As if Wisconsin did not already have enough phony front groups with motherhood-and-apple-pie sounding names flying under the radar and carpet bombing our airwaves and mailboxes with trashy ads, now a shadowy Milwaukee-area group that has specialized in removing local officials from office through recall elections is aiming to expand its sphere of influence statewide.
Citizens for Responsible Government is attempting a recall campaign against liberal Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz and is beginning to set its sights on recalling Governor Jim Doyle. Democrats are not the far right-wing group's only targets, however. CRG takes particular pleasure in tormenting Republicans who are not sufficiently loyal soldiers in the neocon army. A feature of the group's web site is its "RINO Alert" devoted to outing any Republican In Name Only.
CRG has been linked to Tosans for Responsible Government, which was formed in 1997 and later helped defeat a moderate Republican state senator, Wauwatosa's Peggy Rosenzweig. She was replaced by Tom Reynolds, whose loopy ideas include a proposed private Autobahn on which motorists could drive as fast as they want for a fee. Even right-wing radio talk show host Charlies Sykes calls Reynolds a "nut job."
Along with its recall campaigns in Milwaukee County, CRG took credit for defeating former Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer and replacing her with the far more right-wing Glenn Grothman, nicknamed "Spooky" by legislative colleagues.
The group has been described in the media as a "populist movement." More closely inspect the tangled web that defines the organization's shape, and its grassroots look like AstroTurf.
Early in 2002, Tosans for Responsible Government created the Wisconsin Conservative Leadership Coalition to spread its ideals to the rest of the state. It publishes the Wisconsin Conservative Digest. That publication's editor is JJ Blonien, a friend of CRG and its satellites. One such satellite group with which Blonien is associated is United Wisconsin, which is pushing the so-called Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) in Wisconsin.
United Wisconsin is affiliated with the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which itself was created with funding from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation. The Koch family's charitable empire was built from the oil and gas fortunes of Fred Koch, a founding member of the John Birch Society.
Americans for Prosperity's state director in Wisconsin is Mark Block, a top fundraiser for President George W. Bush and a notorious figure in Wisconsin politics in his own right. He masterminded a late-1990s scheme to illegally funnel money into the reelection campaign of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox. As Wilcox's campaign manager, Block illegally coordinated activities with a pro-school voucher group known as the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation. The case produced the largest fine ever handed down by the state Elections Board.