Lorri May Pickens is a Wisconsinite who has worked for a number of right-wing organizations and dark money groups including the Koch's Americans for Prosperity, Eric O'Keefe's Sam Adams Alliance and Wisconsin Family Action.
- 1 Ties to The Koch Brothers
- 2 Affiliations with Other Right-Wing Organizations
- 2.1 Secretary and Treasurer of Reform America Fund and Reform Wisconsin Fund
- 2.2 Executive Director of Wisconsin Right to Work
- 2.3 Early Dark Money Case, Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation
- 2.4 Role in Creating Wisconsin Alliance for Reform (WAR), Another Dark Money Group
- 2.5 Outreach Coordinator for the Sam Adams Alliance
- 2.6 Secretary and Treasurer of the Lucy Burns Institute
- 2.7 Anti-Gay and Anti-Feminist Organizations
- 3 References
The Koch brothers -- David and Charles -- are the right-wing billionaire co-owners of Koch Industries. As two of the richest people in the world, they are key funders of the right-wing infrastructure, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN). In SourceWatch, key articles on the Kochs include: Koch Brothers, Koch Industries, Americans for Prosperity, American Encore, and Freedom Partners.
Ties to The Koch Brothers
Pickens served as the Director of State Operations for the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity between 2009 and 2012. From 2005 to 2008 Pickens had served as Associate State Director of AFP's Wisconsin state chapter.
Americans for Prosperity is a dark money nonprofit founded by billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, the owners of Koch Industries. AFP serves as the Kochs' "grassroots" operation, also known as astroturf, spending millions on TV ads in election cycles.
For more information on Americans for Prosperity, see the Sourcewatch page here.
Affiliations with Other Right-Wing Organizations
Secretary and Treasurer of Reform America Fund and Reform Wisconsin Fund
Reform America Fund, a super PAC, was registered with the Federal Election Commission by Pickens on July 24, 2015. She is listed as the treasurer and custody of records for the organization. Pickens also registered Reform Wisconsin Fund, a technically separate group that is closely affiliated with Reform America Fund.
The super PAC is being managed by R.J. Johnson and is bankrolled by Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks. The two funds have combined to spend over $7.5 million against Democrats Hillary Clinton and Russ Feingold. The majority of the advertisements came during the last month of the 2016 election cycle as Senator Ron Johnson's polling numbers improved.
Executive Director of Wisconsin Right to Work
After his 2011 bill eviscerating collective bargaining for public-sector workers claiming that the measure was necessary to balance the state budget, Governor Scott Walker repeatedly indicated that he was not interested in passing a similar bill for private-sector workers. Walker has been endorsed for his 2010 campaign by a number of private sector unions including the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 139 (IUOE).
In 2015, a number of groups and organizations came together to push for right to work for private sector unions including, the Kochs' Americans for Prosperity, American Legislative Exchange Council politicians, ALEC "scholars," the MacIver Institute, and the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.
While over 350 private sector union firms joined together to fight the bill, a new "grassroots" shell group appeared. According to her LinkedIn page, Pickens was the Executive Director of Wisconsin Right to Work (WRTW), a 501(c)(4) non-profit that pushed for for Wisconsin to become a right-to-work state in 2015 along with big-spender Americans for Prosperity. A press release announced the group, whose funding sources were not disclosed.
While the group claimed to be "a grassroots citizen engagement organization," it consisted of a P.O. Box and a website registered by Kurt Luidhart, an Indiana resident whose media firm, the Prosper Group, had run online fundraising for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's campaign. Luidhart, like Pickens, had previously worked for Americans for Prosperity. Jessie Opoien of The Cap Times noted on December 1, 2014 that "the landing page for the firm's website is titled 'Christie to Walker' and features a timeline starting with Nov. 5, 2013: 'New Jersey Governor Chris Christie wins re-election' and ending with Nov. 4, 2014: 'The Prosper Group surpasses $700,000 raised from new online donors for Scott Walker. The Wisconsin Governor wins the hard-fought re-election.' The firm's portfolio includes the Republican Party of Wisconsin, U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-De Pere, Christie's gubernatorial campaign, the Faith & Freedom Coalition and a host of other conservative efforts throughout the country."
