Wisconsin Club for Growth

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Wisconsin Club for Growth (WCFG) is a state arm of the national Club for Growth, and one of the top political spenders in Wisconsin. WCFG spent $9.1 million during the Wisconsin's historic 2012 recall races for Governor, Lt. Governor and State Senate, and has reportedly received a subpoena in a 2012-2014 John Doe criminal probe into possible campaign finance violations during those races. [1][2]

WCFG's Board of Directors includes Eric O'Keefe, a right-wing political operative with deep ties to the Koch brothers, and who helped form groups including the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity and American Majority. WCFG is led by RJ Johnson, a close Walker ally, who was a top campaign advisor to Scott Walker in his 2010 election and his 2012 recall race. WCFG registered with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions on August 24, 2004.[3]

Koch Wiki

Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.


Wisconsin "John Doe" Criminal Investigation into Alleged Illegal Campaign Coordination

Prosecutors in Wisconsin allege that Wisconsin Club for Growth was part of a "criminal scheme" to coordinate activities with the Scott Walker campaign during the state's 2011 and 2012 recall election, in violation of the state's campaign finance laws. Wisconsin Club for Growth sued in both state and federal court to stop the probe, and as of July 2014 the investigation remains halted. [4]

Documents released on June 19, 2014 detailing the allegations made by five county district attorneys into Scott Walker's political spending suggested that some of Walker's top campaign aides directed the political spending of outside non-profits, including Wisconsin Club for Growth.[5]

R.J. Johnson. Photo: Wisconsin State Journal

The documents highlight the importance of R.J. Johnson, a Walker campaign consultant and "advisor" to WCFG, in the coordination efforts. According to prosecutors Johnson effectively controlled Wisconsin Club for Growth. In an affidavit Johnson allegedly said "We own C.F.G.[6] According to a New York Times article on the subject:

Under Mr. Johnson, the Club for Growth become “a hub,” according to prosecutors, for coordinating political spending by the Walker campaign and an array of outside groups. These ranged from the Republican Governors Association to Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group co-founded by the billionaire industrialist David H. Koch and financed by the political network overseen by Mr. Koch and his brother Charles. In one instance, prosecutors say the Club for Growth transferred at least $2.5 million to the state’s leading business trade organization, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which in turn ran advertisements supporting Mr. Walker. During the same period, an official at the trade group joined conference calls with Mr. Walker and others regarding election strategy.[7]

The Center for Media and Democracy (which publishes Sourcewatch.org) described in November 2013: [8]

"Wisconsin Club for Growth's top "advisor," R.J. Johnson, is a close Walker ally and the former Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin. In Walker's soon-to-be-released book, Unintimidated, the governor refers to Johnson as a friend of more than 20 years and his key campaign operative. While the Wall Street Journal editorial notes that the John Doe inquiry may be looking into illegal coordination between independent groups and political campaigns, it fails to mention that Johnson is an advisor to both Walker's campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth."
"For two years, Governor Scott Walker was caught up in an earlier John Doe probe into political corruption during his 2010 campaign for governor. Although the Wall Street Journal describes the previous John Doe as having "turned up nothing on Mr. Walker and embarrassingly little else," the probe netted six criminal convictions -- including three Walker aides, one political appointee, and one major campaign contributor -- for a variety of crimes including embezzlement, campaign finance violations and political corruption. That probe closed in March, but the new inquiry is following up on leads uncovered by that earlier investigation."

CMD also uncovered how WCFG was at the center of a "dark money web," where the "group took in funds from some of the top Republican donors and Koch-connected dark money conduits in the country, and in turn shuffled millions to other organizations that spent money on ads in 2011 and 2012, all while keeping Wisconsin voters in the dark about the true source of the funds."[8]

Under Wisconsin's John Doe statute, proceedings are behind closed doors in front of a judge, much like a Grand Jury (but without the jury) and under strict secrecy orders. In November 2013, just weeks after the first subpoenas were issued in the John Doe investigation, Wisconsin Club for Growth director Eric O'Keefe broke the secrecy order and told the Wall Street Journal editorial board that he received a subpoena in the probe.

O'Keefe told the Journal that some of the targets "had their homes raided at dawn, with law-enforcement officers turning over belongings to seize computers and files." “The subpoenas don’t spell out a specific allegation, but the demands suggest the government may be pursuing a theory of illegal campaign coordination by independent groups during the recall election,” the unsigned Wall Street Journal editorial stated.[9] Stephen Moore, a founder of the national Club for Growth organization, is on the Wall Street Journal editorial board.[8]

WCFG and the Walker campaign challenged the subpoenas, and in January 2014 the judge overseeing the proceedings, Judge Gregory Peterson, quashed subpoenas that had been issued by an earlier judge on grounds that Wisconsin statutes did not cover electoral "issue ads" that stop short of an express call to vote for or against a candidate; however, he quickly stayed his own order and asked an appeals court to resolve the dispute over the scope of Wisconsin campaign finance law. [11] His decision conflicted with a 1999 Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision holding that coordinated issue ads will be counted as a campaign contribution. [12]

Wisconsin Club for Growth Backed Candidate Opposing Chisholm in 2016 Re-Election Bid

Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm announced on April 18, 2016 that he would run for re-election; the primary was August 9th. Chisholm's Democratic primary challenger was Verona Swanigan, an attorney and Milwaukee native who was new to electoral politics. Swanigan holds a law degree from Northern Illinois University (2005) and had practiced law out of her own firm, Swanigan Legal Services, for about a decade. She registered her campaign in August 2015 and released a video announcing her candidacy in November that focused on reducing crime and addressing domestic violence.

