Right-wing blogger finds criminals, criminals everywhere — but not a criminal charge can be found involving an Obamacare-affiliated group

November 2, 2013

By Matthew E. Milliken
Nov. 2, 2013

If you happened to visit the conservative website RedState.com this weekend and scrolled down to the very bottom, you might have noticed an article with this headline: “Arrests, Citations Lurk at Union Group Approved by Obama Admin to Promote ObamaCare in Wisconsin.”

The story, by Brian Sikma, was published on Oct. 31 at 4:30 p.m. Here are its first two paragraphs:

Among the 165 groups approved by the Obama Administration to promote or set-up [sic] ObamaCare in Wisconsin is Wisconsin Jobs Now, a liberal get-out-the-vote group affiliated with the SEIU. According to the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the organization is working as a certified application counselor, or CAC. Numerous individuals who have been employed by Wisconsin Jobs Now or who work there now have been investigated, arrested or cited by law enforcement agencies for legal violations.

Wisconsin Jobs Now is not a health insurance group or healthcare provider. It is strictly a community organizing outfit. During elections it runs one of the largest voter turnout efforts in support of Democratic candidates in Wisconsin.

As Sikma’s story goes on to relate, Wisconsin Jobs Now and its associates have been involved with the following official probes:

• The organization was investigated “for offering barbecue dinners and raffle prizes to prospective voters” in Milwaukee.

• Wisconsin Jobs Now hired Todd E. Stoner (described by Sikma as an “SEIU operative”) to lead its political efforts in 2012 after Stone had been “investigated for using a hotel address and out-of-state ID to vote in a Wisconsin election.”

• The Federal Election Commission received a complaint in 2012 that Paula J. Zellner had violated campaign laws by simultaneously working both for Wisconsin Jobs Now and a Democratic candidate for Congress.

• Zellner and 16 others, including at least three other Wisconsin Jobs Now workers, were arrested in January 2012 “for harassing and disrupting a political fundraiser held by a Republican state official.”

• Wisconsin Jobs Now sit-ins at the offices of Republican members of Congress resulted in 19 arrests for disturbing the peace at the offices of Sen. Ron Johnson and three arrests during a speech by Rep. Paul Ryan.

• And then there’s this item, which I’ll quote in full:

Former Wisconsin Jobs Now organizer Austin Lee Thompson was arrested while protesting a bank in downtown Milwaukee when he walked into the bank and shouted, “This is a hostile takeover.” When Milwaukee police officers arrested him he reportedly shouted, “This is robbery! We are being robbed!”

Sikma concludes his story this way:

All told, Wisconsin Jobs Now can be tied to 40 arrests and several investigations. The number of people who have signed up for ObamaCare in Wisconsin on the health insurance exchange is estimated to be less than 55.

Now, 55 signups for Wisconsin health insurance plans offered through the Affordable Care Act online exchange is a paltry number indeed. That’s especially true given that in 2011, 10 percent of Wisconsin’s population — approximately 570,000 people — lacked health insurance. The state tied with Connecticut and Maine for having the fifth-highest proportion of uncovered individuals in the nation.

But virtually nothing about Sikma’s story makes sense.

Let’s work backwards. Sikma contrasts the number of signups on Obamacare exchanges (“estimated to be less than 55”) with the number of arrests and investigations linked to Wisconsin Jobs Now. Talk about comparing apples to oranges; these figures aren’t even remotely similar. Making the juxtaposition even more ludicrous is that some of the arrests and investigations involve the same people. By definition, it would seem to be impossible for any one person to enroll multiple times in health policies through the Obamacare exchange.

Oh — and about those investigations and arrests. There’s a well-known principle in the American judicial system, which is that suspects are generally considered innocent until proven guilty. While members of the general public are free to consider Wisconsin Jobs Now and its employees wrongdoers simply because there have been probes and citations, that’s not actually the case.

So how many of these affairs have borne legal fruit? Sikma only names five individuals accused of wrongdoing in his story: Stoner, Zellner, Thompson, Matthew S. Finnell and Nicholas A. Janis.

I decided to check some public records online.

• Stoner is listed by Wisconsin court records as having been involved in eight cases since the turn of the century; all are closed. Three cases were civil suits filed by financial agencies. The other five cases concerned traffic offenses, which are not considered criminal; two charges were dismissed by prosecutors and Stoner was convicted of three: failing to wear a seatbelt while driving, first-degree operating under the influence and failing to obey a stop sign.

• Zellner is listed by Wisconsin court records as having been involved in two cases. Both are divorce actions.

• Thompson is listed by Wisconsin court records as having been involved in five cases. One was a small-claims case from which Thompson was dismissed as defendant; one concerned a civil legal settlement of which Thompson, then a minor, was apparently the beneficiary. The other three cases concerned traffic offenses, which are not considered criminal; one charge was dismissed by prosecutors, and Thompson was twice convicted of speeding and once of failing to yield for an emergency vehicle.

• Finnell is not listed by Wisconsin court records as having been involved in any cases.

• Janis is listed by Wisconsin court records as having been involved in three cases. In one, he was the co-plaintiff in a civil action concerning a car crash. He was also convicted of operating an automobile without proof of insurance and of speeding. Neither of those are considered criminal offenses.

For good measure, I tried to find any record of a Federal Election Commission complaint involving Zellner. I was unable to do so.

I’m willing to take Sikma at his word; that is, I’m willing to accept as fact that every investigation and arrest that he mentions actually happened. (There is in fact a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article describing a video taken inside a Milwaukee bank in October 2011 at which a man yelled “Folks, this is not a recession, this is a robbery. We are being robbed, and they’re stealing and taking away from us every day” before being led away by police.)

But unless I’m missing something, not one of these investigations and arrests led to even a single court case being filed.

Mother Jones pundit Kevin Drum is fond of using the word “nothingburger,” his favored term for what others might call a tempest in a teapot. On Halloween, Brian Sikma whipped up a festive holiday helping of just that — nothing.

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