The renters of the Milwaukee-area billboards stating voter fraud is a felony were revealed Monday night after an investigation by One Wisconsin Now and African-American news website The Grio.
The investigation found Milwaukee’s Einhorn Family Foundation rented the billboards, which the foundation confirmed in a statement prepared by public relations firm Culloton Strategies.
“Stephen and Nancy Einhorn placed these billboards as a public service because voter fraud — whether by Republicans or Democrats — undermines our democratic process,” the foundation said in the statement. “By reminding people of the possible consequences of illegal voting, we hope to help the upcoming election be decided by legally registered voters.”
The billboards read, “Voter fraud is a felony,” which was criticized by various groups as discouraging Milwaukee voters, especially minorities, from voting.
In a statement announcing its findings, OWN Executive Director Scot Ross echoed such criticisms and warned “anyone who would attack the sacred right” to vote would see similar pushback from his and other progressive groups.
“This was not an act of free speech, but an expression of racism as despicable as the ‘whites only’ signs of the Jim Crow South,” Ross said in the statement. “We said we’d find out who was behind this, and we have.”
In 2010, there were similar ads placed in the Milwaukee area by what Clear Channel Outdoors Advertising described at the time as a private family foundation in Milwaukee. Ross said several groups at the time tried convincing Clear Channel Outdoors to take them down, but they were unsuccessful.
The OWN and The Grio investigations also found that in 2010, the Bradley Foundation, a Milwaukee-area conservative group, gave the Einhorn Family Foundation $10,000 “to support a public education project,” according to a OWN statement.
The Einhorm Family Foundation had kept its anonymity prior to Monday’s finding. Clear Channel took down the billboards last week after complaints it heard from groups like OWN.
Mike Mikalsen, spokesperson for Rep. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, said Clear Channel erred in taking down billboards that “simply stated the law.”
He also called the criticism of the billboards part of the Democratic Party’s “race agenda” and said he was happy to see conservatives criticizing Clear Channel for its decision.
“Anything with a more conservative message is something that does not receive the same kind of free speech protection that we see with the radicals who are in the Capitol,” Mikalsen said. “That free speech everybody rallies to protect. This free speech is not.”
In an interview with The Badger Herald, Ross said the billboards were clearly not aimed at informing voters. He said the billboards were made to intimidate voters, and the reason why his group, and other progressive groups, fought for this issue is that the billboards were the “very essence of voter suppression.”
Ross also said if the billboards were an attempt to inform voters, then it would not have been anonymous.
“If this was the Einhorns and the Bradley Foundation attempting to do a civic good, then why didn’t they put their name on it?” Ross said.