In February 2015, the Wisconsin legislature pushed through a private-sector right-to-work bill, a verbatim American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) measure authored by ALEC member legislators, including ALEC's National Chair and Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir. Walker signed the bill into law on March 9, 2015.
See the group's website here.
Early Dark Money Case, Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation
In 1997, Pickens was an officer for a phony issued ad group called the Wisconsin Coalition for Voter Participation (WCVP). Investigators found that WCVP illegally coordinated with the campaign of state Supreme Court Justice Jon Wilcox on campaign mailers. While Pickens herself avoided answering questions in the probe by invoking marital privilege, her husband Brent Pickens, who set up WCVP, was fined $15,000 and banned from politics for five years along with Marc Block. Block served as Wilcox's campaign chair; he was fined $10,000 and banned from politics for three years. In total, some $60,000 in fines were levied. Block later directed the Wisconsin state chapter of AFP, then served as Chief of Staff for the 2012 failed presidential campaign of Herman Cain.
The case remains the largest campaign finance violation in Wisconsin history.
Role in Creating Wisconsin Alliance for Reform (WAR), Another Dark Money Group
The Wisconsin Alliance for Reform is a dark money group that ran ads in Wisconsin's 2016 Supreme Court race and supported bills to erode anti-corruption laws in the state. As a 501(c)(4) non-profit, it does not disclose its donors. WAR's website was registered in April 2015 by Lorri Pickens and its Executive Director is Luke Fuller, a former staffer for Wisconsin State Senator Leah Vukmir, who is also the National Chair of ALEC. CMD first reported on WAR in October 2015, when the newly-formed group began running radio ads to support a bill to dismantle the state elections board. AFP also lobbied in favor of that bill. At the time there was trio of bills undermining Wisconsin anti-corruption laws and clean government tradition. The bills:
- Destroyed the non-partisan board governing campaigns and elections in Wisconsin, putting in place partisan appointees;
- Allowed for unlimited undisclosed money in Wisconsin campaigns by permitting for the first time direct coordination between candidates and so-called issue ad groups; and,
- Exempted politicians from ever being investigated by prosecutors for violations of campaign finance law under the state's unique "John Doe" process, which Wisconsin had traditionally used in lieu of a grand jury.
WAR Influence on Supreme Court Race, 2016
WAR was a major spender in the 2016 Wisconsin Supreme Court race; while it does not disclose its funding sources, many speculated that it was funneling money from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and/or Wisconsin Club for Growth, which had formerly been top spenders in court races. The Brennan Center for Justice estimated WAR's spending to be over $1.8 million, greatly outpacing the campaign spending of both candidates combined.
WAR Influence on Wisconsin U.S. Senate Race, 2016
Wisconsin Alliance for Reform runs the website Feingoldfacts.com, a website which claims to provide information on "Russ Feingold's failed liberal agenda" and has run a number of ads attacking Feingold. Feingold was running against Republican Senator Ron Johnson in the 2016 election cycle.
Nate Nelson, field director at American Majority, a 501(c)(3) non-profit conservative training organization that was established by Eric O'Keefe, was listed as treasurer of WAR in FEC filings.
Based in Wisconsin, O'Keefe has been a long-time Koch associate and conservative operative, who was deeply involved in the Scott Walker John Doe investigation into potential illegal coordination with outside money groups.
Outreach Coordinator for the Sam Adams Alliance
Pickens served as the Outreach Coordinator for Eric O'Keefe's Sam Adams Alliance (SAM) from 2009 to 2010, according to an earlier copy of Pickens' LinkedIn page, archived by the Center for Media and Democracy on December 1, 2014. She has since removed the connection from her profile.