Swanigan is an African American who has participated in community rallies calling on the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate police brutality. She calls herself a "conservative democrat," but her campaign was backed by well-known GOP political operative, Craig Peterson, who has worked closely with Wisconsin Club for Growth's Eric O'Keefe on efforts to reshape Milwaukee politics in recent years. According to news reports, Peterson has long been associated with Zigman Joseph Stephenson, a public relations firm, but has had financial troubles in recent years. Peterson has ties to former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, who was caught up in the "Caucus Scandal," an earlier John Doe prosecution of campaign finance abuses, and who now works for big money groups trying to privatize public schools.

Peterson had reported $250 in monetary contributions and $1,681 worth of in-kind contributions to Swanigan's campaign as of December 31, 2015, a substantial part of the campaign's $5,476 total take for the year.

Milwaukee scribe Bruce Murphy of Urban Milwaukee reported that Peterson was "clearly preparing to go after Chisholm."[13]

May 2016: Judge Rules Against Cindy Archer in Federal Civil Suit

In May of 2016, Judge Lynn Adelman dismissed a civil case brought by former Scott Walker aide Cindy Archer in July of 2015.[14] Archer filed the law suit against John Chisholm, the Milwaukee County District Attorney, alleging that he and his team did not properly conduct a search of her home and "carried out a campaign of harassment and intimidation" during the investigation of a handful of Walker's aides in the John Doe I probe.[14] Adelman stated in his ruling that authorities did have probable cause to execute a warranted search of Archer's home and added that the lawsuit itself was groundless because the law protects prosecutors, like Chisholm, from litigation of this sort.[15]

Judge Adelman also addressed the efforts of Eric O'Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth, along with other conservative groups targeted by the probe, noting that they mounted a "full blown campaign against the investigations and against the defendants."[14] The Judge wrote in his decision:

"The subjects of the investigation... had significant resources and were willing to bring numerous lawsuits in an attempt to shut the investigation down. It is not an overstatement to say that the opponents of the investigation made it very difficult for the defendants to proceed."

The May 2016 ruling included a decision on the status of documented evidence from the John Doe cases after Archer's attorney requested that Chisholm's team be barred from viewing all evidence from the investigations. Jude Lynn Adelman concluded that some of the evidence would be preserved by letting the investigators file some of the John Doe documentation with the clerk.[14] Adelman penned an explanation:[15]

"I will not interfere with the state Supreme Court's order that the defendants turn over all John Doe II and relevant John Doe I documents to its clerk. I will, however, allow the defendants, if they wish, to file copies of such documents with the clerk of this court. The clerk will not docket the materials and will maintain them under seal. When this litigation is concluded, the materials will be destroyed."

Archer's attorney in the case, David Rivkin from Washington D.C. law firm BakerHostetler LLP, said in May 2016 that he would seek to appeal the verdict handed down against his client.[14]

December 17, 2015: WCFG Settles Suit Against GAB

On December 17, 2015, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and the Wisconsin Club for Growth announced that they had reached a settlement agreement in a case brought by WCFG against the GAB, accusing the board of handling the John Doe II investigation illegally.[16] The two parties reached the resolution only a day after Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a bill to disband the GAB and create two new commissions in its place.[16] The GAB described the consensus reached in a statement they released on December 17, 2015:[17]

"The parties have filed a settlement agreement today in Waukesha County Circuit Court ending this unnecessary and baseless lawsuit and saving taxpayers additional legal expenses. The agreement contains no admissions of wrongdoing or liability by the Board or its staff, nor will the Board pay any of the plaintiff's legal costs."

Director of the GAB, Kevin Kennedy, offered his own affirmation of the decision:[17]

"This agreement vindicates the Board's involvement in the investigation. More importantly, it ends this frivolous assault on the actions of the agency and stops the drain on taxpayer funds used to defend this action."

The Government Accountability Board said that regardless of this agreement, they would continue to stay within legal bounds for all investigations in the future as they have done in all past investigations. They added that, had the same settlement been made before the John Doe II, it would not have impacted the way they handled the cases.[17]

Edward Greim, the atorney representing Eric O'Keefe and the Wisconsin Club for Growth in the case, said that the settlement "will establish a precedent that will keep future incarnations of the GAB from doing what the GAB did."[16] Greim also mentioned that the settlement dictates the release of some 40,000 documents held by the board that he believed would reveal the GAB's "true role in the John Doe investigation."[16]

Feb. 2014: WCFG Files Federal Lawsuit

In February 2014, O'Keefe and Wisconsin Club for Growth sued in federal court to halt the John Doe, and to seek damages from prosecutors for pursuing an investigation that purportedly burdened the Club's "First Amendment rights." [18]

Allegations in Federal Complaint Unfounded

The complaint alleged that prosecutors were motivated by partisan animus in launching the probe. However, the complaint ignored the role of Republican prosecutors in leading the investigation. The Center for Media and Democracy (which publishes Sourcewatch.org) reported: [19]

The investigation is officially a five-county effort, involving five District Attorneys, from both the Republican and Democratic parties. A 2007 law pushed by Republicans requires that campaign finance violations be prosecuted in the counties where defendants reside, and prosecutors across the state have agreed to participate, finding that the investigation has both legal and factual merit. Would Republican prosecutors have agreed to participate in a criminal investigation into Republican leaders that was legally baseless or motivated by anti-Republican sentiment?
The investigation was unanimously approved by Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board (GAB), which consists of a bipartisan panel of retired judges appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Because the GAB does not have authority to prosecute criminal violations, it turned the statewide investigation over to the county district attorneys.
Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, was asked to lead the probe. In declining the offer, Van Hollen neither rejected the legal premise of the investigation nor criticized it as a politically-motivated witch hunt -- he instead cited a conflict of interest.
The Special Prosecutor leading the probe, Francis Schmitz, voted for Scott Walker in 2012, was on George W. Bush's shortlist to be named the chief federal prosecutor in the state as U.S. attorney, and has been a member of the Republican Party. Schmitz, who is the named defendant in WCFG's federal challenge to the probe, submitted a sworn affidavit to the federal court stating that he has no animus towards Walker or other Republicans, and in fact generally supports Walker's policies."

