Leah Vukmir (R) is the former assistant majority leader of the Wisconsin State Senate, who represented the state's fifth district. Vukmir was the National Chair of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in 2016 and sits on ALEC's Board of Directors as of July 2017. Vukmir was first elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2002 before being elected to the State Senate in 2010.
Senator Vukmir is Chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee and Vice Chair of the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. Her other assignments include the Joint Finance Committee, Joint Legislative Organization Committee, Education Committee, Senate Organization Committee, and Finance Committee.
- 1 Post-election
- 2 2018 U.S. Senate Campaign
- 2.1 Defeated by Tammy Baldwin
- 2.2 Sept. 26 Fundraising with affiliates of ALEC, The Bradley Foundation, "Hate Groups" and Trade Groups
- 2.3 Accused of "Lying" in Cap Times Editorial
- 2.4 "No" Vote on bipartisan Cancer Treatment Fairness Act
- 2.5 2016 Video Shows Vukmir's Disdain for Trump
- 2.6 "Threatened" Advertisement and NRA Endorsement
- 2.7 Vukmir Ad States Sen. Baldwin on 'Team Terrorists'
- 2.8 Former Koch Executives Hired as Senior Advisors to Campaign
- 2.9 Wisconsin Next PAC Established to Elect Vukmir
- 2.10 Vukmir Expresses Support of Trump Agenda
- 2.11 Vukmir Announces Campaign Steering Committee
- 2.12 Vukmir Announces Run for U.S. Senate
- 2.13 Vukmir Wins 2018 Senate Straw Poll
- 3 Ties to ALEC
- 3.1 ALEC Leader in Wisconsin
- 3.2 Known ALEC Bills Sponsored by Vukmir
- 3.3 ALEC Center to Protect Free Speech
- 3.4 2016 ALEC National Chair
- 3.5 Vukmir Sponsors Resolution Opposing PPACA Medicaid Expansion at ALEC Meeting
- 3.6 Center for Media and Democracy Open Records Lawsuit Against Vukmir
- 3.7 Vukmir and ALEC Open Records
- 4 Wisconsin Legislature: 2002-Present
- 4.1 Vukmir Supports Block Grants to States for Health Care Coverage
- 4.2 "Nurse Ratchet" Ranked One of Wisconsin's Worst Legislators, "So Extreme and Heartless that She is Dangerous"
- 4.3 Vukmir Attacked Non-Partisan Government Accountability Board and CMD
- 4.4 Negative Record on the Environment
- 4.5 ALEC Center to Protect Free Speech
- 4.6 Fighting For Lower Wages
- 4.7 Crime
- 4.8 Restricting Voting Rights
- 4.9 Leader in Push to Privatize Public Education
- 4.10 Criminalizing Poverty
- 4.11 Fighting Against Women's Reproductive Rights
- 4.12 Vukmir, a Former Nurse, Fought Healthcare Initiatives
- 4.13 Pushing ALEC-Inspired Tax Cuts
- 5 Vukmir is an Advisory Member of GOPAC
- 6 Vukmir Worked for Right-Wing Wisconsin Policy Research Institute
- 7 Vukmir Co-Founded Pro-Voucher Group PRESS
- 8 Contact Information
- 9 References
Hired by the National Taxpayers Union
On March 6, 2019, it was announced that Vukmir has been hired by the National Taxpayers Union (NTU) as its "vice president of state affairs." According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Vukmir had kept a "relatively low public profile since losing to Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November. But that's about to change." The new job means that Vukmir will travel the country pushing for NTU's agenda.
2018 U.S. Senate Campaign
Defeated by Tammy Baldwin
Incumbent Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin bested Vukmir, her Republican opponent, in the 2018 midterm election by more than 11 points.
In an address to supporters following the results indicating her defeat, Vukmir said: "We ran a pretty hard race, and we ran as hard a race as you could run in Wisconsin, and I’m proud of the race we ran." According to an Exposed by CMD article, the Koch supported candidate, Vukmir, "set a nasty tone," her ads claimed "that Baldwin was on “Team Terrorist” and siding with 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed" among other things.
Sept. 26 Fundraising with affiliates of ALEC, The Bradley Foundation, "Hate Groups" and Trade Groups
Vukmir fundraised at three events on Sept. 26 2018 in Washington D.C. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Vukmir had a breakfast fundraiser with Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, and Cleta Mitchell, a board member at the Bradley Foundation. The listed hosts included Tony Perkins and Lisa Nelson. Perkins is president of a Southern Poverty Law Center designated "anti-LGBT" "hate group," the Family Research Council. Nelson is CEO of ALEC (see ties to ALEC). Contributions between $250 and $5,000 were expected of attendees.
In 2017, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, launched a series of articles on the Milwaukee-based Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, exposing the inner-workings of one of America's largest right-wing foundations. 56,000 previously undisclosed documents laid bare the Bradley Foundation's highly politicized agenda. CMD detailed Bradley's efforts to map and measure right wing infrastructure nationwide, including by dismantling and defunding unions to impact state elections; bankrolling discredited spin doctor Richard Berman and his many front groups; and more.
At lunchtime, Vukmir attended another fundraiser. This one was hosted by Kirk Blalock of Fierce Government Relations (FGR), Dirk Van Dongen and Jade West of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors (NAWD). FGR received $13 million in corporate lobbying income 2017. NAWD is a trade group that gives to almost entirely to Republicans. Contributions for the lunch ranged from $500 to $2,500.
