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Mike Thurston: Waukesha DA Candidate Doesn’t Recall Donating 4 Times to John Chisholm

Mike Thurston, Waukesha DA candidate, and Milwaukee DA John Chisholm.

Waukesha DA candidate Mike Thurston’s donations to John Chisholm started during the tail end of the John Doe probe into Scott Walker.

Mike Thurston, a prosecutor running as a Republican for Waukesha County District Attorney, donated money to the campaign of Democratic Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm five times and also gave money to Democratic politicians in two other states, state campaign finance records in Wisconsin, Georgia, and Ohio show.

Although Thurston briefly worked for Chisholm’s office, four of the five donations to Chisholm came AFTER Thurston was already working as a prosecutor in the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office, the records show.

Asked for an explanation, Thurston said he did not remember donating to Chisholm four of the five times, even though the most recent donation was four years ago, in June 2020, a year Chisholm was unopposed. Thurston described himself as a “moderate Republican.”

Mike thurston waukesha

“Thank you so much for reaching out! I am stuck in the Waukesha courthouse handling another complex sexual assault / domestic violence jury trial this week (2023 CF 1169 and 2023 CF 1120), so I wanted to get this to you before another hectic day at the courthouse start,” he wrote in response to our questions, which we sent at 5 p.m. the night before, receiving an immediate response from his campaign. “Please see my response to your questions about several contributions over the years. I truthfully recall only one donation I made in 2016 to John, for the sole purpose of defeating Veronica Swanigan. I truthfully don’t recall donating to him in subsequent years, nor would I have any reason to. Would you be free to further discuss these records (possibly Wednesday night after my trial)?” We said we are willing to hear more after his trial as well.

The donations are documented in Chisholm’s campaign finance reports, which are available on the state campaign finance website. You can see screenshots later in this story. Campaign finance records show that Thurston donated $2,300 to Chisholm from 2014-2020. He donated to Chisholm five times in five different years: 2020, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2014.

In fact, Thurston donated money to Chisholm in four of the five years after he first moved to the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office. The donations raise questions because Chisholm’s soft-on-crime philosophy is the last thing most conservative voters want to see transplanted to Waukesha County, not to mention the hard feelings that remain among conservatives over his John Doe probe into former Gov. Scott Walker and his associates. Chisholm has also caused controversy in recent years for his office’s botched bail recommendation against future Waukesha Christmas parade attacker Darrell Brooks.

We also asked Thurston how his philosophy differed from Chisholm’s and, we asked, “What’s his position on Chisholm’s John Doe probe into former Gov. Scott Walker and his associates?” His statement went into a lengthy explanation of his prosecutorial philosophy and background (you can read it in full at the end of this story). But he never answered the question on the John Doe, which enraged conservatives for years.

From the year he started donating money to politicians (2012) through 2020, all of Thurston’s donations went to Democrats, save for two, to a judicial candidate in Georgia who was appointed by a Republican governor and a Milwaukee judicial candidate, Cynthia Davis, who is a former prosecutor appointed by Walker. The pattern was that the candidates were prosecutors.

In 2022 and 2023, though, his donation tendency shifted to only Republicans, including some non-prosecutors like Rebecca Kleefisch and Scott Fizgerald; to former Republican AG Brad Schimel; and a flurry of donations to the Waukesha County GOP. For example, we found nine donations from Thurston to the Waukesha County GOP after 2022, but none before that.

He’s been running for Waukesha County DA since February 2023 and has filled his campaign website with pictures showing him with Republicans and at conservative events. Waukesha County DA Sue Opper announced in March 2022 that she was not running for re-election, according to The Waukesha Freeman.

In addition to the Chisholm donations, Thurston, also while working as a Waukesha County prosecutor, gave $1,250 to Richard A. Cordray, a Democrat from Ohio, on Aug. 22 and April 8, 2018. Cordray was running for governor of Ohio against Republican Gov. Mike DeWine at the time. Just days ago, Cordray stepped down as President Joe Biden’s Federal Student Aid office head amidst FAFSA delay controversies. He also served in the Obama administration and as Ohio’s attorney general.

Thurston also donated money to the former Democratic DA of Clayton County, Georgia, where he once worked.

“I consider myself a moderate Republican. Like many people, my political views have grown and changed over time. Those who know me know that I have always stood for being tough on crime, keeping our communities safe, and fighting for my victims- the main goals of the Waukesha County DA’s Office,” Thurston wrote us. “I do not support ‘defunding the police’ or many other democratic views. The decision of the Democratic Party to withdraw its support for our law enforcement agencies across the country when our cities and communities were burning in 2020 and beyond was unconscionable and unforgivable. My conservative values have resonated with our law enforcement partners, as every major law enforcement agency in Waukesha County has endorsed me.”

