Wisconsin business leaders send letter defending elections commission

By: - February 7, 2022 7:43 am

Wisconsin Elections Commission 11/3/21 | WisEye

A group of Wisconsin business leaders, in a letter to the Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday, defended the commission’s actions during the 2020 presidential election and thanked the commission’s staff and members for their work. 

The WEC, which was created by Republicans in 2016, has become the target of attacks from Republican legislators and unfounded conspiracy theories about the election. There are currently several ongoing efforts to change state election law and punish election officials. Election commissioners have been threatened with jail time and a number of Republicans have called for disbanding the body altogether

The letter, which was signed by business leaders of both parties, states that the actions of the commission as they attempted to administer an election during a pandemic were heroic and helped 3.2 million people cast a ballot in 2020. 

“In 2020, you enabled over 3.2 million voices from Wisconsin to be heard in the midst of a global health crisis,” the letter states. “You also supported and trained over 1,800 local election officials across the state. As the support of your colleagues across the country make clear, your commitment and integrity are a model for election administrators nationwide. We write to voice our support and to thank you for your courageous work and dedication.”

Thank you WEC from Wisconsin Business Leaders

Members of the group, under the name Wisconsin Business Leaders for Democracy, are alarmed about what has been happening in Wisconsin since the 2020 election — especially the attacks on election administrators and the partisan review of the election by former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, according to Tom Florsheim, one of the letter’s signatories. 

“A small group of us saw what was happening in the state in terms of the attacks on the WEC and also the general push that was occurring in several ways, bills in the Legislature and otherwise to make the administration of elections partisan,” says Florsheim, the chairman and CEO of the shoe company Weyco Group. “We just all felt that as business people this was very dangerous to the state. It’s more than just for business but what was being attacked was essentially the basis for how the democratic system works where you have a neutral party overseeing the elections and once the elections are over and the winner is determined, everybody moves on. That’s clearly not what’s happened in the state.” 

The letter is signed by a number of major business leaders in Wisconsin, including the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s former publisher Elizabeth Brenner, Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin and former Harley-Davidson CEO Mark Levatich. 

Many of the letter’s more than 20 signatories are Democrats, but it includes Paul Sweeney, the partner of a Milwaukee-based private equity firm who in December donated $500 to the campaign of Republican gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Kleefisch.

Florsheim says it was important that the group signing the letter be bipartisan to break through the noise in a polarized state. 

“We’re in such a polarized environment today that in order to make any kind of progress with what we’re trying to do, it has to be a bipartisan effort,” he says. 

While Florsheim says the group is concerned about the state of Wisconsin’s democracy, there’s also a concern about the ability to do business in a state in which there’s so much political turmoil. 

“One level is the environment for business here,” he says. “You want a state that has a reputation that’s good to attract talent here. If you have this kind of crazy stuff going on where you’ve got chaos and turmoil after every election, that’s not good for businesses. You need a stable environment to run a business anywhere. I think that business people in the state are upset for several different reasons and they all tie back to the democratic process here and how it’s being attacked.”

He adds that business leaders are frequent political donors and may have the ability to influence politicians in ways that others don’t. But he also says there are ways the group can help the voting process in Wisconsin in other ways, such as helping employees register to vote or giving them time off to vote or work at polling places. 

“A lot of people who are CEOs of companies write checks to politicians and that gives you a little bit of sway and some of the people we’re working with have the ear of some politicians,” Florsheim says. “It’s a fairly small world here in Wisconsin. We’re at the beginning of this and we feel that this issue is going to continue right up to the ‘24 elections. Our plan is to continue to engage this group of business leaders to do what we can to protect democracy in this state.”


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.