Is this the UW version of Zuckerbucks?
Wisconsin public universities have been using tax dollars to function as increasingly organized “get out the vote” machines for Democrats since 2016 through their extensive participation in a national effort that is financed and run by a non-profit group whose board members and CEO are all former members of the Obama administration or who were involved in Obama’s campaigns.
In Wisconsin, 18 colleges and universities are participating in the “ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, many public universities, including the University of Wisconsin’s campuses in Milwaukee, La Crosse, Superior, Oshkosh, Stevens Point, and Parkside, and technical colleges in Milwaukee and Madison. Foundations that are described as left-wing help fund the challenge.
Student voting on University of Wisconsin campuses has skyrocketed, and most of those votes go to Democrats, with liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz outpacing even Tony Evers’ percentages on campuses this April. [Read Terrence Wall’s earlier column on this topic here.]
To be clear, the non-profit behind the “ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge,” Civic Nation, claims it is nonpartisan. “Civic Nation is a nonprofit ecosystem for high-impact organizing and education initiatives working to build a more inclusive, equitable America,” its website says.
The ALL In Campus Democracy Challenge is part of six Civic Nation efforts that reached 11.3 million people in 2022, including “When We All Vote.”
Campuses claim their efforts are also, saying they don’t push specific candidates. Wisconsin news outlets have written glowing articles touting campus successes through ALL IN, failing to mention the extensive Obama ties. ALL IN is just one of the web of voter registration efforts underway on Wisconsin’s campuses, but it’s a major one.
Just how extensive are the Obama ties? Extremely.
In 2016, Inside Higher Ed raised concerns about the partisan Obama ties to the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge.
According to that July 2016 article, some universities had “concerns about the effort’s perceived lack of independence from the Obama administration in the run-up to a major national election” when the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge was announced by Civic Nation. In fact, it was rolled out in a White House meeting a few months before the 2016 election, the article says.
The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities decided not to endorse the effort. “It was hard to know where one ended and the other began,” said David L. Warren, president of the private college association, according to Inside Higher Ed. “The issue of the White House and Civic Nation, either separately or together, moving in this direction struck me as an entangling perception at best that I did not want.”
Yet UW-Madison signed right up, in 2016, according to the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge’s website.
We question whether the University of Wisconsin’s public universities would be so deeply engaged in an initiative entirely run by, say, former campaign workers for President Donald Trump. Would the media allow them to paint such an effort as nonpartisan? We highly doubt it. And therein lies the problem.
The “ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge” is an initiative of “Civic Nation,” a non-profit, according to its website. “Build Movements. Drive Change,” the Civic Nation website says over a large photo of former First Lady Michelle Obama.
When it announced a different initiative in 2023, Civic Nation did so with a video message from former President Barack Obama.
“Since 2019, Kyle Lierman has worked as Chief Executive Officer of Civic Nation,” according to Influence Watch. “Prior to this, he worked as a field director for ‘Obama for America’ during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign in 2008 before joining the Obama Administration in 2010….From 2018 to 2021, he worked simultaneously as the CEO of When We All Vote, a voter outreach organization and initiative of Civic Nation that is funded by New Venture Fund, part of the left-wing ‘dark money’ Arabella Advisors network.”
Civic Nation’s board chair is Valerie Jarrett, Obama’s former senior advisor in the White House who now leads the Obama Foundation. Civic Nation Board secretary Tina Tchen is the Executive Vice President for the Obama Foundation. She served as Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff.
Board Treasurer Sam Brown is the Former Director of the White House Business Council for Obama who “served as the Finance Chief of Staff for the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Committee and for the Obama-Biden 2012 campaign.” He held the same role for the Democratic National Committee.
Cecilia Muñoz, a Civic Nation board member, was Obama’s domestic policy adviser. According to NBC, she once wrote that Trump’s “harmful, over-the-top words weren’t just offensive on their face; they gave legitimacy to similar hostile and racist feelings held by others.”
Pete Rouse, another Civic Nation board member, was Obama’s interim chief of staff and a counselor to the president.
According to Daily Variety, board member Joe Paulsen “is a trusted veteran of the Obama world, having served as special assistant to the president at the White House and deputy chief of staff. He has worked with the family since 2007, joining in the early days of Obama’s precedent-shattering presidential campaign.”
Board member Jason Waskey “is a longtime Democratic strategist who worked on the 2008 Obama campaign,” according to Influence Watch, which says he co-founded Civic Nation.
In 2023, Civic Nation wrote in a press release, “Last year’s midterm elections saw one of the highest youth voter turnouts in a midterm election in the last 40 years – an estimated 23 percent of young people ages 18 to 29 turned out to vote.”
Universities aren’t hiding this effort; they are proud of it. They, too, paint it as a non-partisan effort to increase civic engagement among young people. While this is a laudable principle in abstract, in practical reality, the efforts have the obvious impact of driving out the Democratic vote because college students are so lopsidedly in support of Democratic politicians.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison proudly touts that it “has joined more than 575 other colleges and universities around the country by committing to the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge,” an action it took in 2016.