He added, “With regards to prior campaign contributions, I would argue that my donations to candidates such as John Chisholm hopefully helped prevent far worse opponents- Verona Swanigan and left-wing Congressman Dennis Kucinich – from being elected. Regarding campaign donations to my friends and colleagues who ran for office in Georgia (in Clayton County, which is entirely blue), I have and always will support my friends and colleagues, and anyone who joins me in the fight for justice. At an earlier point in my career, I certainly never saw myself running for political office, and would have never thought that supporting one’s friends, colleagues, and bosses would be seen as a negative thing.”

According to his campaign website, Thurston was an assistant DA working in Milwaukee County’s Domestic Violence Unit and Sensitive Crimes Unit from January of 2014 through December of 2015.

He also served as an Assistant State’s Attorney – Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office, Illinois (August 2005 to July 2007) and as Assistant and Senior District Attorney – Clayton County DA’s Office, Georgia (October of 2007 – July of 2013). Thurston’s campaign website says he joined the Waukesha County DA’s office in December 2015, “as the County’s first Regional Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Resource Prosecutor.” He became a sensitive crimes prosecutor for the Waukesha DA’s office in 2017 and was promoted to Supervising Deputy District Attorney in 2019. He is a prosecutor in Waukesha County today.

He is one of two Republicans in the Waukesha County DA’s race primary this August; the other Republican candidate is Lesli Boese, the deputy DA who co-handled the Christmas parade trial and who directs the Drug Crimes Unit. DA Susan Opper is retiring. No donations come up for Boese through the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign website or Open Secrets.org.

We contacted Boese and asked if she has ever made a political donation. She said she donated money to the campaigns of Waukesha Judge Lloyd Carter (a former prosecutor), Republican state Rep. Barb Dittrich of Oconomowoc, and Eric Brooks, a conservative candidate for Waukesha School Board. We were able to confirm the $50 donation to Carter in 2011. She said the Dittrich and Brooks donations were made this year.

We asked her about Thurston’s donations, but she declined to comment on them.

Lesli boese

According to his campaign website, Thurston is running as a Republican on a campaign of protecting public safety and has earned a number of law enforcement endorsements. Chisholm, in contrast, has infuriated Republicans for years, both with his sky-high non-prosecution rate, and his involvement in prosecuting the later discredited John Doe probe into former Gov. Scott Walker and many of his conservative associates.

Chisholm, a Democrat, launched a second sweeping John Doe probe in 2012 after an earlier investigation into Walker’s county executive office. The state Supreme Court put a stop to it in 2015 after a judge found the Walker network was being pursued for something not a crime. Thurston’s largest donation to Chisholm came just one year after that.

The Brooks’ bail controversy emerged shortly after Thurston’s last donation to Chisholm.

John chisholm

Thurston’s website says he has lived in Waukesha County since 2013.

Thurston’s last donation to Chisholm came on June 22, 2020. Thurston was living in Waukesha and Hartland at the time of his Chisholm donations, according to the campaign finance records. The largest donation – $1,000 on Aug. 1, 2016 – came within the 72 hour filing period before the election.


Mike Thurston’s Donation History to Democratic DA John Chisholm

June 22, 2020: Thurston gave Chisholm $250. His address was listed as Hartland, and his occupation was “attorney.”

May 8, 2018: Thurston gave Chisholm $500. His occupation was listed as “attorney,” and his address was Waukesha.

March 12, 2017: Thurston gave Chisholm $500. His occupation was listed as “ADA,” and his address was Waukesha.

July 1, 2016: Thurston gave $1,000 to Chisholm. Thurston made a late contribution in a 72-hour report. It lists him as an attorney living in Waukesha.

December 2015: Thurston is hired by the Waukesha County District Attorney’s Office.

May 14, 2014: Thurston made a $50 donation to Chisholm. He is listed as living in Waukesha but was working for the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office at the time.

 


Mike thurston waukesha



In October 2016, Thurston wrote a $2,000 check to a Milwaukee County judge candidate, Cynthia Davis. She endorsed conservatives for Supreme Court (Rebecca Bradley and David Prosser.) She’s a former Milwaukee County prosecutor who was appointed to the bench by Republican Gov. Scott Walker.


Michael Thurston’s Donations to Ohio Democrat Richard Cordray

Aug. 22, 2018: Thurston donated $250 to Democrat Richard Cordray of Ohio, per Open Secrets.org.

April 8, 2018: Thurston donated $1,000 to Cordray.


Mike Thurston Donations to Georgia Politicians

May 17, 2020: $250 to Kathryn Powers. She is a former prosecutor who was appointed to the Clayton County bench by a Republican governor in 2017. Voters ousted her in 2020. She is featured on Thurston’s Waukesha DA website, speaking positively about him.

March 22, 2016: $1,000 to Tracy Graham Lawson. Lawson was the Clayton County, Georgia, District Attorney. Her party was listed as Democratic by the Georgia Secretary of State.

