By Lisa Graves on April 02, 2011

Citizens for a Strong America and its UPS addressMADISON--A new special interest group has purchased an expensive TV ad campaign in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race but operates out of a UPS store. The self-named "Citizens for a Strong America" (CSA) advertises its address as "834 Park Avenue #306" in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, but this address is nothing more than a box at a UPS Store. The TV ad campaign attacks Supreme Court candidate JoAnne Kloppenburg for an ad that was not created by her campaign. The ad CSA is complaining about argues that Supreme Court candidate Justice David Prosser failed to prosecute a priest who young boys said had molested them. (CMD does not endorse or oppose either candidate; CMD reports on front groups, PR campaigns, and spin, with a particular focus on corporate-funded spin.)

Who Are the "Citizens for a Strong America," Besides a Well-Funded Postal Box?

This mysterious group lists no information about its leaders, employees, or funders on its website, citizensforastrongamerica.net. Its website is basically just a brochure. Its contact information is not the kind typically used by a public interest organization; it is just gmail: citizensforastrongamerica@gmail.com. Its phone number, 608-831-2974, rings to a voicemail box, which is full.

The group has filed for an IRS number (27-1204594) for its non-profit status under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, but no filings are publicly posted on Guidestar; almost all non-profit groups in existence since 2009 have filed with the IRS and those filings are reprinted by Guidestar. If the group was founded more recently it may be months before records of its overall income and expenditures become available.

Updated! CSA Linked to Office and Staff of David Koch's "Americans for Prosperity," Tea Party Backers

In a review of internet filings, the Center has learned that even though Citizens for a Strong America lists no staff on its website, its website name was purchased by John W. Connors of Milwaukee, who has been a leader of "Americans for Prosperity," a right-wing group chaired by oil billionaire David Koch. On the domain registration through "Go Daddy!," the holder of the web address listed is for Connors and the business address is listed as 1126 S 70th Street, Suite S420, in Milwaukee, along with a gmail address. (After this story broke, the contact information was changed from johnwconnors@gmail.com, along with the street address and his home number, to a proxy registration service. Despite the effort to destroy this history, the Center and other groups have screenshots of how Go Daddy! and other evidence in this story looked before the changes were made; these links were also noted in a TV news story for the local CNS affiliate before they were removed. The Center exercised editorial discretion to not post Connors' home telephone number associated with the domain registration as part of the initial story.)

This address is the same street address as Americans for Prosperity (AFP) in Wisconsin. AFP is listed as holding offices on the second floor of that building. It is not clear how many suites in the building are leased by AFP. Although the address listed is in the same building, the phone number listed on the domain registration is for a home number, not AFP.

As one researcher discovered after this story broke, that street address was also used by a group called "Campaign Now." That group's web address is also registered to John Connors. As noted in the Cognitive Dissidence blog, Campaign Now uses the same phone number AFP used to register riders on the buses used to get people to the capitol hearing of the "Joint Finance Committee," a committee meeting other citizens did not learn about until the morning of the meeting. And yet another group, Watchdog.org, which is associated with the "Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity" -- another group connected to Koch-is also registered to John W. Connors. It seems he has been very busy.

In other documents on the web about him, Connors' work email address is listed as at afphq.org and he is described as involved in grassroots campaigns and marketing for AFP. He has been with AFP for a couple of years.

During college, Connors interned for Walker and worked on his campaign. As of 2008, Connors was also listed as AFP's "Students for Prosperity Director." He is a recent graduate of Marquette University who was president of the university's College Republicans chapter, and in that role suggested that TV ads would not be an effective way to reach voters in the future. He has also been tweeting AFP events in recent months.

John Connors of Americans for Prosperity with Home Headquarters KitConnors has been a featured speaker at the national AFP "Defending the Dream" Summit. (The Center has recently published a guide to the elected officials, right-wing ideologues, and business leaders headlining the Wisconsin-area summit for Tea Party activists, funded by AFP which is chaired by David Koch. The Center also recently published an in-depth analysis of the connections between Jockey's CEO and Koch, in a piece called "Is Your Underwear Undermining Your Values?") At the 2010 AFP Summit in Wisconsin, at which candidate Prosser and other candidates for public office were listed as headliners, Connors served as the "On-Site Production Coordinator." At recent AFP events, Connors has helped AFP's Mark Block launch AFP's new "home headquarters kit," an update on the "pyramid-type campaign" that Block and then-candidate George W. Bush initially used in Wisconsin to identify voters and get them out to vote for his run for president.

