MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Wisconsin lawmakers called Tuesday for Green Bay’s Democratic mayor to resign following a report on a conservative website alleging he ceded authority for running the election to a paid consultant with ties to Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Eric Genrich did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the calls for him to resign. But his office forcefully denied all claims of wrongdoing raised in the story that appeared on the Wisconsin Spotlight website.
City attorneys reviewed all of the claims and determined they were “completely without merit,” the statement from Genrich’s office said.
The story came a day before the Republican-controlled Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee was to hold an invite-only hearing on the election.
Gillian Drummond, director of communications for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, referred any questions about election impropriety to law enforcement or the state’s election commission.
“The Wisconsin Department of Justice is available to assist with or participate in a response to such an allegation, but the role that DOJ would play, if any, would depend on the specific evidence and circumstances of the case,” Drummond said in an email statement.
Calls for the mayor’s resignation and investigations came from state Sen. Kathy Bernier, chair of the Senate’s elections committee, as well as state Sens. Roger Roth, of Appleton, and Alberta Darling, of Whitefish Bay.
“The public has a right to know to what extent Democrat operatives and mayoral staff, among others, interfered with the job of clerks in administering elections,” Bernier wrote to Attorney General Josh Kaul and Gov. Tony Evers. Evers did not immediately respond to questions about whether he would launch an investigation.
Democratic lawmakers in northeast Wisconsin, Reps. Kristina Shelton and Lee Snodgrass, accused Republicans of furthering election conspiracy theories and “right wing propaganda.”
State and federal courts have rejected numerous legal challenges brought by former President Donald Trump and his supporters alleging unsubstantiated claims of fraud and wrongdoing in the election.
The latest story triggering calls for a new investigation appeared on a website controlled by Empower Wisconsin, a group whose president is former Republican state Rep. Adam Jarchow and its director is Eric O’Keefe, a longtime Republican operative in Wisconsin who is on the board of Wisconsin Club for Growth.
The story cites emails and other documents obtained under Wisconsin’s public records law to allege that Genrich and his staff essentially handed over operation of the election to partisan Democrats funded by a grant from the nonprofit Center for Tech and Civic Life. That group awarded more than $6 million to five Wisconsin cities to help with the November election, including $1.6 million to Green Bay.
The nonprofit’s $250 million in grants awarded nationwide were funded by Zuckerberg and his wife, philanthropist Priscilla Chan. Conservatives sued to stop the funding in Wisconsin, but lost in federal court.
The Spotlight Wisconsin story alleges that Genrich and his staff ceded too much authority over running the election, including handing over the keys to the city’s central ballot counting location, to consultant Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, who was hired by the city to assist with the election. He works for the National Vote at Home Institute, a group that advocates for voting by mail. Spitzer-Rubenstein, who has worked on Democratic campaigns in the past, did not return a message left seeking comment with a person who answered his cellphone but said he was not Spitzer-Rubenstein.
The grant money paid for assistance from election experts, but the election was administered exclusively by city staff and no ballots were ever in the care or custody of consultants, the mayor’s office said.
The emails highlighted in the story show disagreements between the offices of Genrich and then-city clerk Kris Teske, who resigned in January to take the same position in neighboring Ashwaubenon.
Wisconsin Republicans have introduced a package of bills in response to what they claim were problems with the election, which President Joe Biden won in the state by fewer than 21,000 votes. A spokeswoman for Rep. Janel Brandtjen, chair of the Assembly Elections Committee, said a list of invited speakers would be released just before the hearing starts on Wednesday.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission, which is charged with running elections statewide, was not invited to testify, said spokesman Reid Magney.