Sometimes a fundraiser is just cursed from beginning to end, no matter what you do to get around it.
That looks to be that case for the Randy Bryce campaign and its efforts to hold a big money fundraiser featuring controversial comedian/activist Chelsea Handler in Madison earlier this year. Initially set to take place at Madison’s Majestic Theater, the fundraiser was quietly canceled after Handler created controversy with a homophobic tweet against South Carolina U.S. Lindsay Graham, and then relocated to the private home of a local businessman.
The local businessman was Mark Bakken.
While normally there would be no big deal, the inclusion of Bakken is suddenly controversial. In the past week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice reported that Bakken, a reliable and frequent donor to Wisconsin Democrats, is the subject of a sexual harassment and wrongful termination investigation by the Madison Equal Opportunity Commission (MEOC) for an incident that occurred in 2014.
The state Democratic Party and top Democratic candidates have accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years from a Madison businessman caught up in a sexual harassment dispute.
The Madison Equal Opportunities Commission found probable cause in 2014 that a female employee at Nordic Consulting in Madison was sexually harassed and then fired in retaliation for complaining about how she was treated.
Mark Bakken, co-founder of Nordic and its CEO at the time, was not accused of harassing the female staffer, Natalee Cruse, but he was the one who dismissed her in early 2014. Bakken, who has since sold the firm, has argued that he let her go for poor job performance.
A final decision in the case is expected later this year. Isthmus, the alternative paper in Madison, first wrote a lengthy story on the case two years ago, and the Journal Sentinel reported on it last year.
Since 2014 alone, Bakken has given over $268,000 in donations to numerous liberal causes and organizations. Among the biggest recipients of political donations from Bakken include the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison), U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison), Democratic candidate for state Attorney General Josh Kaul, Democratic gubernatorial candidates Dana Wachs, a state representative from Eau Claire and Tony Evers, the state superintendent of public instruction. He has also given to state supreme court candidates Rebecca Dallet and Tim Burns.
By hosting a fundraiser in his home, you can now add Randy Bryce to Bakken’s list of recipients of potentially tainted donations.
As expected after the rise of the #MeToo movement, there have been calls for Democrats to return the donations from Bakken, but none have, saying that the 2014 investigation is still “ongoing” and will only do so if Bakken is found to be guilty of wrongdoing.
“If Mr. Bakken is found to have acted wrongfully, we will donate his contribution,” said Ashley Viste, campaign manager for Kaul. A Dallet staffer also said her campaign would take “further action” if officials find that Bakken “did anything inappropriate.”
Burns will escrow the $1,000 donation from Bakken until Madison employment officials issue a decision in the Nordic case, according to Amanda Brink, a Burns spokeswoman. She said Burns was unaware of the case and hasn’t talked to Bakken since he started contributing to Dallet, Burns’ opponent.
No such statement or comment has been made publicly by the Bryce campaign, which might be the most hypocritical of them all when it comes to the politics of sexual harassment.
Shortly after news broke that casino magnate Steve Wynn has been accused of sexual harassment, the Bryce campaign (as well as other liberal advocacy groups) jumped on the news to embarrass Wisconsin Republicans who had received donations from Wynn. Among those who received, and returned donations from Wynn included House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh).
The Bryce campaign was so proud of how it successfully made Ryan return Wynn’s money, they bragged about it on Twitter. Both from Bryce himself and campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt.
— Randy Bryce (@IronStache) January 27, 2018
Took two days and a call from @IronStache for @SpeakerRyan to comment on Steve Wynn http://thehill.com/homenews/house/371141-ryan-to-donate-contribution-linked-to-ex-rnc-finance-chair …
Ryan to donate contribution linked to ex-RNC finance chairman
Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will donate money he received from an organization with ties to casino mogul Steve Wynn, who announced he was leaving his position as finance chairman of the Republican…
Within days of these tweets, the Bryce campaign would hold its Madison fundraiser with Bakken.
It’s is unknown how much the Bryce campaign raised during the Handler fundraiser. But it is incredibly hypocritical of them to go from demanding Ryan return his money from an accused of sexual harassment and covering it up to then raising their own.
Or was “the allure” of having a fundraiser with Chelsea Handler in Wisconsin so much, they didn’t bother to cover all their bases? Perhaps we’ll never know.