All this raises questions of whether a recent college graduate is somehow bankrolling the CSA's ads, or whether others who fund Connors' work at AFP are involved in any way. (AFP Wisconsin was led until recently by Mark Block, who paid a fine in a settlement of a case a few years back after the state alleged that Block had coordinated a campaign worth $200,000 with an outside group when he was serving as Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox's campaign manager.)

AFP's funders are not well known, aside from David Koch. Additionally, as the Center has previously reported, Koch wrote a million dollar check to the Republican Governors Association last summer, along with Rupert Murdoch and other billionaires, and RGA spent millions "investing" in getting controversial governor Scott Walker elected along with other new extremist governors attempting to destroy the rights of public employees and slash spending for public education. AFP spent millions of dollars across the country during the 2010 election season, including an untold sum in Wisconsin running ads about government spending (without disclosing the sources of its own spending). AFP also featured Walker at its summits in the state when he was a candidate.

However, there is literally zero information about who is actually giving Connors or others associated with CSA the money to create or make the expensive ad buys in this election. What is clear is that CSA is most definitely linked to people backing and leading the extreme agenda of the Tea Party.

CSA's Funding Is Quite a Mystery!

Accordingly, a virtually anonymous group is running ads on the eve of a major election with no public disclosure of who runs the group or who funds the group. Voters have no idea who paid for the video editing for the ad or who underwrote the purchase of the ads. There is no indication whether the group's funders are one person or a handful of people, or a company or business group or CEO. There is no indication, besides its postal box and its link to Connors, that it is funded by anybody in Wisconsin, or where its donors actually live in the United States or elsewhere.

And, there is no accountability for the group, which has already been determined to have run at least one misleading ad in this election cycle.

Citizens for "Ridiculously False" Advertising?

Just last month, a CSA ad asserting that judicial candidate Kloppenburg "jailed an 80-year-old farmer for refusing to plant native vegetation on his farm" was determined to be "ridiculously false." The landowner had a slope with a "severe erosion problem" that was believed to be discharging pollutants into Marsh Lake, part of the Rock Lake watershed. The owner ripped up seeding from the Department of Natural Resources that was planted to help protect the lake, and the court found him in contempt. After the third judicial finding of contempt, the court ordered the landowner to a short jail term. Tom Kercher of the Journal Sentinel investigated the CSA ad, and found that the presiding judge, Judge Ullsvik, said that Kloppenburg had not wanted the owner to go to jail and instead had asked that he comply with the court's order to address the pollution problem. Faced with the owner's recalcitrance, the court ordered the landowner to go to jail -- not Kloppenburg.

CSA's Ad about the Awful Case of the Molesting Priest--What Are the Facts and What's Opinion?

The determination that CSA's ad was ridiculously false did not stop the entity from creating another ad, or deter TV stations from accepting money from CSA for ad buys. In its newest ad, CSA features Troy Merrifield, one of dozens of sexual abuse victims of a predator priest, Father Feeney. His complaint that a priest abused him was not prosecuted by Prosser back in 1979. In the misleading CSA ad, Merrifield states that Prosser helped bring his abuser to justice, even though Prosser declined to pursue charges against the priest, which kept the case out of court and out of the public's eye for over a decade. After the Merrifield boys were abused by the priest and Prosser chose not to prosecute, the priest went on to abuse other boys at other parishes. The priest was ultimately convicted in 2004, but that was long after Prosser had left the prosecutor's office to become Republican leader of the state Senate and was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Back in 2008, Troy Merrifield said Prosser should recuse himself in cases involving sexual abuse because "He knows damn well what happened and what was said.... He dropped the ball and he should recuse himself." According to press accounts from before this election, Merrifield said "I was ready to take the stand ... He (Prosser) said it would be too embarrassing for a kid my age and said what jury would believe a kid testifying against a priest? Then he said, what really makes it bad is that Feeney's brother, Joe, sang on the Lawrence Welk show and everybody watched that back then."

It is not clear how to fully square these statements with the election eve utterances by Merrifield in saying Prosser helped bring his abuser to justice. It appears that Merrifield has been told that the special prosecutor in the 2004 case spoke with Prosser about the case, and he was helpful. The ad created by CSA implies that Prosser was always helpful in bringing the priest to justice, even though he failed to do so when he had the power to do so as the local prosecutor handling the boys' claims of molestation. The ad also does not account for the feelings of all the boys sexually abused in the 15 years between the time Prosser failed to prosecute and the actions of the special prosecutor in 2004 to bring the priest to trial.

