MADISON, Wis. — Emails obtained by One Wisconsin Now related to the creation of a “Tommy G. Thompson Center on Public Leadership” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison provide a partial glimpse of a money chase targeting right-wing ideological foundations and reveal little concern for balancing partisanship. Its creation was announced at a rare joint appearance with Gov. Scott Walker, Senate Republican leader Scott Fitzgerald and the top Assembly Republican Robin Vos. In the recently passed 2017-19 state budget the center is slated to receive $3 million from state taxpayers for its operations.
“Once again we see right-wing politicians and academics using our tax dollars and chasing even more money from right-wing foundations to promote their ideological agenda,” said One Wisconsin Now Executive Director Scot Ross. “Our worst fears that this operation was nothing more than a University of Wisconsin factory for Republican junk science and propaganda have been confirmed.”
The internal communications suggest that, despite assurances that the new academic center would be bipartisan, the focus on outside funding sources focused on right-wing foundations and invitees to proposed events were overwhelmingly conservatives.
A UW-Madison professor advising on the creation of the center wrote in an email responding to a possible attempt to solicit funds from a foundation, “After I see the description below about the [redacted] I am not convinced they are a likely supporter. They sound like they tilt left-of-center …”
In contrast, records show that funding was received from the right-wing mega funder Bradley Foundation, run for years by Gov. Walker’s gubernatorial and presidential campaign chair, and other notorious conservative foundations received fundraising pitches.
Internal planning discussions for an initial “leadership” conference provide additional evidence of right-wing bias, as nearly every proposed participant was conservative. In fact, another professor raised red flags over the partisan leanings, writing in an email, “But I wonder if it is wise to have essentially all of them be prominent Republicans. I can’t imagine another center on campus that would only invite public officials from one party or ideological camp.”
Ross noted the full extent of the Thompson fundraising efforts are unknown because the university heavily redacted the emails they were required to provide under the state open records law, arguing it is in the “public interest” that details of their fundraising shakedowns remain secret, despite the use of public resources to facilitate them.
The university also significantly delayed the release of the records to One Wisconsin Now, requested on June 6, 2017. Despite responsive documents being printed on June 12 and converted into electronic format on June 22 and 29, according to date stamps, One Wisconsin Now was not provided with them until September 22, the day after the 2017-19 budget that included a $3 million appropriation for the center was signed into law.
He concluded, “Despite UW-Madison’s obfuscations and delays it is obvious what is going on here. Republican politicians, using our tax dollars, and their allies at right-wing foundations have bought themselves a front group to promote their propaganda and they’re using college campuses as their base of operations.”