John Connors is a Republican operative and political consultant who has worked for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, David Koch's Americans for Prosperity (AFP), and the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
Connors was also titular President of Citizens for a Strong America (CSA), a front group that was active in the 2011-2012 Wisconsin recall elections, supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Republican state Senators. CSA was bankrolled by Wisconsin Club for Growth, and both were subjects of a long-running John Doe investigation into potentially illegal campaign coordination between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's campaign and ostensibly independent groups.
- 1 Background
- 2 Ties to the Koch Brothers
- 3 Activities During 2011-2012 Wisconsin Recall
- 4 Affiliations
- 5 Articles & Resources
Connors was a member of College Republicans and an activist with Americans for Prosperity as a college student at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was also an intern in Scott Walker's Milwaukee County Executive office, and according to his personal biography contributed to "the digital marketing launch" of Walker's 2010 gubernatorial campaign.
Ties to the Koch Brothers
Connors has been an activist with David Koch's Americans for Prosperity. He was listed as AFP's "Students for Prosperity Director" in 2008, was a featured speaker at the national AFP "Defending the Dream" Summit in 2009, was the "On-Site Production Coordinator" for the 2010 AFP Summit in Wisconsin, and helped former AFP-Wisconsin director Mark Block launch an updated AFP "home headquarters kit."
Charles Koch is the right-wing billionaire owner of Koch Industries. As one of the richest people in the world, he is a key funder of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on Charles Koch and his late brother David include: Koch Brothers, Americans for Prosperity, Stand Together Chamber of Commerce, Stand Together, Koch Family Foundations, Koch Universities, and I360.
Activities During 2011-2012 Wisconsin Recall
Connors and organizations he was involved in, including Citizens for a Strong America, were targets of a long-running John Doe investigation into alleged campaign coordination between Scott Walker's campaign and other groups active in the recalls.
President of Citizens for a Strong America, a Front Group Overseen by R.J. Johnson
Connors was President of Citizens for a Strong America, a mysterious group that first drew attention after an expensive ad buy in the 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court race. CSA spent an estimated $1.7 million on the 2011-2012 recalls, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. Its expenditures included mailers as well as television and radio ads attacking Democratic candidates, and at least one television ad supporting a Republican candidate. CSA also funneled money to other organizations that ran issue ads and participated in a controversial absentee ballot mailing in which the mailers listed the wrong date for elections (see [Funding Recipients].)
When it first became active, CSA listed no personnel on its website, giving only an address that turned out to be a UPS mail drop box in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin and a phone number that led to a full voicemail box. The Center for Media and Democracy uncovered that Connors had registered the group's web domain. Later tax filings listed Connors as CSA's president.
CSA turned out to be one of the shell groups entirely controlled by R.J. Johnson, the top advisor to both Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's campaign and Wisconsin Club for Growth, which was later revealed to have bankrolled CSA and Connors' salary, providing $6.9 million of its total $7 million in revenue from 2010 to 2014. CSA was subpoenaed in the John Doe investigation of Scott Walker and Wisconsin dark money groups. CSA's listed treasurer, Valerie Johnson, is married to R.J. Johnson.
"Consulted" for Express Advocacy Group, Coalition for American Values
Just weeks before the 2012 gubernatorial recall election, a previously-unknown independent expenditure group called Coalition for American Values Committee spent a huge sum -- $400,080 -- on highly influential ads attacking the premise of the recall and expressly calling for viewers to vote for Scott Walker. One ad titled "Recall Madness" included individuals making statements such as, "Recall isn't the Wisconsin way," "I elected him [Walker] to do a job," "Let him serve it out," and ended with a clear express advocacy tag line: "End the recall madness. Vote for Scott Walker June 5." The ad's disclaimer read, "Paid for by Coalition for American Values, Brent Downs Treasurer. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's agent or committee."
Federal Election Commission filings from the related national Coalition for American Values PAC reported paying at least $77,519 to RJ Johnson's top lieutenant, John Connors' Campaign Now! strategy firm between January and December 2012. CAV's lawyer, James D. Skyles, was previously Director of Operations and General Council for the Franklin Center and was being paid as a contractor to the Franklin Center throughout the recall period (see below).
Express advocacy groups are required to disclose their funding sources, but CAV listed only its parent organization in disclosure statements filed with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.
The Center for Media and Democracy later discovered through IRS filings that CAV's "primary source of funding in 2012 was the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR), a conduit for $156 million in political spending raised by the Kochs and their network of funders." (CMD, which publishes SourceWatch, filed a complaint with the GAB over this issue in 2014.)
Furthermore, Coalition for American Values Action reported to the IRS that it engaged in no political activity in 2012. Both CAV and its primary funder, CPPR, were registered as 501(c)(4) social-welfare nonprofits.
Director of Special Projects at Franklin Center, Source of Ongoing Attacks on John Doe
From 2009 to 2015, Connors was the Director of Special Projects at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a State Policy Network (SPN) "think tank" founded by WCFG director Eric O'Keefe. The Franklin Center's Wisconsin Reporter media outlet published more than 376 articles attacking the John Doe investigation, including critiquing articles about Connors and O'Keefe, without disclosing its ties to organizations and individuals involved in the investigation.