Merrifield has been critical of the ad being run about Prosser, and he has asked Kloppenburg to take it down, even though it is not her ad and it is run by an independent group, the Greater Wisconsin Committee. (Kercher criticized that ad for implying, in his view, that Prosser knew the priest had been abusing kids for thirty years, even though the ad does not say that he knew that; thirty years is the period between the priest's first assault and his last.  Almost 15 years elapsed between Prosser's decision not to prosecute and the priest's arrest in 2004.) Merrifield noted previously that "It wasn't as if sexual abuse of a child wasn't a felony back then.... The laws were on the books, and he should have prosecuted." Prosser has expressed regret about the case and has complained about the ads referencing the case.

An All Points Bulletin for the CSA's Veronica Johnson?

This is not Veronica Johnson. Who is Veronica Johnson?So, the voters of Wisconsin are now being bombarded by a virtually anonymous group being bankrolled to the tune of perhaps a million dollars or more to run ads which are demonstrably misleading. There is no physical office a voter can go to in order to complain or demand the group's tax filings. And even if those filings were available, they would not disclose who CSA's major financial backers are. CSA is exploiting the fact that Justice Prosser and a narrow majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court enjoined the state from enforcing rules to require key disclosures by groups like CSA running so-called "issue" ads to influence elections. (The Center for Media and Democracy has filed a brief in that case in support of disclosure rules.)

The only known name of a person associated with "Citizens for a Strong America," aside from AFP's John Connors, is "Veronica Johnson," whose name was on the TV ad buy. The Center -- whose mission is to fight PR spin and front groups -- challenges readers to help identify Johnson. The Center is putting out the watchdog group equivalent of an "all points bulletin" for Veronica Johnson, with bonus points for her photo and information on who actually underwrote the ad buys by donating to CSA. Does she even live in Wisconsin or some other state? Does she even work "at" CSA or is she just hired by CSA to purchase ads? What other ads has she purchased and for whom? Let's give "credit" where credit is due. If CSA wants to influence elections it ought to have the guts to come clean about who is bankrolling its bills, so that voters can understand more about its agenda than its deliberately vague feel-good name. Any group spending six or seven figures on TV ads at election time ought to disclose more than its name, just as voters can easily find information about the other groups running issue ads this election, like the Greater Wisconsin Committee. The Center believes voters have a right to know more about an influential group than just its P.O. Box.

Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, the publisher of PRWatch.org, SourceWatch.org, and BanksterUSA.org. She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, as Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the U.S. Courts. Her latest expose is "Is Your Underwear Undermining Your Values" about Jockey's CEO and her Koch connections.

Lisa Graves

Lisa Graves is CMD's Executive Director. She has served as a senior advisor in all three branches of the federal government and other posts.

Comments

"John Connors is a Junior at Marquette University studying Business Finance and Entrepreneurship. He has been involved in campus and statewide leadership his entire college career. As a freshman, John served as a senator for the Marquette Student Government and interned for the Milwaukee County Executive, Scott Walker. He left the county to develop the youth campaign for Scott Walker’s race for governor. After Scott bowed out, John began working for Americans for Prosperity where he could continue his grassroots enthusiasm and apply his desires for public policy reform by getting students involved in AFP’s free market and limited government issues."

http://gop3.com/2007/04/19/wisconsin-college-republicans-candidates-for-chairman/

Thanks for posting this new information!! Lisa

Every time a bill comes up that requires transparency in campaign ad funding, the Republicans, whether in the states, or federally, kill the bill. The conservative-majority on the Supreme Court did the same thing. What are the Republicans afraid of? Why do they want their funding sources to remain a secret? Why are they against public funding of elections so all candidates get the same amount to spend? How can decent conservatives support these actions when it makes them all look like crooks? Why isn't there a huge outrage and a demand that this be stopped?

Hi, Transparency,

You asked, "Why do they want their founding sources to remain a secret?" We all know the answer to this. If
their sources were revealed we would all know whose agenda is being furthered and it would not be the agenda of a free people. It would not be the agenda of the majority of Americans who are not in the 1% of the wealthiest in this country. It would not even be the agenda of many who are in the 1% of the wealthiest, but who are still loyal to this country and its founding values of Democracy and Human rights.

