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HomeBreakingLesli Boese Implies Mike Thurston Is a 'RINO' After He Admits 5...

Lesli Boese Implies Mike Thurston Is a ‘RINO’ After He Admits 5 John Chisholm Donations


This is story 4 in WRN’s 7-part series on the Waukesha County District Attorney’s race, based on the recent DA debate sponsored by the Republican Party of Waukesha County. Read parts 1, 2 and 3.

Waukesha County District Attorney candidate Mike Thurston’s five donations to Democratic Milwaukee County DA John Chisholm sparked a heated exchange with his opponent, Lesli Boese, at the candidates’ debate. At one point, Boese implied Thurston is a “RINO,” although Thurston insisted he’s since soured on Chisholm’s leadership.

“I didn’t know what a RINO was when I first started this. I do now know what a RINO is,” Lesli Boese said, referring to the acronym for “Republican in Name Only.”

Thurston previously told Wisconsin Right Now that he did not recall making four of the five donations to Chisholm, who enraged conservatives with his later discredited John Doe probe into Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign finance network, as well as his 60% non-prosecution rate. However, at the DA debate on June 19, Thurston admitted making them. “Yes, I did donate to John Chisholm,” he said.

However, he said he has since grown disenchanted with Chisholm.

The debate was sponsored by the Republican Party of Waukesha County. Boese and Thurston are both running as Republicans in the Aug. 13 primary to replace outgoing DA Sue Opper.

“I’m really glad we’re airing this out, honestly; we’re not airing out as trolls, we’re not airing it out online or in secret,” Thurston said. “John Chisholm has been a major disappointment; he’s been a real disappointment.” He said he was “saddened” that crime is continuing to “hemorrhage out of Milwaukee County.”

Asserted Thurston, “I hoped for better and we haven’t gotten it. What I will say is my philosophy is exactly the opposite of John Chisholm.” He then criticized Boese, saying she doesn’t “try cases.” [You can read our previous story here for a full discussion of the candidates’ claims on each other’s numbers.]

In her closing statement, Boese returned to the issue. Thurston tried to switch the topic to her trial numbers.

“My opponent gave thousands of dollars to John Chisholm over the course of five years,” she said. “He said he’s been a major disappointment. He (Thurston) lived in Waukesha County during each of those five years. After the first year, he didn’t realize that Milwaukee was a disappointment and John Chisholm was a disappointment? How about after the second year, the third year, the fourth year, the fifth year?”

Continued Boese, “He only realized John Chisholm was a disappointment after Sue (Opper, the retiring Waukesha Co. DA) said, ‘I’m not seeking reelection,’ and he started donating to Republicans? He gave thousands of dollars to John Chisholm, to John Chisholm’s campaigns, to his values.”

She noted that Christmas parade murderer Darrell Brooks, who Boese helped prosecute, was released on low bail in Milwaukee County before that attack. “Under John Chisholm’s policies, Mr. Brooks got out of jail,” she said. “He ended up massacring and riding through our Christmas parade and killing six people. That’s John Chisholm’s policies.”

Lesli Boese Questions Whether Mike Thurston Is Conservative

Mike thurston john chisholm
John chisholm

“You have to look at the candidates – who’s conservative?” Boese said to the audience. “If John Chisholm comes to Waukesha County and puts an ‘R’ at the end of his name, does that mean he’s a Republican?”

During the debate, Thurston repeatedly listed the conservatives who have endorsed him, including Waukesha County Sheriff Eric Severson and former Waukesha County Sheriff Dan Trawicki. As with Boese, he also slammed Milwaukee County’s criminal justice system and said that Milwaukee’s crime problems are bleeding into Waukesha County.

She stated, “I’ve always been the conservative candidate,” whereas her opponent donated to Chisholm. She said four of the five donations occurred while Thurston was “living and working in Waukesha County.” Noted Boese, “I give to causes that I believe in. I give to causes that I want to further. I don’t agree with John Chisholm’s policies. I don’t agree with what he’s doing. They do not belong in Waukesha County.”

Thurston previously told Wisconsin Right Now that he is a “moderate Republican.”

Boese added, “I also feel you have to be the conservative candidate; you can’t just say I’m conservative and put an ‘R’ at the end of your name. You demonstrate by your actions; my opponent has not demonstrated that. We do not need Milwaukee County in Waukesha County.” She said that is “why I entered the race.”

“You want to say you forgot about the four of the five donations and the one you do recall is for the worse candidate who happens to be the conservative candidate interestingly enough, fine, but you have to look at the background,” Boese said, adding, “My opponent – every candidate he’s donated to has been a Democrat” until the month current DA Sue Opper announced she was retiring, Boese said.

Thurston had previously told WRN that the one donation to Chisholm that he could remember came the year Chisholm was running against the “worse” candidate, Verona Swanigan. However, she was backed in that race by top conservatives upset about the John Doe, including mega Republican donor Dick Uihlein and Eric O’Keefe. Thurston has ignored a WRN question about what he thinks of the Chisholm-spearheaded Doe.

Mike Thurston’s Donation History – What Records Show

Thurston 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.

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.

In 2022 and 2023, though, his donation tendency shifted to only Republicans, including some non-prosecutors like Rebecca Kleefisch and Scott Fitzgerald; 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.

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.

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.

Jessica McBride
Jessica's opinions on this website and all WRN and personal social media pages, including Facebook and X, represent her own opinions and not those of the institution where she works. Jessica McBride, a Wisconsin Right Now contributor, is a national award-winning journalist and journalism educator with more than 25 years in journalism. Jessica McBride’s journalism career started at the Waukesha Freeman newspaper in 1993, covering City Hall. She was an investigative, crime, and general assignment reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for a decade. Since 2004, she has taught journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her work has appeared in many news outlets, including (where she is a contributor reaching millions of readers per month),, WTMJ, WISN, WUWM,,, Milwaukee Magazine, Nightline, El Conquistador Latino Newspaper, Japanese and German television, Channel 58, Reader’s Digest, Twist (magazine), Wisconsin Public Radio, BBC, Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, and others. 

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