That evening, there was a reception for Vukmir at the offices of the National Mining Association." Senators Mitch McConnell, Ron Johnson, John Barrasso, Roy Blunt, Joni Ernst, Deb Fischer, Cory Gardner, Tom Cotton, and John Thune were all set to be in attendance. The event is organized by Vukmir's campaign and the Value in Electing Women (VIEW PAC). VIEW PAC is "exclusively dedicated to protecting and increasing the number of Republican women in the US House and US Senate."
Accused of "Lying" in Cap Times Editorial
The Capital Times, more commonly known as Cap Times, published an editorial in Sept. 2018 urging Vukmir to "stop lying about Baldwin's handling of Kavanaugh pick." Vukmir has accused her opponent, Senator Tammy Baldwin, of “obstruction” in the process of Judge Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the United States Supreme Court.
"Vukmir does not appear to have noticed that Kavanaugh is, by all indications, on a senatorial fast-track...Vukmir is confusing partisan obstruction with the constitutionally defined system of checks and balances that requires senators to provide advice and consent regarding nominations."
"No" Vote on bipartisan Cancer Treatment Fairness Act
Sen. Tammy Baldwin released an ad featuring Kirsten Jome-Robley, a cancer patient, who says the Vukmir was “just about the only legislator who stood with the insurance companies instead of the people.” Vukmir was one of two "no" votes on the Cancer Treatment Fairness Act in 2014.
According to WKOW, the Cancer Treatment Fairness act requires state-regulated health insurance companies to cover oral chemotherapy drugs, which, according to Jome-Robley, are the only treatment option available for some people with a brain tumor.
2016 Video Shows Vukmir's Disdain for Trump
During the 2018 campaign, Vukmir has positioned herself as a stalwart Trump supporter. But in late-July 2018, a March 23, 2016 video surfaced of Vukmir calling Trump "offensive to everyone" at the Charlie Sykes’s Insight "Right Women Roundtable." She acted out holding her nose when speaking about voting for him, implying that doing so would be difficult and distasteful. Sykes was a leader of Wisconsin's "Never Trump" movement in 2016 and has been harshly critical of Trump as a commentator on MSNBC.
"Threatened" Advertisement and NRA Endorsement
Vukmir's campaign released its first TV ad on June 18, 2018. It features Vukmir sitting at a table adjacent to a holstered handgun as "she listens to and talks over phoned-in death threats."
According to a Vukmir spokesperson, these ads were representative of threats the candidate has received.
In the ad, Vukmir doubled down on her support of Scott Walker, President Trump and his agenda, “When Scott Walker and I beat the union bosses, cut billions in taxes and defunded Planned Parenthood, the left couldn’t take it. With President Trump, we can do the same in Washington.”
Vukmir does not allude to the gun in the ad. She did, however, receive an endorsement from the National Rifle Association less than a month after the ad came out. The NRA Political Victory Fund Chairman Chris Cox stated, "We can count on Leah Vukmir to strongly support our Right to Keep and Bear Arms in the U.S. Senate.”
Vukmir Ad States Sen. Baldwin on 'Team Terrorists'
Vukmir's campaign released an attack ad on May 9 suggesting that Sen. Tammy Baldwin is a terrorist for not supporting Trump's nominee for CIA Director Gina Haspel.
"Haspel, the Trump nominee, played a role in the Bush administration’s torture and detention program after Sept. 11. She oversaw a CIA black site in Thailand, where agents waterboarded at least two detainees (one before her tenure). She was also involved in destroying videotapes that showed the CIA interrogating its first detainee under the program," the Huffington Post wrote.
Baldwin responded to the attack by saying that she has not taken a position on Haspel because she cancelled a meeting with her.
Right Wisconsin called Vukmir's ad "an irresponsible campaign blunder."
Former Koch Executives Hired as Senior Advisors to Campaign
"Sen. Vukmir is a rare combination in politics. She is a tried-and-true conservative with a long track record of success that proves she's serious about changing the status quo and bringing Wisconsin's record of conservative reforms to our nation's capital," said Lansing.
Wisconsin Next PAC Established to Elect Vukmir
The Wisconsin Next PAC was established in early October 2017 to support Vukmir in her 2018 U.S. Senate race. The PAC is composed of veterans of many of Gov. Scott Walker's previous campaigns, including:
- Stephan Thompson, Senior Advisor (Governor Scott Walker’s 2014 campaign manager)
- Brian Tringali & B.J. Martino, Pollsters (Pollstars for Walker's campaigns)
- Brian Kind, Data Analytics (Former director of analytics for Governor Scott Walker)
- Matt Oczkowski, Digital Advisor (Former Chief Digital Officer for Governor Scott Walker)
Others on staff at the PAC are:
- Alex Conant & Terry Sullivan, Communications Advisors (Senior advisors on Sen. Ron Johnson’s 2016 campaign)
- Mary Kate Johnson, National Fundraising (past and current clients include Greitens for Missouri, American Crossroads & Dan Sullivan for US Senate)
Vukmir Expresses Support of Trump Agenda
In Sept. 2017 Vukmir sent out a fundraising petition embracing President Donald Trump and his agenda. The email stated:
- "Plenty of time has passed, but still, we have no Obamacare repeal, no tax reform, and they haven't even started on building the wall. President Trump needs help from those who will not back down, who will be tenacious, who will achieve what they said they would. I can promise you, fname, [sic] when I get to Washington, conservative change WILL happen. I will stand with President Trump to get Wisconsinites -- and all Americans -- the policies they voted for."
But, in late-July 2018, a video surfaced of Vukmir calling Trump “offensive to everyone” at the Charlie Sykes’s Insight "Right Women Roundtable." She acted out covering her nose when speaking about voting for him, implying that doing so would be hard to do.