I believe what people need to understand is that it is a small but financially very powerful group with no allegiance to this country or to human beings in general or human rights. Their allegiance is strickly to the greed that fuels their inhuman souls. They will continue their slimy underhanded and detestable ways until we, the people understand one simple principle.

We still have abundant power!! As long as we never ever give up. Here is how to quite simply and easily counter their deceptive and disgusting ad compaigns. Look carefully for their signature on all politcal ads. Their very obvious signature will be this: the lack of the following statement (or one like it) -
This ad was paid for by --------(whomever) along with valid
contact information (a real physical address and phone number
which willl allow one to actually talk to a real human representative of the
organiaztion.} Also, if the organiztion has some very vague name - big red
flag!!
If they are not willing to openly and honestly display this information, then they are hiding the truth from you. Why would anyone want to believe ads that are being produced in total darkness by individuals unwilling to shine the light on who they truly are as well as the agendas they promote?

We, the people need to make it clear to our politicians that if they have campaign adds out there that do not clearly state who is actually funding the ads (that is the organization names are vague and there is no way to follow up on the money behind the funding) then we are not going to believe those adds or in any way take them serious!

If you think anything in this post is relevant and helpful, feel free to share with others. We in this country are not, as those like the Koch brothers must believe, unthinking sheep who can be herded in any direction they wish us to go. We, the American people, still have the right to decide - indeed to make and remake our government - as long as we remember that, we have the power !!

The whole back door dealings between the Democrats and the unions is finally coming out into the light of day. Thy hypocrites have been in the back pockets of labor unions for decades, and you want transparency? But you only want it for the conservatives. There is a huge outcry and demand that this be stopped, but the liberals actions just continue to make them look like crooks. If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen baby. When will be get the whole voter ID bill passed, how much more transparent could we get than to ask everyone that votes to prove they are a citizen and their identity? But the liberals would rather continue their unethical activities be kept in the dark. If the laws are not applied across the board for everyone, there is no rule of law. Don't peek into the conservatives windows while shutting your eyes to the liberals wide-open doors. WE DEMAND THAT THIS BE STOPPED!

It figures no would would reply to this previous post. Hey, I know--let's just pretend that no one posted a small modicum of truth in the middle of the string of B.S. on this page. Here's reality folks, FACE IT...Unions force costs to go up while productivity and quality decline. FACT: When I began one of my first jobs after high school at a local, unionized manufacturing facility in Washington County, WI, the union guys I worked with told me (me, a kid who got mediocre grades in school, who didn't know jack, and who definitely didn't know much about hard work or work ethic yet) to SLOW DOWN BECAUSE I WAS MAKING THEM LOOK BAD. Folks, that was not an isolated incident, that was the very essence and nature of today's labor unions. FACT: A few years ago an acquaintence who had worked for years at a "very well-known local, unionized, motorcycle manufacturing company" (you figure out which company that was) complained to me that he might have to start paying some of his own health care benefits (at the time he paid NONE). In the very next breath he explained to me in detail how in his normal job duties he ran a single machining center where he pushed a start button and then sat down and read magazines and newspapers while he waited 30-45 minutes for the cycle to complete. And when "those evil anti-union managers" told him he had to run an additional, similar machining center simultaneously, he sabatoged one of the machines to teach them a lesson about who called the shots and who was in charge. If you don't have union experience yourself and you think this stuff is atypical, better do your homework. And if you are in the union, then you know damn well that these incidents are neither atypical nor uncommon. Furthermore, and more to the present point: Unions intimidate, unions force their edicts and way of life on those who want nothing to do with it and want only to be left alone, they do it with dishonest dealings, and they do it with physical intimidation to the life and limb of others (up to, and including, murder--as we've seen in Wisconsin...remember the anti-union paper mill worker some years back mysteriously found in a vat of paper pulp?). The Union believes in NOTHING sacred or particularly virtuous--they believe in building up their own power and their own pocketbooks regardless of right and wrong, regardless of moral obligation, regardless of the laws of the land, and usually in direct contradiction to those things. Union rights? That's the most laughable crock of sh!t. It's ORGANIZED CRIME. It's the modern iteration of the mafia. And every one of you that continues to lull yourself to sleep at night feeling like you've done something profound and revolutionary and that you're justified in defending your "Union rights" has been sorely mislead. You are personally and individually contributing in your own small way to the undermining of this great nation and you are dooming it to the same fate that numerous fallen (and apparently FORGOTTEN) nations have become victim to throughout history. When government claims and exercises the power to take money from one group and give it to another--NO MATTER HOW NOBLE THEIR CLAIMED PURPOSES ARE--then that people is ripe for destruction. And when you support and build up such a government, well...good luck with that Liberals and Socialists. Your principles have failed over, and over, and over throughout the history of the world. How can you possibly believe they will work "this time"?