April 14, 2015: $200 to Marcus A. Thorpe. Thorpe is a personal injury lawyer and former prosecutor. He ran for judge and has a history of donating to Democrats. In 2016, he wrote on Facebook, “Thank you to the Georgia Stonewall Democrats for their support and endorsement. #letsmakehistory.”

June 18, 2012: $250 to Tracy Graham Lawson, Democratic DA.

Michael Thurston Donations to Republicans

In more recent years, starting in 2022, Thurston has started donating consistently to Republicans. According to the Wisconsin Democracy campaign, he donated $312.30 to Republican AG candidate Eric Toney and $1,000 to Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch. Both of those donations came in 2022.

In 2023, Thurston gave $500 to Republican Congressman Scott Fitzgerald, according to Open Secrets.org.

Thurston gave $250 to Republican Brad Schimel’s campaign for state Supreme Court in October 2023, according to Schimel’s campaign finance report.

He made two donations to the Waukesha County Republican Party in June 2023, totaling $250, $26 in January 2023, and $200 in both August and November 2023. He donated $52 to the Waukesha County GOP in January 2022; $500 in May 2022; and $700 in October 2022. He also donated $26 in January 2024.

No donations by Thurston come up in the State of Illinois campaign finance record database.


Mike Thurston’s Full Response

Here is Thurston’s full response to WRN. This is what we asked him.

Why did he donate to Democratic DA John Chisholm four times from 2016 to 2020?

Why did he donate to Democrats in Georgia and Ohio, including Richard Cordray, who was running against Republican Gov. Mike DeWine at the time?

Does he believe his pattern of donating money to Democrats from 2012-2000 is relevant in this race? Why or why not?

Are there any other donations we should tell readers about? We know that, since 2022, he has also donated to Republicans – Toney, Kleefisch, Fitzgerald. We will also be telling readers that information.

Since he is running as a Republican, is it legitimate that these donations to Chisholm and other Democrats would cause concern?

How does his philosophy differ from that of Chisholm, or is it similar, and, if so, in which ways? If his philosophy is different from Chisholm’s, why donate to him 4 times?

What’s his position on Chisholm’s John Doe probe into former Gov. Scott Walker and his associates?

My deadline is 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, May 1.

This is his response in full.

Thank you so much for reaching out! I am stuck in the Waukesha courthouse handling another complex sexual assault / domestic violence jury trial this week (2023 CF 1169 and 2023 CF 1120), so I wanted to get this to you before another hectic day at the courthouse starts. Please see my response to your questions about several contributions over the years. I truthfully recall only one donation I made in 2016 to John Chisholm for the sole purpose of defeating Veronica Swanigan. I truthfully don’t recall donating to him in subsequent years, nor would I have any reason to. Would you be free to further discuss these records (possibly Wednesday night after my trial)? Thanks for the opportunity to respond, below:

I consider myself a moderate Republican. Like many people, my political views have grown and changed over time. Those who know me know that I have always stood for being tough on crime, keeping our communities safe, and fighting for my victims- the main goals of the Waukesha County DA’s Office. I do not support “defunding the police” or many other democratic views. The decision of the Democratic Party to withdraw its support for our law enforcement agencies across the country when our cities and communities were burning in 2020 and beyond was unconscionable and unforgivable. My conservative values have resonated with our law enforcement partners, as every major law enforcement agency in Waukesha County has endorsed me.

With regards to prior campaign contributions, I would argue that my donations to candidates such as John Chisholm hopefully helped prevent far worse opponents- Verona Swanigan and left-wing Congressman Dennis Kucinich – from being elected. Regarding campaign donations to my friends and colleagues who ran for office in Georgia (in Clayton County, which is entirely blue), I have and always will support my friends and colleagues, and anyone who joins me in the fight for justice. At an earlier point in my career, I certainly never saw myself running for political office, and would have never thought that supporting one’s friends, colleagues, and bosses would be seen as a negative thing.

In addition to the other donations you listed, I have made donations in the past Brad Schimel, Paul Farrow, the Republican Party of Waukesha County, the Wisconsin Fallen Officers Fund, Family Services of Waukesha, The Women’s Center, the Waukesha County Food Pantry, the March of Dimes, the Swallow Education Foundation, and the Little Warrior Foundation (to name a few). I invite you to look at my opponent’s history of generosity as well as Republican support. If the most negative information one can find on me is that I have made donations to my colleagues before COVID, then I will consider myself blessed.

Finally, if you would like to get to know me better, I can tell you a few important facts. I have been married for 18 years. I have three beautiful children. I am an active member of the Waukesha Rotary Club, and Saint Charles Church in Hartland. I volunteer on the board of Parents Place and Family Services Advisory Board. And I have wanted to run for DA since DA Sue Opper encouraged me to think about it 8 years ago. This has not been a last minute decision. I understand what is important to the families of Waukesha. And if given the privilege, I will continue to work day and night to keep our County safe.

If you’d like to know more about me, please feel free to visit my Facebook page. I would be honored to meet you.

Thank you again for the opportunity to respond.

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