Vukmir Announces Campaign Steering Committee
On September 18, 2017, Vukmir announced the members of her steering committee for her campaign to unseat Sen. Tammy Baldwin in 2018.
The members of the committee are:
- Ave Bie, Public Service Commission Chairwoman
- Margaret Farrow, Former Lt. Governor
- Scott Fitzgerald, State Senate Majority Leader
- Michael Grebe, Chairman of the Board at the Bradley Impact Fund and former Bradley Foundation Chairman
- Mary Kohler, widow of Terry Kohler controversial dark money donor
- Sue Lynch, former National Federation of Republican Women President
- Barbara Lyons, former Wisconsin Right to Life Executive Director
- Sandra Mills, Mills Supply Co. executive
- Gerard Randall, Milwaukee Education Partnership Executive Director
- Donald Taylor, former Rexnord Corp. executive
- Jim Troupis, former GOP lawyer involved in gerrymandering the state of Wisconsin
- Jackie Trudell, former Wisconsin Federation of Republican Women President
- Jerry Whitburn, University of Wisconsin System Regent
Vukmir Announces Run for U.S. Senate
On September 8, 2017, Vukmir formally announced her run for U.S. Senate. Vukmir will first face off in the Republican party against Marine veteran Kevin Nicholson. Nicholson's Super PAC, Solutions for Wisconsin, has already raised $3.5 million from GOP mega-donor Richard Uihlein.
If she wins, she will challenge incumbent Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D).
Vukmir Wins 2018 Senate Straw Poll
Leah Vukmir is "seriously considering" running for the United States Senate against Democrat Tammy Baldwin in 2018, AP reports. In May 2017, Vukmir won the Wispolitics.com straw poll of potential 2018 Senate candidates with 47 percent of the vote.
Ties to ALEC
ALEC is a corporate bill mill. It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC's operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve “model” bills. Learn more at the Center for Media and Democracy's ALECexposed.org, and check out breaking news on our PRWatch.org site.
ALEC Leader in Wisconsin
Sen. Leah Vukmir received the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Award for "Legislator of the Year" in 2009, was appointed to the ALEC National Board of Directors in 2012, and was named ALEC National Chair in July 2015. Her ALEC awards and titles include:
- 2017 ALEC Iron Lady
- 2017 Chair of ALEC's Center to Protect Free Speech
- 2016 ALEC National Chair
- 2015 1st Vice Chair of ALEC
- 2014 2nd Vice Chair of ALEC
- 2013 Appointed to the National Board and Executive Committee of ALEC (Treasurer)
- 2010-2012 ALEC Health and Human Services Task Force Chair
- 2009 ALEC National Legislator of the Year
Vukmir has frequently "authored" and introduced ALEC legislation in Wisconsin.
Known ALEC Bills Sponsored by Vukmir
- AB 870 (Similar to the Course Choice Program Act)
- AB 14 (Interest Rate Judgment Act)
- Act 9/AB 5 JR1 (Super Majority Act)
- Act 94/AB69 (Castle Doctrine Act)
- Act 35/SB93 (Concealed Carry Act)
- Act 1/SB2 JR1 (Health Savings Account Act)
- AB 110 (Special Needs Scholarship Act)
- SB 22/AB51 (Charter School Reform Bill)
- Act 23/AB 7 (Voter ID Law)
- Act 22/SB 13 JR1 (Telecommunications Modernization Act)
- Act 2/SB1 JR1 (Tort Reform Legislation)
- AB32/SB49 Prevailing Wage Repeal
View CMD's catalog of ALEC bills at ALECExposed.org.
ALEC Center to Protect Free Speech
In February 2017, Leah Vukmir announced the creation of the "ALEC Center to Protect Free Speech," which she also chairs. One of only four ALEC policy centers, this one primarily appears to be involved in shutting down student protest and shielding the identities of wealthy campaign finance givers like the billionaire Koch brothers in the name of the First Amendment. (Koch Industries has served on the ALEC private sector board for decades.)
2016 ALEC National Chair
Sen. Vukmir was named ALEC's National Chair on July 24, 2015.
Vukmir Sponsors Resolution Opposing PPACA Medicaid Expansion at ALEC Meeting
Vukmir sponsored the Resolution Opposing PPACA Medicaid Expansion at 2013 ALEC Spring Task Force Meeting for the Foundation for Government Accountability, emails obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy show . Vukmir refused to respond to an open records request regarding this bill and other ALEC materials prompting a successful lawsuit by the Center for Media and Democracy described below.
Brendan Fischer writes,
- "In advance of the Task Force Summit, Christie Herrera, vice-president of policy at the Florida-based SPN affiliate Foundation for Government Accountability, asked Vukmir to sponsor a resolution opposing Medicaid expansion. She sent Vukmir a draft of the resolution, but acknowledged 'it may be tweaked a bit, based on SPN member suggestions.'
- Herrera then wrote to Vukmir and other legislators thanking them for sponsoring the resolution, and providing specific instructions about what to say.
- 'Each of you will need to introduce the bill,; Herrera wrote. 'As such I have written opening remarks that are also attached to this e-mail.'
- The remarks were more than mere talking points. Herrera wrote an entire script for legislators to parrot. She wrote that 'ALEC had a (ridiculous) concern that the task force debate would be 'one-sided,' so I have focused each of your remarks on addressing at least one pro-expansion talking point' -- yet all the remarks ultimately urged the corporate lobbyists and legislators in attendance to adopt the resolution."
The ALEC model resolution can be found here.
According to the The Henry J. Keiser Family Foundation, 19 states have not adopted Medicaid expansion as of January 1, 2017.