The complaint also alleges that prosecutors ignored "materially identical" conduct during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections by Democratic and liberal groups. However, those allegations were contradicted by the facts. For example, Milwaukee's District Attorney investigated campaign finance violations by Walker's Democratic opponent during the 2012 recall, Tom Barrett, and fined him $20,000. Other allegations of campaign finance violations had in fact been investigated and dismissed as frivolous. Other allegations were erroneous. [20] [21]

May 6, 2014: Federal Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction

On May 6, federal Judge Rudolph Randa issued a preliminary injunction halting the probe, holding that not only do Wisconsin statutes not bar coordination over "issue ads," but that any effort to limit such coordination would violate the First Amendment. Randa also ordered the destruction of evidence gathered tin the criminal investigation, but the Seventh Circuit quickly blocked that order.

"It is a stunning tableau: a federal judge stopping a duly commissioned investigation and ordering it shut down," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial board noted. [22]

In another editorial, the Journal Sentinel wrote, "the end of a coordination ban would create a 'dark' system of campaign funding."

""The entire election campaign could be conducted in secret. Money raised for the campaign could be funneled into tax-exempt 'social welfare' groups that don't have to disclose their donors, meaning voters would have even less of a chance than they do today of weighing potential motivations. How can the public know who a politician is working for if voters can't tell who is paying for an election?"[23]

Judicial Ethics Experts: Federal Judge Who Halted Probe Should Have Recused

Randa was appointed to the bench by Republican President George H.W. Bush, and is a member of the board of advisors of the Milwaukee Federalist Society. He also has regularly attended all-expenses-paid "judicial junket" seminars hosted by George Mason University, where corporate and ideological interests like the Koch family foundations and the Bradley Foundation bankroll the travel, lodging, and meal expenses for judges. [24] Some judicial ethics experts believed Randa should have recused himself from hearing Wisconsin Club for Growth's challenge to the John Doe, given that the same interests that funded Randa's expenses at the seminars also funded the groups under investigation in the John Doe. For example, the Koch network had funded Wisconsin Club for Growth (and O'Keefe has long been associated with the Kochs), and the Bradley Foundation is headed by Walker's campaign co-chair Michael Grebe. [25]

May 30, 2014: WCFG Sues to Force WI Election Board Out of Investigation

On May 30, 2014 WCFG and O'Keefe sued Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board in a state court in conservative Waukesha County, arguing the board exceeded its authority by assisting prosecutors in the probe. [26] However, their claims may not be supportable. [27]

Conflict-of-Interest at Wisconsin Supreme Court

Some of the lawsuits filed by WCFG could end up before the Wisconsin Supreme Court which, given WCFG's level of spending on state Supreme Court races, could raise conflict-of-interest issues. [28] The Center for Media and Democracy reported: [29]

"According to data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Wisconsin Club for Growth spent at least $1,615,860 on the last four Supreme Court races. Citizens for a Strong America, which is entirely funded by Wisconsin Club for Growth, spent $836,000 supporting Justice David Prosser's reelection in 2011, which he won by just 7,000 votes; in that race, Citizens for a Strong America alone spent more than Prosser's own campaign."
"Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court has grown notorious for its lax recusal practices, the level of spending by the groups in this case -- and their direct stake in the outcome -- could demand recusal under the U.S. Constitution, following the 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Caperton v. Massey. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a West Virginia Supreme Court justice should have recused himself from a decision involving a major campaign contributor."

"'This could be a landmark case for applying the Caperton standards,' Matthew Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Center for Media and Democracy."


Cap-Times-Dark money.jpg

WCFG does not disclose its donors publicly. However, tax filings reveal that donors to WCFG include top Republican donors and dark money conduits associated with the Koch Brothers. In 2011 WCFG raised $12.5 million. Additional donors have been revealed by court documents unsealed as part of an ongoing John Doe investigation. Some of the donors that year included the following:

Center to Protect Patients Rights

The Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR) gave $225,000 to WCFG in 2011.[30] The New York Times described CPPR as "one of the largest political nonprofits in the country, serving as a conduit for tens of millions of dollars in political spending, much of it raised by the Kochs and their political operation and spent by other nonprofits active in the 2010 and 2012 elections."[31] CPPR, in turn, received most of its funding from another Koch-connected organization called "Freedom Partners. CPPR is also a dark money conduit, donating to many of the same Koch-related non-profits as the Wellspring Committee."[8]

The Wellspring Committee

The Wellspring Committee donated $400,000 in 2011. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wellspring was created to allow donors concerned with protecting their anonymity a method to write "a check to a non-disclosing group that'll turn around and give the funds to another non-disclosing group."[8] WellSpring is little more than a mailbox, essentially serving as dark money conduit that offers donors a way to secretly funnel money to politically-active groups.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce

WCFG received $988,000 from the "action" wing of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC), which is the state chapter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. WMC has also received hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wellspring Committee in recent years. Additionally, WMC was a major Walker supporter that spent $4.7 million on the Wisconsin recalls. It was also one of the groups named in the John Doe investigation, along with WCG.[8]