“The Challenge recognizes postsecondary campuses committed to improving democratic engagement, increasing student voter participation rates, and graduating students with a lifelong commitment to being informed and active citizens.”
Remember that former President Donald Trump won Wisconsin in 2016 by just over 22,000 votes. In 2020, he lost by just over 20,000 votes. In a state with such slim margins, the aggressive efforts by universities to get out the campus vote could change future election outcomes.
Campus Voting has Skyrocketed
UW-Milwaukee’s ALL IN report underscores the degree to which tax dollars and public employees are involved in these voter registration efforts.
“We are extremely grateful to all the campus partners who help make our campus voting initiatives a reality. In addition to the wonderful campus departments who set up for our events, create and share promotional materials, photograph and promote our events, and help facilitate our programs, we also work with many partner organizations,” UW-Milwaukee wrote.
UW-Madison’s ALL IN plan says things like, “The City Clerk will mail registration forms and instructions to all eligible students living in campus residence halls, using information provided by the university. University Communications will maintain a central source of information about voting for students online at vote.wisc.edu.”
The plan continues, “Stories about BadgersVote and upcoming election deadlines will appear in ‘The Weekly,’ an electronic newsletter distributed to all students. Slides for sharing in classroom or online through course web sites will be distributed to instructors through the Provost’s Office. University Communications will produce several engaging videos about the voting process to be distributed on social media, by email.”
That’s just for starters. See the rest here.
UW-La Crosse’s ALL IN plan says, “On our student portal, Wings, every student has a direct link to the Wisconsin Voter ID Enrollment Verification form which can be used to verify a student’s local address and their enrollment at our university when registering to vote. Additionally, our university has a webpage dedicated to voter registration and education for students.”
It adds, “Through collaboration with the faculty senate establish election day as a day without classes or have shortened classes to ensure students, faculty, and staff have the opportunity to vote.” That’s just for starters.
In the state Supreme Court race in April 2023, student turnout was indeed massive. A third-party liberal group, Project 72 WI, also mobilized campuses, so ALL IN was not the only effort (but it has been a sustained, long-term one). Protasiewicz raked in 91% of the UW-Madison student vote, compared to 85% for Evers last November, according to data obtained by Wisconsin Right Now. Other campuses also saw dramatic student vote growth for Democrats: UW-Milwaukee’s students voted 90% for Protasiewicz, up from 85% for Evers.
Civic Nation has expanded the campus voting effort across the country at warp speed.
The 2022 impact plan for Civic Nation reads, “In 2022, the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge (ALL IN) grew our network of participating campuses to 963 college campuses in all 50 states and Washington, DC. We worked with these campuses to promote nonpartisan student voter registration and turnout efforts, leading to a near-record-high youth voter turnout in the 2022 midterms. In partnership with ALL IN, 534 campuses submitted action plans for increasing nonpartisan student engagement – a 91% increase over 2018. Campuses engaged in ALL IN had average 2020 voter turnout rates that were 3.7 percentage points higher than other campuses.”
UW-Milwaukee Voting Rates Increase
UW-Milwaukee posted a report that says its student voting rate increased to 58.1% in 2020, a 4.7% increase from 2016. “58% of 18 to 21-year-olds voted in the 2020 election, a stunning 11-percent increase from 2016,” UWM crowed. “15% of students voted early, 32% voted in-person on Election Day, and 50% of students voted not in-person.”
It’s clear that public money is involved. “Many of our staff are involved in Panthers Vote and support CLDE (civic learning and democratic engagement) in their departments,” UWM wrote.
UW-Milwaukee delivered 720 more voters in 2020 when compared to 2016, according to reports on ALL IN’s website.
UW-Madison Voting Rates Increase
From 2014 to 2018, student turnout at UW–Madison increased by nearly 18 percentage points. From 2016 to 2020, student voting increased 7.4% to 72.8% on the UW-Madison campus.
The voting rate of registered students rose from 81.1% to 85.4% and the registration rate increased from 80.7% to 85.2%.
Comparing 2016 to 2020, UW-Madison delivered 2,072 additional student voters, and 5,203 more in 2020 when compared to the 2018 midterms.
That’s according to a report compiled for UW-Madison.
At UW-Madison, voting registration efforts are organized under an initiative called “BadgersVote,” described as “a campus-wide initiative that strives to provide University of Wisconsin–Madison students with everything they need to know in order to participate in their elections. The BadgersVote Coalition is comprised of many individuals, units and departments across campus and the city of Madison.”
“The origins of the BadgersVote Coalition stretch back to 2013. The Morgridge Center began emphasizing the importance of voting after the arrival of Kathy Cramer as the new faculty director,” the UW-Madison website says. Cramer is the author of a book called, “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker.”