Center for Media and Democracy Open Records Lawsuit Against Vukmir
On June 6, 2013, the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), publishers of SourceWatch, filed suit against Sen. Vukmir over her failure to disclose ALEC-related materials under Wisconsin's public records law. CMD discovered that ALEC started stamping its materials with a disclaimer asserting, "Because this is an internal ALEC document, ALEC believes it is not subject to disclosure under any state Freedom of Information or Public Records Act." There is no provision in Wisconsin law allowing private organizations to declare themselves immune from the state's sunshine-in-government statutes.
After Senator Vukmir's staffers made headlines by berating and chasing CMD's process server, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen's office took the unprecedented step of asserting that Vukmir is entirely immune from civil suit and her obligations under the open records law based on a novel reading of the Wisconsin Constitution. This legal argument, if it were upheld, would undermine the public records law, since legislators could never be held accountable for their failure to comply with their duties under the law. Van Hollen faced heavy criticism for trying to apply the constitutional protection to the entire two-year session a legislator is in office.
On March 28, 2014, Senator Vukmir agreed to turn over the documents and $15,000, paid for by the state in a settlement with CMD. "As part of the settlement, Vukmir acknowledged that the ALEC confidentiality disclaimer has no force of law in Wisconsin, and that records located in personal emails or online drop boxes are subject to the open records law," reported the Wisconsin State Journal.
- Read the documents here.
- Read CMD articles about this lawsuit:
- Brendan Fischer, CMD Files Open Records Suit Against ALEC Board Member Sen. Leah Vukmir, PRWatch.org, June 2013.
- Brendan Fischer, After Unprecedented Claim of Legislative Immunity, Vukmir Releases ALEC Records, Pays Damages, PRWatch.org, March 2014.
- Brendan Fischer, Documents from Open Records Lawsuit Further Undermine Claims that ALEC Is Legislator-Driven, PRWatch.org, April 7, 2014.
Response to Motion to Quash Summons from AG Van Hollen's office
Motion to Quash Summons from AG Van Hollen's office
Documents Further Undermine Claims that ALEC Is Legislator-Driven
As CMD reported in April 2014, "the previously-undisclosed records from ALEC's Spring 2013 meeting show a Florida-based State Policy Network (SPN) lobbying group instructing Senator Vukmir and other legislators to introduce a 'model' resolution for legislators to thwart Medicaid expansion in their state, and even writing an entire 'script' for legislators to parrot in the ALEC task force meeting -- contradicting ALEC's claims to reporters last year that only legislators propose model policy, and demonstrating that such claims are merely a talking point."
In advance of ALEC's 2013 Task Force Summit, Christie Herrera, vice-president of policy at the Florida-based SPN affiliate Foundation for Government Accountability, asked Vukmir to sponsor a resolution opposing Medicaid expansion. She sent Vukmir a draft of the resolution, but acknowledged "it may be tweaked a bit, based on SPN member suggestions." Herrera then wrote to Vukmir and other legislators thanking them for sponsoring the resolution, and providing specific instructions about what to say: "Each of you will need to introduce the bill," Herrera wrote. "As such I have written opening remarks that are also attached to this e-mail."
The remarks were more than mere talking points. Herrera wrote an entire script for legislators to parrot. She wrote that "ALEC had a (ridiculous) concern that the task force debate would be 'one-sided,' so I have focused each of your remarks on addressing at least one pro-expansion talking point" -- yet all the remarks ultimately urged the corporate lobbyists and legislators in attendance to adopt the resolution. Vukmir did not plan to attend the task force meeting where the resolution was considered, but other records show her sending a text message asking how it went. Herrera responded: "Passed unanimously. Great job Madame Sponsor!"
Vukmir and ALEC Open Records
After its successful 2013 lawsuit asking State Senator Leah Vukmir to respond to our open records requests related to ALEC, the Center for Media and Democracy continued to make regular inquiries of Vukmir and many other ALEC leaders for ALEC related materials. The following documents were obtained by CMD through open records requests with Sen. Leah Vukmir’s Wisconsin office. In its requests, CMD asked for all records that pertain to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), American City County Exchange (ACCE), and ALEC's new lobbying arm called the Jeffersonian Project.
2015 pt. 1
Wisconsin Legislature: 2002-Present
Leah Vukmir was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 2002, replacing Scott Walker, who became Milwaukee County Executive after winning a special election. In 2010, Vukmir was elected to the Wisconsin State Senate, defeating Democrat Jim Sullivan 53 percent to 47 percent in Wisconsin's 5th district. The race was characterized by an influx of out-of-district contributions and outside spending. At $1.56 million, the 5th District was the most expensive legislative race in 2010.
"The candidates spent $692,142 and smear groups spent an estimated $864,192. Vukmir and Sullivan were also the top spending legislative candidates in 2010. Vukmir lead with $408,053 followed by Sullivan who spent $284,089," according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee noted that the vast majority of her political contributions came from outside her district.
Vukmir Supports Block Grants to States for Health Care Coverage
Vukmir publicly supports Gov. Walker's position that Congress should give states block grants and full responsibility of health care programs.
“Healthcare is very personal,” said Vukmir, chairman of the Senate Health & Human Services Committee. “That’s why those closest to our constituents, not Washington bureaucrats, should be responsible for tailoring our programs to fit Wisconsin’s needs. A successful repeal of Obamacare begins with the federal government handing over the reins to the states.”
The Henry J. Keiser Family Foundation estimates that with "Graham-Cassidy" healthcare bill, "federal funding under the new block grants would be $107 billion less than what the federal government would have spent over the period 2020-2026 for expanded Medicaid coverage, premium tax credits, cost-sharing subsidies, and the basic health program.....Because the bill does not provide for block grants beyond 2026, federal funding would drop precipitously after that if Congress does not act to reauthorize funding, resulting in a significant increase in the number of people uninsured."