Gogebic Taconite

The mining company Gogebic Taconite contributed $700,000 to WCFG in 2011 and 2012, as shown by documents accidentally released in August 2014 as part of the unsealing of court documents related to an ongoing John Doe investigation. At the time, Gogebic was seeking approval for a controversial open pit iron mine in northern Wisconsin. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, an investigator for the prosecution said, "Because Wisconsin Club for Growth's fundraising and expenditures were being coordinated with Scott Walker's agents at the time of Gogebic's donation, there is certainly an appearance of corruption in light of the resulting legislation from which it benefited."[32] Walker has denied that he had a role in soliciting the donation.[33]

Other Donors

Funding Recipients

WCFG experienced a sharp jump in revenue in 2011 and 2012, millions of which it transferred to other non profits. Many of those groups in turn went on to purchase pro-Walker and pro-Republican ads in the 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin recall elections. The New York Times reports that "the Club for Growth become “a hub,” according to prosecutors, for coordinating political spending by the Walker campaign and an array of outside groups." [5]

WCFG spent over half of its 2012 budget on grants to other organizations, most of which spent spent millions advocating for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and other Republicans during the 2012 Wisconsin recall elections.[35]

Citizens for a Strong America

In 2011 and 2011, WCFG provided almost the entire budget for Citizens for a Strong America (CSA), giving CSA over $6.2 million over two years.[36] CSA, in turn, spent millions on the 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin recall elections, and made transfers to other groups active during the recalls.

CSA's treasurer is Valerie Johnson, wife of WCFG spokesman R. J. Johnson.[35] Its president is John Connors, who previously worked with David Koch's Americans for Prosperity and is now "Director of Special Operations" at the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, whose Wisconsin Reporter website has written dozens of articles attacking the John Doe investigation. [37]

CSA appears to be the successor to an earlier dark money group named the Coalition for America's Families, which WCFG also bankrolled. [36]

Wisconsin Family Action

Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage group, received $916,045 from the Wisconsin Club for Growth-funded CSA in 2011 and an additional $253,000 in 2012;[35] the 2011 donation amounted to 90% of the grants that Wisconsin Family Action received that year. Wisconsin Family Action spent an estimated $850,000 on the recall elections.[1]

Wisconsin Right to Life

CSA also gave $347,582 in 2011 and $50,000 in 2012 to Wisconsin Right to Life, a group that was the plaintiff in a high-profile 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down regulations on the so-called "issue ads" with which many groups in this dark money network were involved.[8][35] Wisconsin RIght to Life also spent on the recall elections. [1]

United Sportsmen of Wisconsin

Another group, United Sportsmen of Wisconsin, received $235,000 from CSA in 2011.[36] United Sportsmen was the subject of controversy in early 2013, when it was revealed that outgoing Assembly Majority leader Scott Suder (a former ALEC State Chair) slipped a half-million dollar, renewable grant into the Wisconsin budget that was later called a "sweetheart deal" for the group. Wisconsin industrialist Terry Kohler, a top donor to Republicans in the state and nationally, personally reached out to lawmakers on the budget committee and urged their support for the grant.[8]

In January 2014, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel confirmed that the donation from CSA was the sole source of funding for United Sportsmen in 2011. This means that Club for Growth Wisconsin was effectively the sole funder for the controversial group, with CSA acting as a middleman.[38]

Healthcare Compact Alliance

In 2012, CSA's largest contribution was $500,000 given to the Healthcare Compact Alliance, a project of Competitive Governance Action[39]--whose board of directors includes WCFG director Eric O'Keefe.[40] Mother Jones reported in 2011 that the Healthcare Compact Alliance had donated a significant amount to Tea Party Patriots.[41]

Jobs First Coalition

WCFG gave The Jobs First Coalition (JFC) $425,000 in 2011, which amounted to nearly half of the $927,860 that the Coalition raised that year. (JFC also gave WCFG $75,000, in what appears to be a reimbursement.) According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, JFC is a pro-business and economic development group created in 2009. The group claims to "regularly monitor state legislative and regulatory activities and take positions on policy matters," according to its website. The same website, however, lists no staff and JFC is not registered as a lobbying organization with the state Government Accountability Board.[42] [8]

JFC has close ties to disgraced former Assembly Majority Leader Scott Jensen, who was the ALEC state chair for Wisconsin as a legislator. JFC in turn donated $245,000 in 2011 to Jensen's other group, the American Federation for Children. In the 2012 gubernatorial recall race, American Federation for Children reported spending $1.1. million in support of Governor Scott Walker's recall campaign, making it one of his top PAC supporters. The organization also reported spending $1.3 million to help GOP Senators who faced recall in 2011.[8]

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce

In 2012, WCFG gave almost $3 million to the political arm of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the WMC Issues Mobilization Committee, providing about 45% of the group's revenue for that year.[43] WMC then spent $4 million on its pro-Walker campaign during the recall.[35]

Coalition for America's Families

Over the period from 2006 to 2009, the Coalition for America's Families (CAF) received a total of $2,692,000 in grants from the Wisconsin Club for Growth. The largest sum given to CAF by WCFG during that interval was $2,070,000 in 2008.[44] According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the Coalition is a dark money, electioneering group made up of conservative non-profit organizations and business who support low taxes, school voucher programs, few regulations on firearms, and oppose abortion. The association is based in Virginia and backs Republican candidates for office with fake issue ads directed at opposing candidates. The head of the Coalition for America's Families, Steve King, is the former head of the Wisconsin Republican Party.[45]

