FACT CHECK: Obama’s Campaign Was Mobilized to Incite Wisconsin Government Employee Protests

February 22, 2011

White House Fumbles in Attempt to Deny Involvement in Protests


White House officials today attempted to backtrack on the Obama campaign’s actions in support of the Wisconsin government employee protests against paying their fair share for their taxpayer-funded benefits:


Administration officials said Sunday that the White House had done nothing to encourage the demonstrations in Wisconsin — nor was it doing so in Ohio, Florida and other states where new Republican governors are trying to make deep cuts to balance their budgets.


“And, officials and union leaders said, reports of the involvement of the Democratic National Committee — specifically Organizing for America, the grass-roots network born of Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign — were overblown to start with and were being inflated by Republicans sensing political advantage.


“‘This is a Wisconsin story, not a Washington one,’ said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. ‘False claims of White House involvement are attempts to distract from the organic grass-roots opposition that is happening in Wisconsin.'” (Jackie Calmes, “Wisconsin Puts Obama Between Competing Desires,” The New York Times, 2/20/2011)


VALERIE JARRETT: “The President said clearly let’s come together and work, let’s work with the unions, let’s work with the governments at the state and local level and at the federal level and see how we can tackle these issues together…[W]e should be coming together not polarizing the issues.” (Remarks on Fox News Channel, 2/22/2011)


The White House’s claim that they had “done nothing” to encourage protestors has rightfully drawn skepticism from observers, given that Obama, his campaign and even House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi sought public support on behalf of the Wisconsin government employee protestors:


The DNC was, earlier this week, eager to tout its role in the Wisconsin protests — though it never claimed to have inspired or run them….


“I’m not sure about ‘overblown to start with.’ The first report was mine, and relied on Organizing for America emails and tweets and on a Democratic Party official in Washington…the White House now seems to be claiming that OfA went rogue.” (Ben Smith, “DNC, Under the Bus,” Politico, 2/22/2011)


OBAMA: “‘Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions,’ President Obama told TMJ4 in Milwaukee.”

(“Obama on Wisconsin Collective Bargaining Law: An ‘Assault on Unions'”, Real Clear Politics, 2/17/2011)


PELOSI: ‘I stand in solidarity with Wisconsin workers,’ Dem Leader Pelosi says on Capitol Hill”(Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times reporter Mike Memoli tweet, @mikememoli, 2/18/2011)


As of last Thursday, the Organizing for America Web site featured a prominent banner urging Obama supporters to “[mobilize] to defend Wisconsin public employees’ right to organize”:


(Ben Smith, “DNC Playing Role in Wisconsin Protests,” Politico, 2/17/2011)



Just five days ago, DNC officials indicated they were involved in sending buses to build rally turnout, organizing phone banks and “planning and producing” rallies themselves, in addition to various online promotional efforts via Twitter and the Organizing for America blog:


“OfA Wisconsin’s field efforts include filling buses and building turnout for the rallies this week in Madison, organizing 15 rapid response phone banks urging supporters to call their state legislators, and working on planning and producing rallies, a Democratic Party official in Washington said.


“The @OFA_WI twitter account has published 54 tweets promoting the rallies, which the group has also plugged on its blog.


“‘At a time when most folks are still struggling to get back on their feet, Gov. Walker has asked the state legislature to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Under his plan, park rangers, teachers, and prison guards would no longer be able to fight back if the new Republican majority tries to slash their health benefits or pensions,’ OfA Wisconsin State Director Dan Grandone wrote supporters in an email. ‘But that’s not even the most shocking part: The governor has also put the state National Guard on alert in case of ‘labor unrest.’ We can’t — and won’t — let Scott Walker’s heavy-handed tactics scare us. This Tuesday and Wednesday, February 15th and 16th, volunteers will be attending rallies at the state[.]”…


[GRANDONE:] We’re ready to do all we can to make sure that [Walker’s proposal] doesn’t happen. OFA volunteers are going to fight for our friends with state jobs, our allies in organized labor, and the freedom of all Wisconsinites to organize their communities.” (Ben Smith, “DNC Playing Role in Wisconsin Protests,” Politico, 2/17/2011)