"Nurse Ratchet" Ranked One of Wisconsin's Worst Legislators, "So Extreme and Heartless that She is Dangerous"
Sen. Vukmir was ranked as one of Wisconsin's ten "worst legislators" by Marc Eisen writing for Milwaukee Magazine in 2009. “Vukmir should be a star but is an absolute dud,” one Republican told Eisen. "By withholding her vote and claiming the 'more conservative than thou' pose, Vukmir forced her caucus to cut deals with the Democrats and give up more ground. 'She just has no strategic sense,' he despairs, adding that Vukmir is despised by most fellow Republicans." Another Republican staffer told Eisen, "Given the choice of reaching a compromise or having an issue to campaign on, she will choose the latter." And a Democratic critic said of Republicans, "They deserve her. She's shrill, uncompromising, ideological and personally unpleasant."
A 2010 Shepherd Express article quoted a Republican Capitol staffer saying off the record, "Many Republican staffers believe that she is so extreme and heartless that she is dangerous."
Her policies -- especially on health care -- are so extreme that "fellow party members sometimes called Vukmir 'Nurse Ratchet,' after the martinet in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, or 'The Wicked Witch of the East,' based on her district's geographic location," according to a 2016 Milwaukee Magazine" feature.
Vukmir Attacked Non-Partisan Government Accountability Board and CMD
In October 2015, as Wisconsin Republicans moved to fast-track bills intended to dismantle Wisconsin's nonpartisan Government Accountability Board (GAB) and gut the state's campaign finance laws, Vukmir made a series of false claims to paint the GAB as inept and partisan. She claimed that the GAB had failed to investigate CMD for not abiding by lobby disclosure laws, when in fact CMD does no lobbying in Wisconsin. The charges were especially egregious as Vukmir was the highest-ranking legislative official in the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that has demonstrably lobbied in Wisconsin and in other states, but has never registered as a lobbyist in Wisconsin.
The GAB was created in 2007 as the nation's first nonpartisan elections and ethics watchdog. It was directed by a board of retired judges. Sen. Vukmir voted for the creation of the GAB, but the agency fell into Republican cross hairs because it helped investigate serious allegations of illegal coordination between Governor Scott Walker's campaign and outside groups during the 2011-2012 recall elections.
See CMD's response to Sen. Vukmir's allegations here.
Gov. Walker, Sen. Vukmir and GOP Legislature Dismantle GAB
In 2016, the GAB was gutted by Gov. Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature and replaced with the Wisconsin Ethics Commission. In 2015, Mary Bottari reported, "The changes will put the independent board firmly under the control of partisans. These changes include: getting rid of Kevin Kennedy, the director and general counsel, and Jonathan Becker, who runs the ethics and lobbying division; splitting the GAB into two agencies; getting rid of all the retired judges on the board and replacing them with an even number of partisan appointees, a recipe for partisan gridlock; changing the rules so that the GAB cannot investigate on its own and must come back for approval from the legislature; and creating bright lines for referrals to District Attorneys. Plus the GAB would no longer have a sum-sufficient budget for investigations. GAB would have to go hat in hand to the very people it might be investigating in the legislature."
Negative Record on the Environment
In the 2009 legislative session alone, Vukmir "opposed a measure that would ensure that railroad employees are simply informed about pesticide application along a railway; opposed regulations that would control harmful invasive species that could be devastating for Wisconsin; and voted against allowing the state to make loans to manufacturers that want to increase their energy efficiency," according to the Shepherd Express.
ALEC Center to Protect Free Speech
Shielding Wealthy Donor Identities
According to ALEC, the Center to Protect Free Speech focuses on three issues: "donor privacy", "campus speech", and "commercial speech".
Vukmir is a proponent of ALEC's national push to allow campaign donors to hide their identity.
Suppressing Dissent on Campus
In April 2017, Republican Wisconsin State Assembly member Jesse Kremer authored the "Campus Free Speech Act," a bill aimed at penalizing student protesters and shutting down dissent against speakers on university campuses. According to the Associated Press, "Under the bill, complaints from any two people about the conduct of a student in the University of Wisconsin system during a speech or presentation would trigger a hearing before a new Council on Free Expression. Students found to have twice engaged in violence or disorderly conduct that disrupts another person's freedom of expression would be suspended for a semester. A third offense would mean expulsion."
Democrats warned that the legislation could actually be used to chill free speech, the very right that the bill purports to protect, arguing that students with a partisan agenda could work in pairs to quickly file the requisite two complaints against anyone they may disagree with.
Vukmir authored a competing campus speech bill in the Senate that "would also apply to the state's technical colleges and would go as far as prohibiting students from organizing protests that could dissuade speakers from visiting," according to the Associated Press.
Fighting For Lower Wages
Wisconsin Passed ALEC "Right to Work" Bill
In February 2015, Governor Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature pushed through a private sector right-to-work bill over the objections of thousands of workers and 450 construction firms rallying against the bill. CMD exposed the bill as a verbatim ALEC measure, authored by ALEC members in the legislature, including Vukmir.
Vukmir Introduced ALEC-Inspired Prevailing Wage Repeal
In February 2015, shortly after the passage of Right to Work in Wisconsin, Vukmir introduced another wage-crushing measure, SB 49, an ALEC-inspired bill repealing the state's prevailing wage law for local projects. Since many state contracting laws encourage or require public authorities to select the low bidder, prevailing wage laws are an essential backstop in preventing a public contracting "race to the bottom." Prevailing wage laws do not prevent non-union companies from bidding on public contracts or in any way favor unionized companies over non-union ones. But they do prevent companies from winning public construction contracts merely on the basis of paying low wages. Prevailing wage repeal, according to Marquette University Law Professor Paul Secunda, "is just another way in the building industry to get cheap labor."