The CAF spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in 2008 supporting Republican candidates in state races, including $500,000 given to the campaign of Mike Gableman for State Supreme Court. They were also active in the 2006 general election where, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, they expended upwards of $1 million "on negative electioneering in statewide races and in support of a constitutional amendment against gay marriage."[45]

At the end of 2009, after years of running inflammatory and often deceptive ads, Coalition for America's Families dissolved and transferred its assets to Citizens for a Strong America, which formed at the beginning of 2010. [46]



  • Total Revenue: $26,177
  • Total Expenses: $31,170
  • Net Assests: $-1,692


  • Total Revenue: $44,624
  • Total Expenses: $88,462
  • Net Assests: $4,301


Total Revenue (Contributions & Grants): $112,322
Total Expenses: $16,383 (no grants given)


Total Revenue (Contributions & Grants): $2,374,846
Total Expenses: $2,743,097

Grants Made:


Total Revenue (Contributions & Grants): $8,035,883
Total Expenses: $8,000,561

Grants Made:


Total Revenue (Contributions & Grants): $12,506,477
Total Expenses: $12,123,151

Grants Received:

Grants Made:


Total Revenue (Contributions & Grants): $1,005,839
Total Expenses: $1,054,344

Grants Made:


Total Revenue (Contributions & Grants): $555,762
Total Expenses: $555,946

Grants Made:


Total Revenue (Contributions & Grants): $3,432,560
Total Expenses: $3,556,537

Grants Made:


Total Revenue (Contributions & Grants): $1,014,582
Total Expenses: $786,808

Grants Made:


Total Revenue (Contributions & Grants): $412,000
Total Expenses: $414,539

Grants Made:

Staff, board, personnel and advisers

RJ Johnson

R.J. Johnson, a political strategist for (and close ally of) Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, is a key adviser to the Club for Growth Wisconsin.[59]

Walker’s campaign paid R.J. Johnson and Associates more than $130,000 between July 2009 and January 2012. [60][61][62] In the 2008 tax year, R.J. Johnson's eponymous consulting business made $33,791 on activities performed for the Club for Growth Wisconsin.[63]

According to the Shepherd Express: [60]

In his just-released book, Unintimidated, Walker makes special mention of Johnson in the acknowledgments, writing, “In the political world, R.J. Johnson and I have worked together for more than two decades. He and [campaign manager] Keith Gilkes laid out the plan to win our 2010 election and they both have keen political instincts.”
A closer read of Walker’s book reveals that Johnson was advising the new governor at the same time Johnson was defending Club for Growth in the press.
“Not long after the unions made their announcement [on Feb. 18, 2011], my chief political strategist, R.J. Johnson, took me aside and said, ‘Governor, you’re in trouble,’” Walker wrote in Unintimidated about his dismal poll numbers.
Later, Walker claims that he was getting “killed in the air wars with the unions vastly outspending us in paid advertising. The situation was so bad that my chief political advisor, R.J. Johnson, called the Wisconsin airwaves a ‘no-fly zone’ for us, such was the union saturation.”
Although campaign finance statements show that Walker’s payments to Johnson stop in January 2012, Johnson appears in Walker’s book on the night he won his recall in June 2012. It seems that Walker’s wife, Tonette, wouldn’t believe that Walker won the election until Johnson, watching the voting results in Walker’s “war room,” confirmed it.
“She threw her arms around him and sobbed,” Walker wrote. “All the pressure of the past eighteen months came spilling out. Then R.J. started crying, too.”

Eric O'Keefe

Eric O'Keefe is also a board member of the WCFG. O'Keefe is part of the Koch Brothers' political network, having attended the Kochs' 2010 Aspen strategy soiree.[64] He is also the chair and CEO of the Sam Adams Alliance, and a board member of the Institute for Humane Studies, which has taken millions from the Kochs and for which billionaire Charles Koch serves as chairman. [65]

According to Eric O'Keefe's website:

"The Wisconsin Club for Growth was the major platform for Eric’s efforts to raise money and fund communications with voters in the most focused and effective fashion. These activities were conducted by meticulous operatives with many years of experience, with the review of the Club’s approach by skilled counsel familiar with the state of the law, and with Eric’s oversight and overall responsibility for the operation." [66]

In October 2013, O'Keefe broke a secrecy order and told the Wall Street Journal editorial board that he had been served with a subpoena in the "John Doe" investigation into possible campaign finance violations during Wisconsin's 2011 and 2012 recall elections, apparently in his capacity as chair of Wisconsin Club for Growth. The investigation was conducted under Wisconsin's "John Doe" laws, which is similar to a grand jury investigation. The Journal's editorial board characterized the investigation as a "political speech raid." [67] [68]

Gov. Scott Walker's Budget Bill

On Feb. 14, 2011, three days after Gov. Scott Walker introduced his controversial Act 10 "budget repair bill" severely limiting collective bargaining for public employees, WCFG began running ads accusing state workers of not having to sacrifice like private sector workers. [69] The commercial urged private sector workers to support Walker’s budget repair bill and make state workers “pay their fair share.” When the commercial failed to dissuade protesters from going to the capitol, WCFG along with Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the Koch brothers, organized a pro-Walker rally on Feb. 19. [70]

During the February, 2011 battle in Wisconsin over Republican Governor Scott Walker's "budget repair bill, the Club for Growth Wisconsin sponsored a black-and-white television ad that featured working-class faces and superimposed newspaper headlines about the economic downturn which asserted that public employees have made no sacrifices while ordinary people have suffered substantially. The ad cited concessions by workers at Harley-Davidson, Mercury Marine and Sub-Zero while somber music played in the background. The narrator intoned: "But state workers haven't had to sacrifice. They pay next to nothing for their pensions, and a fraction of their health care. It's not fair. Call your state legislator and tell them to vote for Gov. Walker's budget repair bill. It's time state employees paid their fair share, just like the rest of us."[71]

PolitiFact Wisconsin reported that "officials with the Club for Growth -- Deb Jordahl and R.J. Johnson -- told us the ad meant to highlight just two issues regarding state employee compensation: pension and health care payments.... The portion of health premiums paid by employees more than doubled under then-Gov. Jim Doyle, from 2.5 percent to 5.6 percent in 2011.... But the most notable change for state workers has come on pay.