What some might call UW-Madison’s voting registration get-out-the-vote efforts are more extensive than ALL IN.
“Additionally, the University of Wisconsin–Madison is one of over two hundred campuses in thirty-seven states and the District of Columbia designated as a ‘Voter Friendly Campus,'” Madison says on its website. “The initiative, led by national nonpartisan organizations Fair Elections Center’s Campus Vote Project (CVP) and Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), held participating institutions accountable for planning and implementing practices that encourage their students to register and vote in 2020 elections and in the coming years. The designation is valid through December 2022.”
However, Fair Elections Center is described as left-leaning by Influence Watch, which writes, “Fair Elections Center (formerly the Fair Elections Legal Network) is a left-of-center litigation and election policy advocacy nonprofit created in 2006. The group originated as a project of the center-left funding and fiscal sponsorship group New Venture Fund.”
In addition, UW–Madison “joined the other Big Ten institutions in a new competition to promote civic engagement in 2018: the Big Ten Voting Challenge.” According to UW-Madison, “University of Wisconsin–Madison students achieved the second-highest voter turnout among the 14 member institutions of the Big Ten Conference in the 2018 midterm election.”
“The Andrew Goodman Foundation joined the ranks of the Morgridge Center partners in 2016, placing paid student interns in positions on campus to increase voter engagement and civic awareness,” the UW-Madison website says.
But that foundation is also left-of-center, according to Influence Watch, which writes, “Andrew Goodman Foundation (AGF) is a left-of-center nonprofit that advocates for student voting through lawsuits, supporting legislation, and on-campus get-out-the-vote campaigns.”
“As the 2018 midterm elections rolled around, the Big 10 Voting Challenge Committee became the infrastructure of BadgersVote by bringing independent operators together to create cohesive messages.”
“Since its founding, BadgersVote has accumulated more funding for voting initiatives and increased the number of students involved in civic engagement on campus. The BadgersVote Student Coalition consists of interns housed in the Morgridge Center who work for a variety of organizations, including the Andrew Goodman Foundation, the League of Women Voters, Campus Election Engagement Project (CEEP) and several other community partnerships,” says the website.
What of the League of Women Voters? Also not perceived as non-partisan by many, according to Influence Watch, it says it is. “Though the group is officially nonpartisan under IRS nonprofit rules, it has been widely criticized for pushing left-leaning policies,” Influence Watch reported. “The League’s current platform supports tax-and-spend policies, government-run healthcare, a wide range of increased welfare handouts, a ban on certain low-priced handguns, and support for international organizations including the International Criminal Court to which even the liberal Obama administration did not cede U.S. sovereignty.”
“The students spearheaded the coalition’s charge to conquer social platforms. Today, BadgersVote has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, TikTok and Instagram — where they reach nearly 1,000 engagements per post. BadgersVote interns also launched a YouTube channel and a podcast in 2020.”
Scrubbing the Obama Ties
News stories touting the campus efforts don’t bother to tell readers ALL IN’s ties to Obama.
For example, in 2021, WTMJ-TV ran a story headlined, “UW-Milwaukee awarded for student voting efforts.” The article says, “The ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge awarded UW-Milwaukee with its 2021 Best Action Plan Award, for the campus’s efforts to encourage student voting.”
UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone told WTMJ: “We have a responsibility as an educational institution to prepare students to be informed and active citizens. Not only is the student voice important in elections at all levels, but we also want to encourage our students to become lifelong voters and engaged community members.”
There is no mention of the extensive Obama ties to All In.
According to Influence Watch, Civic Nation “is a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 2015, headed by President Jason Waskey (CEO of Blue Crab Strategies LLC) and Executive Director Jenn Brown. Touting itself as an organ of widespread positive social change, Civic Nation funds several large charitable initiatives: Erase the Hate, College Promise, It’s On Us, ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, #VoteTogether, and United State of Women. Civic Nation functions as a sort of organizing hub for its partner, Creative Alliance, a left-leaning marketing group which produces advertisements and online content for its subsidiary and partner organizations.”
According to its website, which touts the effort as “nonpartisan,” the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge’s funders include foundations described by Influence Watch as left-of-center, such as the Kresge Foundation, the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund, and Kohlberg Philanthropy.
“The foundation provides grants to numerous left-of-center organizations, focused on legal policy related to health programs, the environment, and education,” Influence Watch says of Kohlberg.
“The Kresge Foundation is a left-of-center advocacy-philanthropic organization based in Troy, Michigan” that promotes illegal immigration and other liberal causes, Influence Watch says.
Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund: Located in San Francisco, this foundation “supports advocacy for left-of-center positions, including trying to expand and protecting voting eligibility,” according to Influence Watch.
UW-Milwaukee also says that it has collaborated with the Andrew Goodman Foundation, Civic Nation, League of Women Voters, and ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, among others.
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