The Kochs' Americans for Prosperity touted dubious economic research to show massive savings from repealing the prevailing wage, but studies have consistently found that prevailing wage laws do not increase government contracting costs, and repeal of prevailing wage laws does not save taxpayer money, primarily because higher-wage construction workers are much more productive. An exhaustive study using a database of 150,000 construction projects over the period 2003-2010 compared the eight Midwestern states with prevailing wage laws to the four without and found per-square-foot construction costs to be equal or lower in prevailing wage states. They found no taxpayer savings associated with the absence of a prevailing wage law. Meanwhile, cost in terms of lost wages, benefits, and lower tax payments is real. In nine states that repealed prevailing wage laws in the 1970s and 1980s, construction worker wages fell by an average of nearly $1,500 per year, according to another study.
In April 2017, Vukmir introduced legislation to repeal the prevailing wage law for state-funded public works projects. The Koch-backed Concerned Veterans for America launched an ad in support of Vukmir's effort to remove a minimum pay requirement on state construction projects.
Vukmir "Authored" ALEC Bill Prohibiting Project Labor Agreements
Vukmir Bill Would Increase Youth Incarceration at Juvenile Detention Facility Under FBI Investigation
Along with Republican Joe Sanfelippo, Sen. Vukmir introduced the Victim Prevention Package on February 2, 2017, a bundle of bills that would expand the list of crimes that would land a juvenile in the state's youth prison and remove the three year sentencing limit. "Beyond increasing the number of offenses that could label teens as 'serious juvenile offenders' and removing the current three-year cap on juvenile detention, the package also calls for increased mandatory minimum sentencing, and tougher penalties for carjacking and possessing a firearm while on probation," Wisconsin Public Radio reported.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that the Department of Corrections launched a probe into Lincoln Hills, the state's youth incarceration facility, in 2014. "The sweeping criminal probe, now nearly 2 years old, is examining allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and victims, strangulation and tampering with public records. A separate internal investigation uncovered four incidents where inmates' bones were broken."
Lincoln Hills is under investigation by the FBI and also faces a lawsuit filed by the ACLU alleging that the children's constitutional rights have been violated, as of January 2017. Per WPR, the lawsuit asserts that "as much as 20 percent of the population is held in solitary confinement and guards needlessly pepper spray prisoners."
Restricting Voting Rights
Ex-GOP Staffer: Vukmir "Politically Frothing at the Mouth" over Voter ID Law
In 2011, Act 23 established voter ID in Wisconsin, an ALEC-inspired bill pushed through the legislature by the Republican majority and signed into law by ALEC alumnus Scott Walker. A number of lawsuits were filed over the measure, claiming voter suppression.
A May 2016 challenge to the restrictive law began with testimony from Todd Allbaugh, former chief of staff to Republican Dale Schultz. According to Allbaugh, Vukmir was "politically frothing at the mouth" at the prospect of Voter ID benefiting the Republican party. "I've characterized it as giddy and that's part of what bothered me so much," Allbaugh testified.
It has been estimated that Wisconsin's voter ID bill decreased state turnout by as many as 200,000 votes in the 2016 election. Republican Donald Trump won the state by 22,748 votes.
Wisconsin Gerrymandering Case
On November 21, 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin struck down hyper-partisan legislative redistricting maps in Whitford v. Gill, declaring them to be "an unconstitutional political gerrymander." The maps were drawn in secret in 2011 by a Republican legislature that controlled both houses and the governorship. The ruling was unprecedented and "truly historic," Milwaukee attorney Peter Earle said. "It provides voters with an opportunity to fix a cancer growing on our democracy. It means that all political parties have the chance to be treated equally and have the value of their vote protected under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution."
According to the court's opinion, Vukmir provided specific suggestions on how Republicans could carve nearby districts to flip them from blue to red. "During the drafting process, [Scott Fitzgerald aide Tad] Ottman met with individual senators to review with them the census numbers for their district, to verify their addresses, and to ask general questions about their districts, such as 'are there areas you like, are there areas you don't like, are there areas surrounding your district that you like.' Id. at 81. Ottman also received a few requests from Senators concerning their districts. Senator Vukmir provided specific suggestions on how her district could be re-drawn to take the seat away from a Democratic member of the Assembly: 'If you need a way to take the Staskunas seat, put a little bit of my Senate seat into New Berlin (2–3 wards could make that a GOP Assembly seat).' Tr. Ex. 239. However, because Senator Vukmir's district encompassed Milwaukee, the drafters could not implement the suggestion because 'there was simply less flexibility in how [they] could draw that district than in some other areas of the state.' R.148 at 82."
The case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court as of July 2017.
Leader in Push to Privatize Public Education
Vukmir is an advocate for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools.
Vukmir Introduced ALEC's Special Needs Scholarship Program Act
Sen. Vukmir and fellow ALEC member Rep. Michelle Litjens introduced AB 110, the Special Needs Scholarship Program Act, modeled on the ALEC bill of the same name. The bill, which did not pass, was subject to a hearing in which legislative supporters visibly ignored the concerns being raised about the bill. The Wisconsin Department of Public Education objected to the bill in the strongest terms: "It strips special education students of due process rights and rights to services. It allows for the segregation of students based on disability. It will devastate funding for public education in select districts. It will result in the largest expansion of private school regulation ever seen in Wisconsin and, at the end of the day, no one will have any data to show if it resulted in a better education."