"The Club for Growth ad dramatically highlights 'frozen wages' and 'pay cuts' accepted by unions at the private companies -- and then says 'state workers haven’t had to sacrifice.' In fact, state workers have taken a hit on wages -- in the form of furlough days.... Doyle also rescinded 2 percent raises for non-union employees in the 2007-2009 state budget.... Doyle also suspended merit awards in November 2008.... So state workers have in fact given up some pay, which is the definition of sacrifice."[72]

WCFG criticized protesters for taking off of work because private sector workers “would like [public workers] to contribute more towards their healthcare and pensions,” [73] even though state workers said they were willing to do so if they could keep their collect bargaining rights. According to the Nation’s John Nichols, WCFG is “an organization funded by extremely wealthy conservatives to carry out their budget-stripping goals [and] has been a key player in Republican Governor Scott Walker's move to take out the state's organized workers.” [74] In addition to this, WCFG, in a press release, targeted eight Republican State Senators that did not initially commit to Walker’s budget repair bill.[75] Club For Growth, according to Think Progress, funded several “hard-hitting attack ads” against candidates who supported raising taxes on the rich or “have done anything to hold powerful corporations accountable.” [76]

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that in the first month after Walker's budget repair bill was introduced, WCFG had spent $805,610 on broadcast TV ads over Wisconsin's budget fight.[77]

Overall, WCFG spent $9.1 million on Wisconsin's recall elections, with much of the spending and the source of the funds undisclosed. [1]

$400,000 spent on Prosser Supreme Court race

During the Wisconsin Supreme Court race in March of 2011, WCFG also ran four ads promoting Walker’s budget reforms and endorsing Supreme Court Justice David Prosser; that race was treated as a referendum on Walker's controversial union bill. WCFG spent over $400,000 supporting Prosser’s campaign.[78]

Other Resources

Club For Growth ads: http://www.youtube.com/user/clubforgrowthwi?feature=mhum#p/u/0/im9DfnOW8XM

Past Wisconsin Supreme Court electioneering

Club for Growth Wisconsin spent more than $1 million on outside electioneering activities in the 2007 and 2008 state Supreme Court races and the 2008 and 2010 fall elections.

The Club for Growth Wisconsin was the first outside special interest group to promote a candidate in the 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court race, spending at least $321,000 on the race, and out-spending all candidates combined, and accounting for 70% of all spending in the race. The group has hired the Republican polling firm, Public Opinion Strategies, to health defeat efforts to obtain universal health insurance in Wisconsin.[79][80][81]

Previous negative ads & electioneering

"Club for Growth Wisconsin spent an estimated $950,000 on negative broadcast advertising and other electioneering activities in the 2007 and 2008 Wisconsin Supreme Court races and the 2008 fall elections," according to Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "The group sponsored a radio ad about three weeks before the November 2010 elections against Democrat Elmer Monk of Kimberly, who is running for the 1st Senate District open seat against Republican Frank Lasee. The ad criticized Monk for voting to raise property taxes as Kimberly school board member."[82]


Pro-corporate, anti-worker

The Club for Growth Wisconsin "seek[s] to extinguish the voice of public labor unions... because those unions... provide the most important bulwark of campaign-season defense via volunteers and dollars against the corporate interests' unimpeded domination over elections."[83] The Club for Growth Wisconsin's other efforts are aimed at helping corporations "avoid... their fair share of taxes, blocking minimum wage efforts and preventing any 'mandate' in environmental or workplace regulation they find inconvenient."[84] The Club's overall strategies are aimed at splitting the middle and working classes by "pitting unionized workers against non-unionized workers, public-sector workers against nonpublic, older workers within sight of Medicare and Social Security against younger workers who don't believe these programs will be there for them, and the poor against the working middle class," according to former labor secretary Robert Reich. Reich said, "By splitting working America along these lines, Republicans want Americans to believe that we can no longer afford to do what we need to do as a nation. They hope to deflect attention from the increasing share of total income and wealth going to the richest 1 percent while the jobs and wages of everyone else languish." [85]

Climate change denial

The Club for Growth Wisconsin calls global warming/climate change a "fraud." [86]

Backing "tort reform"

The Club for Growth Wisconsin supports and works to advance tort reform,[87] a "movement" propagated by companies and entire industries -- such as the tobacco and asbestos industries -- that are vulnerable to legal actions seeking damages for the impacts of their products. Proponents use the term "tort reform" to refer to legislative measures designed to limit the ability of individuals to sue companies and to restrict the amount of potential damages available to individuals who take legal actions against companies.


According to Eric O'Keefe:

"in 2004, after serving on the board of directors for the [national] Club for Growth for several years, Eric [O'Keefe] encouraged people involved with the Club for Growth to support similar efforts at the state level, as part of an accountability infrastructure. The national Club charted state chapters in seven or eight states before losing enthusiasm for the project. The chapter in Pennsylvania achieved early success, but later idled. Kansas has a Club which had a notably influential year in 2012."