According to tax filings, Connors' consulting firm, J. Connors and Co., was a top contractor for the Franklin Center from 2011 to 2014, along with the law firm of attorney James Skyles.
- 2014: $187,909 for "Project Mgt, Website & Online Consulting"
- 2013: $129,176 for "Project Mgt, Website & Online Consulting"
- 2012: $114,930 for "Projects Management"
- 2011: $119,277 for "Projects Management"
According to Connors' LinkedIn profile as of 2016:
- Lucy Burns Institute, New Media Outreach Director (2008)
- Americans for Prosperity Foundation, Grassroots (2005-2008)
- Sam Adams Alliance, New Media Developer (2008-2009)
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, Director of Special Projects (2009-2015)
- J Connors and Co, President (2008-present)
- Campaign Now!, President (2010-present)
Articles & Resources
Related PRWatch Articles
- Arn Pearson, Leaked Documents Show Court's Dismissal of the John Doe Was Based on a False Premise, PRWatch.org, September 22, 2016.
- Mary Bottari, Supreme Cover-Up: How the Wisconsin Justice System Failed in the Walker John Doe, PRWatch.org, September 18, 2016.
- Mary Bottari, Scott Walker John Doe: Corporate Checks Fueled Coordinated Campaign, PRWatch.org, September 15, 2016.
- Lisa Graves, CMD Urges U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Prosecutors' Appeal in John Doe II Corruption Case, PRWatch.org, June 23, 2016.
- CMD Reporting on Walker Dark Money Criminal Probe, PRWatch.org, September 9, 2014.
- Brendan Fischer, Kohler Heir and Walker Backer Plumbs Dark Money Depths, PRWatch.org, November 5, 2013.
Related External Articles
- Ed Pilkington and the Guardian US interactive team, Leaked court documents from ‘John Doe investigation’ in Wisconsin lay bare pervasive influence of corporate cash on modern US elections, The Guardian, September 14, 2016.
- Patrick Marley, Daniel Bice and Bill Glauber, "John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of 'criminal scheme'," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 19, 2014.
- Campaign Now!, "About: John Connors," organizational biography, January 2015. Archived by Internet Wayback Machine, accessed July 2016.
- "J. Connors and Company, LLC," Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions, accessed July 2016.
- Lisa Graves, "Group Called 'Citizens for a Strong America' Operates out of a UPS Mail Drop but Runs Expensive Ads in Supreme Court Race?," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, April 2, 2011.
- Madison Who's Who, "John Connors," personal profile, archived by Internet Wayback Machine, April 8, 2011.
- Americans for Prosperity, "3rd Annual Defending the Dream Summit," organization document, 2009, archived by Center for Media and Democracy.
- Patrick Marley, Daniel Bice, and Bill Glauber, "John Doe prosecutors allege Scott Walker at center of 'criminal scheme'," Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, June 19, 2014.
- "Recall Race for Governor Cost $81 Million," Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, January 31, 2013.
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, "2011 IRS Form 990," organization tax filing, November 12, 2012.
- Brendan Fischer, "WI Club for Growth, Target of Walker Recall Probe, at Center of Dark Money Web," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, November 18, 2013.
- See also [Core Finances] and [List of Grants].
- CFSA Motion Quash, legal document, October 25, 2013, accessed June 23, 2017.
- "Hijacking Recall 2012: Coalition for American Values Committee," Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, January 15, 2014.
- Coalition for American Values Committee, July 2012 filing, Government Accountability Board, accessed July 2016.
- Coalition for American Values, "Recall Madness," video, archived by WisPolitics.com, accessed July 2016.
- Federal Election Commission, "Coalition for American Values PAC," campaign finance disclosure reports, accessed July 2016.
- Brendan Fischer, "Why Are the Franklin Center's "Wisconsin Reporter" and "Watchdog.org" Attacking the John Doe?," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, December 19, 2013.
- Coalition for American Values PAC, "Statement of Organization," FEC filing, November 17, 2011.
- Jack Craver, "Dark money: How Wisconsin's most politically influential organizations avoid disclosing their donors," The Capital Times, January 15, 2014.
- Brendan Fischer, "Exclusive: Ads Telling Voters "Recall Is Not the Wisconsin Way" Funded by Out-of-State Koch Network," Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch, January 8, 2014.
- Kim Barker and Theodoric Meyer, "The Dark Money Man: How Sean Noble Moved the Kochs’ Cash into Politics and Made Millions," ProPublica, February 14, 2014.
- Coalition for American Values, "2012 IRS Form 990," organization tax filing, November 18, 2013.
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, "2014 IRS Form 990," organization tax filing, September 18, 2015.
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, "2013 IRS Form 990," organization tax filing, November 17, 2014.
- Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, "2012 IRS Form 990," organization tax filing, November 8, 2013.