Vukmir Supports Gov. Walker Push to Drug-Test Medicaid Recipients
In 2017, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker indicated that he wanted the state to be the first in the nation to mandate drug testing for childless adults applying for Medicaid benefits. Vukmir defended the draconian measure after it passed through the state legislature: "We know what to do. We know how to take care of our own."
The New York Times wrote in a May 31, 2017 editorial, "Mandatory drug testing for Medicaid enrollment would affect an estimated 148,000 of the 1.2 million people receiving state health care support. They are either totally impoverished or members of the working poor earning less than $12,060 a year. Refusal to be tested would result in denial of health care for six months, with repeated confrontations likely to follow. If the governor succeeds in appealing to the (Trump) administration for permission to carry out his scheme, other conservative states will most likely consider the step. Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, warns that such a trend would be 'an extremely negative development because it treats drug addiction as a moral failing rather than a disease.'"
Fighting Against Women's Reproductive Rights
Vukmir Co-Sponsored Extreme 20 Week Abortion Ban
In 2015, Vukmir co-sponsored an extreme ban on abortions after 20 weeks. The bill included no exception for rape or incest. Republican supporters of the bill justified it by claiming the fetus feels pain after 20 weeks, but both the American Medical Association and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists refuted the Republican talking point. Both organizations, comprised of practicing physicians and other medical professionals, concluded that the actual evidence suggests that it is not possible for the fetus to feel pain until the third trimester, which begins at 27 weeks. Governor Scott Walker signed the strict ban into law on July 20, 2015.
Prohibiting Research on Fetal Tissue
Vukmir is one of eight Republican co-sponsors of a bill that would ban research using aborted fetal tissue in Wisconsin, reports the Wisconsin State Journal. The legislation is supported by a number of right-wing special interest groups, including Wisconsin Right to Life, Pro-Life Wisconsin, Wisconsin Family Action, and Wisconsin Catholic Conference.
Opponents of the legislation argue that the ban would negatively affect life-saving research already regulated by the federal government. "The bill would reach into labs and end ongoing, pioneering research on heart disease, cancer, infectious disease, and neurological and developmental disorders," says Cures for Tomorrow, a coalition of academic research institutions, bioscience-related trade groups, and health care providers. "The ban would be devastating to the remarkable opportunity we have to develop new, lifesaving vaccines, therapies and cures that will benefit patients across Wisconsin."
Opposition to Emergency Contraceptive for Rape Victims
In 2007, Vukmir voted against the "Compassionate Care for Rape Victims Act," a bill that required Wisconsin hospital emergency rooms to provide rape victims with information regarding emergency contraception and dispense it if requested.
The bill was passed with bi-partisan support despite Vukmir's attempts to stall it. The pro-life organizations Wisconsin Right to Life and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference took a "neutral" position on the bill.
Banning Birth Control on Campus
In 2005, the Wisconsin Assembly passed a bill prohibiting University of Wisconsin System health centers from advertising, prescribing, or dispensing emergency contraception. The bill, which ultimately failed to become law, would have made Wisconsin the first state in the nation to ban emergency contraceptives on state college campuses.
Rep. Vukmir supported the legislation. Marlin Schneider, D-Wisconsin Rapids, called the measure "a direct frontal assault on the right to privacy, on the right of free speech, on the right of a free press... Apparently some in this body want to take us back to the time when the dispensing of contraception was a criminal act." Vukmir countered, "The university should not be in the business of dispensing a pill that encourages irresponsible sex and undermines parents' message of abstinence." Opponents argued that the bill would harm rape victims and would likely lead to an increase in abortions.
Vukmir, a Former Nurse, Fought Healthcare Initiatives
Refusing to Protect Seniors' Affordable Prescription Drug Access
"Instead of fighting to protect seniors enrolled in the popular prescription drug program SeniorCare, Vukmir encouraged them to enroll in Medicare Part D instead," according to the Shepherd Express. "This would make Wisconsin the payer of the last resort, rather than the primary payer," Vukmir said in a 2008 candidate questionnaire. "This could save Wisconsin $75 million."
But, the Express notes, "Vukmir's math doesn't add up. SeniorCare costs about half as much as Medicare Part D, and it's a much better program. In fact, Wisconsin's SeniorCare, created during Republican Scott McCallum's administration, is held up as an example of what states should do to ensure that seniors can purchase their medication at affordable prices."
Derailing Universal Healthcare in Wisconsin With ALEC-Inspired Health Savings Accounts
Vukmir opposed the "Healthy Wisconsin Initiative", a 2007 push to create a state-run health care system for Wisconsin. According to Luke Fuller, Vukmir's former chief of staff, Vukmir often cites "stopping Healthy Wisconsin" as her proudest legislative achievement.
Vukmir introduced the competing "Patients First", an ALEC-inspired initiative promoting coverage plans with tax advantages for money put into Health Savings Accounts. According to the Commonwealth Fund, a private foundation that promotes better quality and access to healthcare in the United States, Health Savings Accounts are not likely to reduce costs, improve quality, or dramatically increase the number of insured Americans.
Before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee's Subcommittee on Health in 2006, the Commonwealth Fund testified that Health Savings Accounts were likely to worsen problems in the United States health care system, not improve them: "But while it is comforting to believe that such a simple idea could help solve our health care problems, nearly all evidence gathered to date about HSAs and HDHPs points to the contrary. Indeed, there is evidence that encouraging people to join such health plans will exacerbate some of the very maladies that undermine our health care system's ability to perform at its highest level."
