Former President Donald Trump listens as Wisconsin Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels speaks to guests during a rally on Aug. 5, 2022 in Waukesha, five days before winning the Republican primary. (Scott Olson | Getty Images)
Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels has sought to defend himself against criticism of his charitable giving by saying his support of anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion causes is merely a reflection of his religious values. But his donations supported two groups that use controversial methods, including “sidewalk counseling” and cell phone location tracking, to discourage people from getting an abortion.
Michels’ charitable donations, first reported last week by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, came from the foundation he runs with his wife, the Timothy & Barbara Michels Family Foundation, as well as a foundation in his parents’ names, the Dale R & Ruth L Michels Family Foundation, which he served as a trustee of until 2019.
In 2020, Michels and his wife donated nearly $200,000 to anti-abortion grups in Wisconsin and New York.
The construction magnate has responded to the reporting on his charitable giving by lashing out at Democrats and the news media for calling attention to the causes he supports, which among the right-wing groups also includes donations to churches, religious organizations and cancer research.
“I believe people should just, just be ready to get out on the streets with pitchforks and torches with how low the liberal media has become,” Michels said on a conservative talk radio show. “People need to decide, ‘Am I going to put up with this? Am I going to tolerate this, taking somebody that gives money to churches or cancer research and use that as a hit piece in the media?’ I’m appalled. It’s disgusting.”
In 2020, according to his foundation’s tax records, Michels donated $25,000 to the Pro-Life Wisconsin Education Task Force. Pro-Life Wisconsin is a right-wing anti-abortion group with a platform aimed at outlawing all abortions, without exceptions for protecting the life of the mother. The group also works to ban all forms of contraception and prohibit in vitro fertilization.
The group’s education task force that Michels directed his donation to includes programs that encourage teenagers to refrain from having sex and establishing anti-abortion clubs on college campuses. The task force also runs the “Save Lives: sidewalk counselor training program” which trains people to stand outside of abortion clinics and pressure patients to change their minds about their decision.
Michels, as a trustee of the foundation in his parents’ names, also helped direct thousands of dollars to the Veritas Society. In total, the foundation donated $20,000 to the society, which uses cell phone location data to track women who visit Planned Parenthood locations in order to send them targeted anti-abortion ads.
“Utilizing our advanced Veritas Society digital technology, otherwise known as ‘Polygonning’ we identify and capture the cell phone ID’s of women that are coming and going from Planned Parenthood and similar locations,” the group’s website states. “We then reach these women on apps, social feeds and websites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat with pro-life content and messaging.”
Michels spokesperson Anna Kelly would not respond to questions about the programs Michels’ donations had funded, instead she asked for “balance” in reporting on charitable contributions made by Gov. Tony Evers.
“Looking forward to the story that I’m sure will be balanced with Evers’ charitable contributions,” she said. “Of course, that requires you asking about his contributions and him donating to charity at all, so looking forward to reading the results of that ask.”
Evers is not the trustee of a large family foundation required to publicly file its tax documents and a request to the Evers campaign for a list of his contributions went unanswered.
Kelly has previously defended his donations as merely “generosity” in support of Christian causes and said that his “pitchforks and torches” comment was just “a figure of speech.”
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