Try breaking your comment into paragraphs; it'll be easier to follow. Also, I'll bet you could eliminate half the word count without weakening your message if you tried.

I see you've bought the whole menu of corporate anti-union garbage. Here's some simple facts. During the Guilded Age in America, children worked in sweatshops where they were killed on a regular basis. Why? Their parents didn't make enough laboring 12-14 hrs a day to feed the whole family and so the child's few pennies were needed to keep them from starvation. This was a policy the industrialists deliberately had in place so they could force more hands to go to work in factories where volume, not workmanship, was the new goal. Automation, volume, low pay, safety shortcuts.....that was what every first generation immigrant to America could expect from industry.

When did the abuse stop? When collective bargaining first began to make headway against the skewed market then in place. One the Rockefellers, DuPonts, Dodges, had created back then just as the Cheney's and Bush's, Scaifes and Kochs have managed to do again today. It was only when America saw a transfer of wealth away from the robber-barons and into the hands of the workers that a large, buying middle-class became the engine that made the American Dream for all a possibility.

The Third World remained poor because the ruling elite in those countries managed to stop collective bargaining from doing there what it had done here.

But now, technology has made a prosperous American middle-class redundant. It is no longer essential for Americans to consume as they had in the recent past. Instead, Americans would better serve their purpose if they became a large, readily accessed cheap labor pool. All that's needed to achive that is to completely break the workers ability to collectively bargain thereby finally driving down wages through mass unemployment and conservatuve betrayal into workers having the same Third World status that provided us with affordable goods at someone elses expense.
Now the industrialists can resell what we make to the middle-class of nations that took care of their own middle-class (most EU eg.) or have rapidly emerging middle-classes with their own money to spend (India, China,etc); nations whom the US middle-class allowed to have it's jobs, wages, and benefits, while importing their poverty as a result of having believed the corporate media and punditry claims they "needed" to seek eased regulations and a lower overhead in order to stay alive. BS!

Once again, conservative gullibility in the face of wealth and power has them giving industry everything they want. Likewise, conservative fears and redfusal to self-reflect has them buying into a leader who blames their woes on some outside evil, a diaboloical force the leader must promise to punish, to weaken, and domionate. He will promise to keep them safe from any other "radicals" trying to make even more changes to a way of life they are certain was once "great", a vision of past empire that is so imaginatively transfigured vision that it certainly never existed, yet will be promised by the leader "if the people just trust his decisions implicitely by giving him the power he needs to restore them all to their past glory. Hence Hitler's "Third" Reich.

This oft-repeated social phenomenon is one sociologists call the "dominance-submissive authoritarian embrace".. This unspoken "pact" is seen almost always among the right-wing and socially conservative - both leaders and followers. And it is this relationship that allows one single person to somehow influence enough regular people that they are capable of destroying nations and races. All simply because the trust given to in-group leaders is more powerful than the empathy that keeps others from acting on clearly immoral directives. But empathy, being particularly low among conservatives, allows them to do these things with little difficulty, lwhich is also the reason why, even in a democracy, those having social or politically conservative views are overwhelmingly also the ones who migrate toward militarism, who become police officers, and take jobs in prisons.

@heyblinken - You should probably get someone to proofread your responses before you commit with the 'send' button. The entire system is corrupt, liberals, conservatives, democrats, and republicans. It serves the country well, however, when people like you get up in the morning, put on the filter you've been given by Rupert Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, or whomever, and commit to murdering a few thousand people because 'they just ain't like us', while further committing to 'makin' damn sure everyone who votes is from here', never taking into consideration that foreign governments (Israel, for example) are some of the largest contributers to political campaigns. The country either needs to roll back a century or two and deport people like you because 'you just ain't from here' or it needs to come together and demand the 'across the board change' of which you speak. As long as there is a segment of the population that is so easily bought and sold, there will never be a consensus and we will continue to be the country that will go down in history with the epitaph of 'Divided, We Stood'.

They're only a citizens' group. It's not like they could afford a vacant office in Switzerland like a major corporation! ;-)

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