Empower Wisconsin | Feb. 10, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — The 7th District Congressional race has taken on a nastier tone as political action committees dump more than $1 million into backing or attacking the two conservative candidates.
To date, the campaigns of state Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazehurst) and Army veteran Jason Church, of Hudson, have been mostly positive. But a Super PAC supporting Church recently went after Tiffany on what the senator called an “attempted misdirection” and “sleazy play.”
Americans for Security, purportedly based out of Marshfield, Wis., pushed a mailer in the district accusing Tiffany of not paying his taxes. The mailer from a group that bills itself as conservative attacks a Tiffany with specious information taken from the left-wing One Wisconsin Now.
Tiffany said he has always paid his tax obligations and that a quick look at the record would show as much. He did say that during the last recession his business, like others, was hit so hard that he didn’t have a tax liability for a time.
“We were not profitable,” he said. “We were fortunate enough to survive the recession while a lot of businesses did not.”
“It’s an attempted misdirection, a sleazy play,” the candidate added, referencing the mailer. “This is the same stuff they do to President Trump, throwing stuff at the wall and trying to disparage him.”
The Church campaign did not return a call seeking comment.
Americans for Security (or Americans 4 Security, as it is sometimes noted), appears to have the fingerprints of John Gard on it. The former Republican Assembly speaker with a soft spot for Big Labor has served as a kind of silent partner in a number of independent expenditure groups that have attacked conservative candidates who don’t support his lobbying interests.
The treasurer of Americans for Security — and the only agent listed on the Federal Election Commission form — is Matthew Karas. Karas worked for Gard’s 2008 congressional campaign, according to FEC documents. A number listed for the Super PAC is no longer in service.
Sources say Karas is a director of business development at Superior Transport and Logistics, based in Green Bay. Karas did not return Empower Wisconsin’s messages seeking comment, at his place of work or on his mobile phone. Neither did Gard.
FEC expenditure forms show Americans for Security recently paid the Alpharetta, Ga.-based Stoneridge Group (SRG) more than $34,000 for the mailer attacking Tiffany. SRG has received a good chunk of the $328,000 the PAC has paid out since the beginning of the year on behalf of Church’s election hopes. Karas is listed as the PAC’s agent on each expenditure form.
On its website, SRG says it serves candidates and causes “that want bleeding-edge campaign know-how combined with an avant-garde approach to execution.” Reached for comment, an SRG official asked Empower Wisconsin to email questions to the political consulting firm. Empower Wisconsin did; SRG did not respond.
Sources say Gard or his interests have worked with SRG on past projects. In 2016, Gard was involved in a third-party group that supported then-8th Congressional District candidate Mike Gallagher and attacked his competitor, former state Sen. Frank Lasee (R-De Pere). Lasee’s legislative positions on unions conflicted with Gard’s union client, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported at the time. Gallagher was elected.
Tiffany has voiced his support for repealing the Davis-Bacon Act, a 1931 federal law mandating the government pay local prevailing wages and fringe benefits for construction work. Tiffany voted for the repeal of a similar law in Wisconsin. His campaign has challenged Church for his support of the federal prevailing wage law.
Gard and his union pals have opposed the reforms.
“I think it’s indicative of their desperation that they’ve had to go negative,” Tiffany said of the recent attack mailer. “They see Tom Tiffany is winning and they will do anything to keep people like me and President Trump out of Washington, D.C.”
PACs and Super PACS have dumped more than $1 million into the congressional race, according to the latest FEC filings. Church has also been backed by the With Honor Fund, a political action organization richly funded by Amazon founder and liberal Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos. In the 2018 election cycle, Bezos kicked in a whopping $10 million to the Super PAC.
Third-party groups supporting Tiffany include some of the biggest and well-funded conservative organizations in the game. Americans for Prosperity has invested at least $127,000 in ads supporting the senator. The House Freedom Super PAC, has dropped in another $214,000 to get the message out about Tiffany, while the Club for Growth spent $130,000 on airtime supporting Tiffany. And the U.S. Chamber of Commerce earlier this month announced a “six-figure” ad buy in support of Tiffany’s positions.