Only a small part of Vukmir's plan was adopted, but the "Healthy Wisconsin" plan failed. During the next election, Republicans took control of the Governor's mansion as well as both chambers of the legislature.
Opposition to Mental Health Parity Act
Vukmir opposed the Mental Health Parity Act, legislation requiring "insurance companies to cover mental health and substance abuse treatment. The bill was passed on a bipartisan 57-40 vote and with the support of a wide range of groups, including Aurora Health Care, the Marshfield Clinic, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the Wisconsin Medical Society, the Wisconsin Council of Churches and the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups," Louis Fortis and Lisa Kaiser reported in 2010.
A number of Republicans supported the measure. "[F]ormer Republican state Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer is a longtime mental health parity advocate because, as she told the Shepherd in an interview when the Legislature was debating the issue, 'When you look at the costs that society pays, that the taxpayer pays, by not covering these illnesses, it's huge.' Forcing those with a mental illness into a public-pay program like Medicaid doesn't save money, either, because Medicaid reimburses at a very low rate. 'It is a pass-through on everybody else's hospital bills, clinic bills and doctor's bills,' Panzer explained."
Vukmir Booed After Accusing Democrats of Using Cancer Patients as "Shield" to Further Marijuana Legalization
During a December 15, 2009 medical marijuana hearing, Vukmir elicited a chorus of boo's after the Senator accused Democrat Senators Mark Pocan and Jon Erpenbach of using cancer patients to further what she perceived as a marijuana legalization agenda: "What I think that I resent most is this facade that you are putting forth, using people who are dying of cancer, who have other illnesses, as your shield. And I think it is nothing more than a ruse for you to move toward full legalization of marijuana. And I wish you would just come right out and admit that." Vukmir went on to argue that there is no medical use for marijuana.
As reported by the Sheppard Express, "Vukmir opposed a bill that requires insurance companies to cover cochlear implants or other hearing devices for children with severely limited hearing. The devices typically cost around $50,000 out of pocket. State Rep. David Cullen, a moderate Democrat who represents Milwaukee’s West Side and West Milwaukee, voted for the bill, saying it would 'allow children to keep their hearing, to become members of society, to go to school and keep a job.' But Vukmir, a former pediatric nurse... argued to her fellow Assembly members that 'You're voting to take away insurance for employees who work for small businesses.' Although WMC (Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce) sided with Vukmir, few of her Republican colleagues supported her. The bill passed the Assembly on a bipartisan 80-16 vote and was signed into law."
Opposition to Indoor Smoking Ban
On July 5, 2010, Wisconsin's smoke-free workplace law took effect, making all workplaces -- including bars, restaurants, and hotels -- smoke-free indoors. Rep. Vukmir voted against the ban and branded it as "anti-smoking zealotry... The only thing that's compromised are individual rights and individual freedoms."
Pushing ALEC-Inspired Tax Cuts
Repeal of Combined Reporting Law
In 2010, Vukmir called a special session of the legislature to repeal the state's combined reporting law, a law that closes what is known as the "Las Vegas Loophole." Repealing the measure would allow a corporation to dodge its tax obligation with one state by reporting it as income in another state. Vukmir claimed that the combined reporting law led to cuts at Harley Davidson, although the company stated that its financial difficulties were unrelated, and she blamed the law for Polaris' move to Minnesota, even though that state also has a combined reporting law.
Vukmir's attempt to repeal Wisconsin's combined reporting law is in lockstep with the American Legislative Exchange Council's agenda. ALEC has a model bill titled A Resolution In Opposition To Mandatory Unitary Combined Reporting.
Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR)
Senator Vukmir introduced the "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" (TABOR) despite widespread opposition, even within her own party. The measure ultimately failed to move through the Republican-controlled legislature. According to the Shepherd Express, the bill "was so 'tough' it caused a deep divide in the Republican ranks and outraged local elected officials." For example, under the bill, "the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District would have lost $2 million in revenues in one year if it had been enacted. That money would have been supplemented by higher property taxes."
Vukmir is an Advisory Member of GOPAC
Vukmir sits on the Advisory Board of GOPAC, a 527 organization that pushes far-right policy and supports emerging Republican candidates for statewide office. GOPAC was founded in 1978 in "an effort to build a farm team of Republican officeholders who could then run for Congress or higher state offices later."
Vukmir Worked for Right-Wing Wisconsin Policy Research Institute
From 1999 to 2002, Vukmir was a Kohler Research Fellow for the right-wing Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI). Vukmir describes her work with PRESS (see below) as "a WPRI project committed to raising academic standards by increasing parental awareness and involvement in the school reform process."
Vukmir Co-Founded Pro-Voucher Group PRESS
In 1994, Vukmir co-founded Parents Raising Educational Standards in Schools (PRESS), "an early scouting party on the mission to expand school choice statewide. Matt Hrody reported for Milwaukee Magazine, "As its president, Vukmir penned a number of columns for the PRESS website... One of the last, from 1999, blames the Columbine shooting, in part, on 'the self-esteem movement.' She writes that because of 'coddling' and 'our attempt to protect our youth from pain and sorrow, we are actually ensuring that they will be absorbed by their own self-pity. It is under these circumstances that a despondent teen may find no other recourse but to lose control and act out violently... I fear another Columbine is inevitable...' As early as 1997, Vukmir and PRESS were calling for the removal of the income cap in Milwaukee that prevented more affluent families from participating [in the state's school voucher program], something that could have benefited her financially and still hasn't happened, although Walker relaxed the cap somewhat in the 2011 state budget."
Room 415 South, State Capitol Building
Madison, WI 53707
District Phone: (414).453.0024
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