IRS Form 990s


Employer Identification Number (EIN): 11-3723921

Wisconsin Club for Growth Inc.
1223 West Main Street, #304
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin 53590

Phone: (877).707.0571

Articles & Resources

Related External Articles

Related PRWatch Articles

Related SourceWatch Resources


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Recall Race for Governor Cost $81 Million, Posted: July 25, 2012/Updated: January 31, 2013
  2. Abe Sauer A Blueprint for a Takeover: Wisconsin Republicans Lied While the Kochs Schemed, The Awl, March 8, 2011
  3. Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, Wisconsin Club for Growth, Inc. organizational website, accessed on April 26, 2016.
  4. Patrick Marley, Daniel Bice, Bill Glauber, John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of 'criminal scheme', Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 19, 2014.
  5. 5.0 5.1 New York Times, Monica Davey and Nicholas Confessore, "Wisconsin Governor at Center of a Vast Fund-Raising Case", June 19,2014
  6. New York Times, Monica Davey and Nicholas Confessore, "Wisconsin Governor at Center of a Vast Fund-Raising Case", June 19,2014
  7. New York Times, Monica Davey and Nicholas Confessore, "Wisconsin Governor at Center of a Vast Fund-Raising Case", June 19,2014
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 8.9 Brendan Fischer, WI Club for Growth, Target of Walker Recall Probe, at Center of Dark Money Web, prwatch.org, Nov 18, 2013
  9. Wall Street Journal editorial board, Wisconsin Political Speech Raid, Nov. 18, 2013.
  10. The Wall Street Journal, Review & Outlook: Wisconsin Political Speech Raid, The Wall Street Journal, November 18, 2013.
  11. Daniel Bice and Dave Umhoefer, Secret ruling deals major setback to John Doe probe into recall elections, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 10, 2014.
  12. Brendan Fischer, Secret Court Ruling Could Undermine Wisconsin Campaign Finance Law, PRwatch.org, Jan. 28, 2014.
  13. Mary Bottari, "Secret Money Advocates Prepare to Unload on Milwaukee DA John Chisholm", PRWatch.org, April 28, 2016.
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 14.4 Katelyn Ferral, "Updated: Federal judge rules against former Scott Walker aide in civil suit, allows John Doe evidence to be preserved", The Cap Times, May 27, 2016.
  15. 15.0 15.1 Shawn Johnson, "Judge Throws Out Former Walker Aide's John Doe Lawsuit", Wisconsin Public Radio News, May 26, 2016.
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Mark Sommerhauser, "Wisconsin Club for Growth, GAB reach settlement in John Doe suit", Wisconsin State Journal, December 18, 2015.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 Government Accountability Board of Wisconsin, "Statement on Settlement of Litigation with Eric O’Keefe and Wisconsin Club for Growth", GAB Website, December 17, 2015.
  18. Patrick Marley and Jason Stein, Wisconsin Club for Growth sues to shut down John Doe investigation, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 10, 2014.
  19. Brendan Fischer, Top Six Facts in the Walker Dark Money Criminal Probe, PRwatch.org, May 13, 2014.
  20. Brendan Fischer, Partisan Witchhunt Claims from Club for Growth Upended by New Court Filings, PRwatch.org, Apr. 22, 2014.
  21. Brendan Fischer, Selective Targeting Claims in John Doe Filings Fall Flat, PRwatch.org, Mar. 24, 2014.
  22. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Judge Rudolph Randa's ruling on the John Doe probe is premature, editorial, May 10, 2014.
  23. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Gov. Scott Walker and His Allies Should Be Careful What They Wish For, June 20, 2014.
  24. Brendan Fischer, Federal Judge Who Halted Walker Dark Money Criminal Probe Attended Koch-Backed Judicial Junkets, PRwatch.org, May 27, 2014.
  25. Steven Elbow, Experts weigh in on John Doe judge's Koch-funded 'judicial junkets', Capital Times, May 30, 2014.
  26. Jason Stein and Bill Glauber, Club for Growth sues to force GAB out of Doe probe, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 30, 2014.
  27. Brendan Fischer, WI Club for Growth Tries to Bar GAB from Spending Money to Probe Illegal Campaign Spending, PRwatch.org, June 2, 2014.
  28. Patrick Marley, John Doe probe raises issue of potential conflicts with justices, April 28, 2014.
  29. Brendan Fischer, Supreme Court Challenge to WI Dark Money Probe Raises Questions of Judicial Ethics, PRwatch.org, Feb. 19, 2014.
  30. Lisa Kaiser, Exclusive: Koch Brothers’ Dark Money Flowed into Wisconsin Recall Fight, Shepherd Express, Nov 13, 2013
  31. Nicholas Confessore, Group Linked to Kochs Admits to Campaign Finance Violations, New York Times, Oct 24, 2013
  32. 32.0 32.1 Patrick Marley, Daniel Bice and Lee Bergquist, "Walker wanted funds funneled to Wisconsin Club for Growth," Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, August 22, 2014. Accessed September 2, 2014.
  33. Lee Bergquist, "Mining company, allies spent freely to get bill approved," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel]], September 1, 2014. Accessed September 2, 2014.
  34. Patrick Marley, "As lawyers prep for John Doe hearing, legal tab tops $672,000," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, September 9, 2014. Accessed September 10, 2014.
  35. 35.0 35.1 35.2 35.3 35.4 Lisa Kaiser, "Who Was Wisconsin Club for Growth's $1 Million Donor?," Express Milwaukee, April 2, 2014. Accessed June 16, 2014.
  36. 36.0 36.1 36.2 Club for Growth Wisconsin Form 990, IRS filing, 2011
  37. Brendan Fischer, Why Are the Franklin Center's "Wisconsin Reporter" and "Watchdog.org" Attacking the John Doe?, PRwatch.org, Dec. 19, 2014.
  38. Jason Stein, United Sportsmen seeks exemption from penalty for faulty tax filings, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Jan 12, 2014