The Sam Adams Alliance was a Chicago-based 501(c)(3) non profit that functioned from 2007 to 2012. SAM presented itself as devoted to pushing free-market ideals. The Alliance provided over 75 percent of the funding for the right-wing group American Majority, according to Alternet in 2010.
SAM helped launch the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity in 2009, and provided the new organization with "seed money," according to the National Journal. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that in “its first year, the Franklin Center had a $2.9 million budget, much of it from the libertarian Sam Adams Alliance.” 
The CEO and founder was Eric O'Keefe.
For more information on the Sam Adams Alliance see the Sourcewatch page here.
Secretary and Treasurer of the Lucy Burns Institute
Pickens served as secretary and treasurer of the Lucy Burns Institute (LBI), a Madison-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 2006 by Eric O'Keefe's wife Leslie Graves. The organization sponsors three websites: Ballotpedia, which tracks elections and ballot measures at the state level; WikiFOIA, which provides information on how to use Freedom of Information laws at the state and local level; and Judgepedia, which provides information on the nation's judges and court systems. Although the organization is a major proponent of transparency in government operations and budgeting, it provides limited information about how the organization itself is funded.
LBI took over Ballotpedia and Judgepedia from Sam Adams Alliance in 2009.
LBI is a member of the State Policy Network and collaborates with the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
For more information on the Lucy Burns Institute see the Sourcewatch page here.
Anti-Gay and Anti-Feminist Organizations
Executive Director, Family Research Institute of Wisconsin
Pickens worked for groups tied to the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin, an anti-feminist and anti-gay organization founded in 1986 and affiliated with James Dobson's Focus on the Family. According to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the group worked on a number of right-wing policy goals, "It support[ed] Milwaukee’s parental school choice program, a law to exempt religious groups from discrimination laws and helped defeat an attempt to require churches to pay property taxes."
Campaign Manager for Anti-Gay Marriage Group "Vote Yes for Marriage"
Pickens served as the campaign manager of Vote Yes for Marriage, a group which campaigned successfully for an amendment to the Wisconsin state Constitution to ban same-sex marriage in 2006. Vote Yes for Marriage was described as the "campaign arm" of the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.
"People understand that the institution of marriage is an important rock bed and foundation for our communities," Pickens said.
According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Vote Yes for Marriage was the top spending group supporting the referendum and raised $605,491. Pickens' group was affiliated the Arlington Group, a Christian conservative network that accounted for 40 percent of the contributions to groups that supported gay marriage bans across a number of states in 2006.
Lobbyist for Wisconsin Family Action
Pickens was a lobbyist for Wisconsin Family Action (WFA) in 2007, a public policy partner of Wisconsin Family Council and a 501(c)(4) organization. The anti-abortion group also supported the ban on gay marriage in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign reported in 2007 that Wisconsin Family Action identified itself as the lobbying tool of the Family Research Institute of Wisconsin.
The group was unknown until 10 days before the marriage referendum on November 7, 2006 when it contributed $81,411 to Vote Yes for Marriage. It also spent heavily against Democratic State Assembly member Gordon Hintz sending mailers that said, “Tell Gordon Hintz that’s just wrong! Marriage is between one man and one woman.”
Fair Wisconsin, a LGBT rights group, declared Wisconsin Family Action "the state’s fiercest opponents of LGBTQ equality" in a March 18, 2016 press release.
- Peter Overby, "Who's Raising Money For Tea Party Movement?," NPR, February 19, 2010.
- Center for Responsive Politics, Refrom America Fund, opensecrets.org, accessed July 29, 2016.
- Federal Election Commission, Statement of Organization: Reform America Fund, FEC filing, July 24, 2015.
- Federal Election Commission, Reform America Fund: July Monthly Filing, FEC filing, July 20, 2016.
- Lisa Graves, Wi Senate Race Tightens with Flood of Last Minute Ads Against Russ Feingold, PRWatch.org, November 4, 2016.
