consulting Management Fees.”

According to its website, the firm, named after its founder and senior partner Thad Nation, a one-time aide to former Gov. Jim Doyle, “has worked on the ‘inside’ of the offices of governors, congressional members and state agencies. ...We know how government works – and we know what government can do for you.”

Its current principals include Sachin Chheda, another ex-Doyle aide and the current chair of the Democratic Party of Milwaukee County, and Linda Honold, former state chair of the Democratic Party. 

Second in funds earned from the campaign was Julietta Henry, the former executive director of the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, and former state head of faith-based programs in Wisconsin during the George W. Bush administration.

She was paid $1,500 a month from September to December 2011 for her “campaign fundraising consulting work,” according to the Thomas filing, earning her $6,000.

The Thomas campaign also brought fees to an organization called “Democracy Engine,” an online site for campaign donations.

An interesting line item in the Thomas financial papers has to do with ‘Returned Contributions,” – those lucky folks who got their money back, for reasons not explained. Among the returnees were the Hattie Daniels Rush institute, named after a former Bush administration appointee of Bayside, which got $100 back. Kevin Newell of Glendale, an asset manager at WHEDA, and LeAnn Minor of Milwaukee each got their $100 returned, as did Rev. Dennis L. Harmon, pastor of Emmaus Lutheran Church whose $420 contribution was returned by the committee.

The Thomas campaign also spread some money around for food and entertainment, including a $329 expenditure for an event at the Wisconsin Club and a $797 fee paid to the Milwaukee Public Market for the campaign’s Sept. 19 kickoff event, which drew such attendees as the aforementioned Chheda, and Atty. DavidOne Call, Thats AllGruber.

Food for these festivals was provided mostly on an in-kind basis, including $540 of grub from James Zilli of Long Boat Key, Fla., $346 from Williams (sic) Jenkins, Jr., a health care consultant who apparently likes to whip up dishes on the side, and $485 from Rev. John McVicker of Christ the King Baptist Church.

The candidate also loaned his committee $1,910, dating to 2007. It will take some time to repay these funds based on the current prison wage scale.

In contrast to his more celebrated opponent, sole remaining contender for comptroller, Martin Matson, took the old-fashioned route to fundraising – he used mostly his own money, in the form of a $27,291 loan, according to his finance report submitted Jan. 19, over a week before the deadline. Matson, the deputy director of the City of Milwaukee EmployeesRetirement System, lacked the high-profile endorsements of his opponent but did manage to secure the nod from AFSCME District Council 48 prior to the news about Thomas. The retirement system, founded in 1937, has $4 billion in assets under management for 25,000 active, retiree and survivor beneficiaries. It is considered to be among the best-funded public pension programs in the nation.

According to a statement by Matson, “I have been a public employee for over 18 years.  As a public servant you are held to a higher standard, so there cannot even be an appearance of impropriety, especially in dealing with public contracts.

“While it is an unfortunate turn of events for Mr. Thomas, and my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family—it would be an honor and a privilege to serve the citizens of Milwaukee as the next Comptroller.

“It is my opinion that the charges brought against Mr. Thomas reflect negatively on all public servants.”

Martin Matson will have a fundraising party Wednesday, Feb. 8 from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Newsroom Pub, 137 E. Wells Street. Contributions are welcomed, but not required. There will also be a cash bar, just as you might expect from a comptroller. It will be interesting to see if any of the former Thomas supporters will attend.

Johnny Thomas also has an event planned for Feb. 8 – a 1 p.m. appearance at Milwaukee County Intake Court, in Room 221 of the Safety Building.

Photos from thomasformilwaukee.com

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Michael Horne Posted: 2/8/2012 12:27:51 PM
 1   0    

They sure messed up when they anointed Donovan Riley to run against Plale in 2006.
Chris H Posted: 2/8/2012 11:44:34 AM
 1   0    

Maybe it's time for democrat officials to actually research their potential endorsements before giving them out like candy on Halloween. Of course, none of the endorsers will suffer any blowback from their poor decision.
blurondo Posted: 2/7/2012 7:30:41 PM
 1   1    

Horne, you've done it again.
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