  39. Health Care Compact, About, organizational website, accessed June 16, 2014.
  40. Guidestar, Competitive Governance Action, People and Governance, accessed June 16, 2014.
  41. Stephanie Mencimer, "The Tea Party's Latest Scheme to Kill Health Reform," Mother Jones, March 29, 2011. Accessed June 17, 2014.
  42. Hijacking Campaign 2010: Jobs First Coalition, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign report, Oct 28, 2010
  43. Jack Craver, "Dark money: How Wisconsin's most politically influential organizations avoid disclosing their donors," January 15, 2014. Accessed June 16, 2014.
  44. ProPublica, "Wisconsin Club for Growth Form 990 Returns", organizational website, Accessed June 22, 2016.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, "Hijacking Campaign 2008", organizational website, Accessed June 22, 2016.
  46. Brendan Fischer, "Kohler Heir and Walker Backer Plumbs Dark Money Depths", The Center for Media and Democracy, November 5, 2013.
  47. 47.0 47.1 Wisconsin Club for Growth, [paper copy on file with CMD 2016 IRS form 990], organizational tax filing, November 15, 2018
  48. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2014 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed June 23, 2015.
  49. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2013 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed July 13, 2015.
  50. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2012 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed July 9, 2014.
  51. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2011 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed July 9, 2014.
  52. Wisconsin Club for Growth, "990 2011 Center to Protect Patient Rights", organizational database, Accessed June 23, 2016.
  53. Wisconsin Club for Growth, "990 2011 The Wellspring Committee", organizational form 990, Accessed June 23, 2016.
  54. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2010 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed July 9, 2014.
  55. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2009 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed June 21, 2016.
  56. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2008 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed June 21, 2016.
  57. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2007 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed June 21, 2016.
  58. Wisconsin Club for Growth, 2006 IRS form 990, organizational tax filing, accessed June 21, 2016.
  59. Don Walker Wisconsin Club for Growth plans to stay active, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, February 22, 2011
  60. 60.0 60.1 Lisa Kaiser, John Doe #2 Looking at Walker’s Campaign Committee and Dozens of Conservative Groups, Shepherd Express, Nov. 20, 2013.
  61. Government Accountability Board Friends of Scott Walker Fall Pre-Primary 2010 Report, Campaign Finance Report, accessed/uploaded to Sourcewatch May 9, 2011
  62. Government Accountability Board Friends of Scott Walker July Continuing 2010 Report, Campaign Finance Report, accessed/uploaded to Sourcewatch May 9, 2011
  63. Club for Growth Wisconsin, United States Internal Revenue Service Club for Growth Wisconsin's 2008 Tax form 990 (pdf), accessed/uploaded to SourceWatch on March 17, 2011
  64. Little Sis Koch Network Participants, Aspen 2010 photos, accessed March 17, 2011
  65. Abe Sauer A Blueprint for a Takeover: Wisconsin Republicans Lied While the Kochs Schemed, The Awl, March 8, 2011
  66. Eric-OKeefe.com, "About Eric", accessed December 23, 2013.
  67. Wall Street Journal editorial board, Wisconsin Political Speech Raid, Nov. 18, 2013, Wall Street Journal.
  68. Mary Bottari, Heart of Darkness: Criminal Investigation of WI Recall $, prwatch.org, Nov. 25, 2013
  69. Wisconsin Club for Growth Benefits YouTube, Feb. 14, 2011.
  70. Ed Schultz [1] YouTube, Feb. 17, 2011
  71. Paul Fanlund Madison360: Why the revolt downtown is even bigger than it appears, The (Madison, WI) Capitol Times, February 21, 2011
  72. Group says Wisconsin state workers 'haven’t had to sacrifice', Journal Sentinel PolitiFact Wisconsin, February 18, 2011
  73. Club For Growth Update Facebook, Feb. 16, 2011.
  74. Ed Shultz [2] YouTube, Feb. 17, 2011
  75. Club For Growth Update Facebook, Feb. 14, 2011.
  76. .” Lee Fang Club for Growth Radical Success Think Progress Editorials, Jun. 26, 2010
  77. Craig Gilbert Budget fight TV ads top $3 million, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, March 15, 2011
  78. Ian Millhiser Leader of Koch Front Group is Behind Ads Supporting Wisconsin Justice David Prosser Think Progress, Apr 4, 2011
  79. Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Hijacking Justice 2011 Club for Growth Wisconsin, February 17, 2011
  80. Brennan Center for Justice, New York University School of Law Special Interest Group Outspends Candidates on TV in Wisconsin Judicial Election, Press release, February 15, 2011
  81. Gene Ulm Confidential memorandum to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Club for Growth - Wisconsin, Public Opinion Strategies (polling firm), August 21, 2007
  82. Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Hijacking Campaign 2010 Club for Growth Wisconsin, organization website, accessed May 9, 2011
  83. Paul Fanlund Madison360: Why the revolt downtown is even bigger than it appears, The Capital Times Political Blog, February 21, 2011
  84. Ibid.
  85. Robert Reich The Republican Strategy, Robert Reich Blog, February 17, 2011
  86. Club for Growth Wisconsin Breaking News/Global Warming: a Fraud Running on Fumes, article, October 28, 2009
  87. Club for Growth Wisconsin Tort Reform, organizational web site/position statement, undated, accessed March 17, 2011