- Federal Election Commission, Reform America Fund, 2016 Cycle, FEC filing via ProPublica, accessed November 7, 2016.
- Federal Election Commission, Reform Wisconsin Fund: 2016 Cycle, FEC filing via ProPublica, accessed November 7, 2016.
- Zach Nugent, Is right-to-work right for Wisconsin?, WMTV NBC 15, January 19, 2015.
- Wisconsin Right to Work Inc., 2014 IRS Form 990 Internal Revenue Service, November 17, 2015.
- Lorri Pickens, Wisconsin Right to Work Organization Launches to Help Champion Worker Freedom, Job Creation and Sound Fiscal Policies, press release, December 1, 2014.
- Jesse Opoien, Conservative group will push to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state, The Cap Times, December 1, 2014.
- Mary Bottari, ALEC "Right to Work" Law Tossed Out in Wisconsin, PRWatch.org, April 8, 2016.
- Brendan Fischer, Wisconsin Introduces Word-for-Word ALEC Right to Work Bill, PRWatch.org, February 20, 2015.
- Jason Stein and Meg Kissinger, Scott Walker signs right-to-work bill, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 9, 2015.
- Mary Bottari and Jessica Mason, WAR on Voters: Big Money Streams into WI Supreme Court Race with No Disclosure, Center for Media and Democracy, April 1, 2016.
- One Wisconsin Now," Rebecca Bradley Touts Support of Scandal Tainted Judges," press release, September 18, 2015.
- Brendan Fischer, The Kochs Want to End WI's Era of Clean Government, The Center for Media and Democracy, October 19, 2015.
- Brennan Center for Justice, Buying Time 2016 - Wisconsin, organizational website, April 19, 2016.
- Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, Homepage Feingoldfacts.com, accessed on April 11, 2016.
- American Majority, About, organizational website, accessed on April 18, 2016.
- Eric O'Keefe, How Understanding Politics Helps in Policy," Liberty Guide, October 18, 2012. Archived by Internet Wayback Machine, November 4, 2013.
- Federal Communications Commission, Agreement Form for Non-Candidate/Issue Advertisements, FCC filing, November 13, 2015.
- Lorri Pickens, Lorri Pickens, LinkedIn (hosted by PRWatch.org), December 1, 2014.
- George Monbiot, "Are Right-Wing Libertarian Internet Trolls Getting Paid to Dumb Down Online Conversations?" AlterNet, Dec. 15, 2010.
- Press release, Sam Adams Alliance Launches New Website
- Eric O’Keefe, Chairman and CEO, Sam Adams Alliance, How Understanding Politics Helps in Policy, Liberty Guide, October 18, 2012.
- Julie Kosterlitz, Conservative Watchdogs Awake, National Journal, Dec. 12, 2009.
- Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project, Non-Profit News, accessed December 11, 2013.
- Daniel Bice, Conservative outlets write all the news that fits their tilt JSonline.com, August 7, 2011.
- Lucy Burns Institute INC., 2007 IRS Form 990, Internal Revenue Service, August 15, 2008.
- Lucy Burns Institute, Lucy Burns Institute is the new sponsor of Ballotpedia and Judgepedia, organizational press release, June 2009.
- Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Referenda, organizational website, October 31, 2007.
- Bill Glauber, A civil disunion, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, October 15, 2006.
- Catholic News Agency, Elections bring some good news for marriage, bad news for pro-life activists, Catholic News Agency, accessed July 29, 2016.
- Megan Moore, The Money Behind the 2006 Marriage Amendments, National Institute on Money in State Politics, July 23, 2007.
- Associated Press, Wisconsin group forms to push for right-to-work law, GazetteXtra, December 1, 2014.
- Fair Wisconsin, [http://www.thewheelerreport.com/wheeler_docs/files/0318fw.pdf Front Group With Ties to Anti-Marriage Equality Activist Supports State Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley], press release, March 18, 2016.