Group Formed to Support Trump Now Working with Wisconsin GOP to Change How Elections Run

A group that was created to support former President Donald Trump and his policies is collaborating with Wisconsin Republicans in an effort to alter how state elections are conducted, the Associated Press reported. The group and GOP lawmakers are looking to push the new ballot measure around Democratic Governor Tony Evers, who has said that he will not authorize Republican-backed election changes in the battleground voting state.

Hogan Gidley, the former White House spokesman for Trump, told attendees of a private elections meeting that his new Center for Election Integrity was working with some of Wisconsin's politicians and business leaders "to figure out the best path" around the Democratic governor. The group stems from the America First Policy Institute, which was started during Trump's administration to back him and his agenda, the AP reported.

Gidley met with Bill McCoshen, who heads the policy board for Common Sense Wisconsin, about six weeks ago to talk about adding a new ballot measure on elections. This measure would install a set method for running elections throughout the state, including designating the same hours and days for early voting across every community.

Some communities would also have to alter how they count absentee ballots, while private groups would be barred from donating large sums to Wisconsin's heavily Democratic cities. Many view the election proposal as a bid to curtail voting access in the state's Democratic cities, the AP reported.

"We feel as though the governor can't do anything about it and it will become law," Gidley said in a recording of the private elections meeting made by an attendee and obtained by the AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Wisconsin Gov. Faces GOP Push Back
A group formed to support former President Donald Trump's agenda is working with Wisconsin Republicans on a ballot measure that would bypass Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, the state's Democratic governor, to change how elections are run in the battleground state. Above, Evers addresses a joint session of the Legislature in the Assembly chambers during the Governor's State of the State speech at the state Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, on January 22, 2019. Andy Manis/AP Photo

The effort represents a new escalation in the ongoing Republican campaign to alter voting laws in response to Trump's false claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 election. It comes as Wisconsin has become the epicenter of this year's voting wars, with Republicans trying to dismantle the election system they themselves put in place several years ago—and figure out how to do that with a Democratic governor still in office.

The strategy is similar to one already underway in Michigan. State Republicans there already are gathering signatures to place a measure on the ballot that would tighten that state's voting laws, an effort to get around Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer's veto of a similar bill that passed the GOP-controlled state legislature. But Gidley's statement is the first indication of a Trump-tied group engaged in a similar tactic in Wisconsin.

Reached for comment, Gidley initially said he'd provide more details about his work in Wisconsin but did not respond to further requests for comment.

Wisconsin Republicans have been angry about more than $10 million in election grants that went to more than 200 municipalities last year, the bulk of it going to the state's five largest cities, which are all Democratic strongholds. The money came from $350 million in election donations from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that have triggered deep conservative suspicion.

Under the amendment, money like that would have to be shared by all municipalities in the state.

The changes require amending the state constitution, a process that takes at least two years because the Legislature has to pass it in two consecutive sessions. No amendment to do so has been introduced yet in the statehouse.

Following Trump's narrow loss of Wisconsin last year, the state has been roiled by a Republican attack on the bipartisan elections commission the GOP-controlled Legislature itself created six years ago.

The three-hour session where Gidley spoke occurred Wednesday, during the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council's state and national policy summit in San Diego, California.

The session reflects how election issues have moved to the heart of the GOP agenda since Trump falsely blamed his 2020 loss on fraud. Repeated audits, investigations and lawsuits—including by Trump's own Department of Justice—turned up no significant fraud in the presidential election. But that has not stopped Republican state legislatures from pushing new laws that largely put new limits on voting.

During the session, participants heard from Cleta Mitchell, a prominent conservative attorney who advised the former president earlier this year as he pressured Georgia Republicans to declare him the winner of a state President Joe Biden won. Also addressing the group was Arizona Senate President Karen Fann, who approved a review of the election in that state's largest county that chased a variety of conspiracy theories. It was unable to prove any fraud in Biden's victory there.

Gidley praised the Arizona review. "Arizona has done a great job with their audits," he told the group.

Hogan Gidley
Hogan Gidley, the former White House spokesman for Trump, told attendees of a private elections meeting that his new Center for Election Integrity was working with some of Wisconsin’s politicians and business leaders “to figure out the best path” around the Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Above, Gidley speaks with reporters at the White House on July 26, 2019, in Washington. Alex Brandon/AP Photo