MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A judge on Tuesday voiced skepticism about a lawsuit challenging the legality of private grant money awarded to Madison to help run the 2020 election, calling some of the arguments “ridiculous,” a “stretch” and “close to preposterous.”
The lawsuit argues that private grants given to Madison from a group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg amounted to illegal bribery. The Wisconsin Elections Commission in December rejected that complaint, and this lawsuit is an appeal of that decision.
Four nearly identical lawsuits are also pending in Milwaukee, Green Bay, Racine and Kenosha. The case in Madison was the first to hold arguments.
Three Wisconsin courts have previously rejected similar lawsuits arguing that the grants were illegal. Similar lawsuits filed in other swing states have also been rejected.
Dane County Circuit Judge Stephen Ehlke referenced those rulings when he questioned attorney Erick Kaardal Tuesday.
Kardaal said the commission got it wrong and Madison should not have been allowed to use a portion of the grant money to pay for absentee ballot drop boxes because, he said, they are illegal, based on a Waukesha County circuit court ruling issued after the election. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is currently weighing an appeal of that ruling.
Deborah Meiners, an attorney for the commission, said the judge should ignore the absentee ballot argument because it was not raised in the original complaint with the election commission that was being appealed.
“It’s sort of a bit like whack-a-mole,” the judge said of the complaint. “This case, my concern is, it just seems like it’s endless. There’s going to be some new allegation.”
Meiners said Kaardal was attempting to get the circuit court to set precedent by ruling that accepting the money was illegal. That is a question for the Legislature, not the courts, to address, she said.
The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a bill this year to make it illegal for private grant money to be used to help run elections, but Democratic Gov. Tony Evers vetoed it.
Kaardal implored the judge to overturn the commission’s rejection of his complaint.
“This is about getting the law right,” he said.
The judge promised to issue a ruling by the middle of June.
Kaardal, a former secretary and treasurer for the Republican Party of Minnesota, is an attorney for the conservative Thomas More Society in this lawsuit filed on behalf of five voters. Kaardal has also worked with former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman on his taxpayer-funded investigation into the 2020 election. Kaardal also sued unsuccessfully in 2021 to overturn Biden’s win in Wisconsin.
The Chicago-based Center for Tech and Civic Life gave $8.8 million million in grants to Wisconsin’s five largest cities as part of more than $10 million it gave to over 200 communities statewide. No community that applied for a grant in Wisconsin was turned down.
The five largest grant recipients are all Democratic strongholds won by President Joe Biden. Biden won Wisconsin by just under 21,000 votes, an outcome that has withstood recounts, lawsuits and reviews.