Racine County United Way must be deaf, dumb, and blind

Either the United Way of Racine County is deaf, dumb, and blind, or they sympathize with fringe liberalism. What other explanation justifies a charity organization funding an exceedingly leftist, heavy-handed Democratic front group?

Late last week, Mark Belling reported that United Way of Racine County gave Voces de la Frontera (VDLF) money to organize a Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.  Shortly after the news broke, the chapter’s president Dave Mauer said he was unaware of VDLF’s “political charge” and in a press release stated that the United Way of Racine County doesn’t “participate in politics, public policy, or other controversial issues.”

I must ask the question: does Dave Mauer read local newspapers, watch television, listen to the radio, navigate the web, or pay attention to any news developments in the most politically factitious, polarized state in the country?

Voces de la Frontera’s political youth arm YES (Youth Empowered in a Struggle) has been at the forefront of Racine headlines intermittently for years, most recently for using high-school students from the Racine Unified School District to canvas heavily Democratic neighborhoods. The net result was enough Democratic votes to unseat an incumbent Republican state senator in what turned out to be a historic recall election watched by all 50 states.

This isn’t Voces’ first debut in Wisconsin politics. They also made news at another MLK event last year when one of their executive board members -- Racine Horlick High-School teacher Alan Levie -- had turned his back on Congessman Paul Ryan as the congressman tried to hand Levie a humanitarian award. The political stunt was staged at a family event with parents beseeching Levie to accept the award for the sake of the children who were present.

Voces is also no stranger to confrontational politics, often using protests to make political statements with occasional arrests for unlawful conduct.  Voces also played a contestatory role in Madison over Governor Walker's collective bargaining law, which resulted in their members being physically dragged out of a legislative budget hearing by state troopers for intermittent interruptions intended to delay the proceedings.

According the Racine Journal Times, Mauer said they didn’t know that VDLF was politically motivated nor did they support their mission. I find this admission fascinating. How exactly does Mauer vet groups that request grants from United Way? Does he check their website to verify a group's apolitical activities?

A quick glance at the front page of VDLF’s website (you don’t even have to scroll down), you can see that they have led a national boycott against Palermo’s Pizza over an ICE audit for which they had no control.

Two of the state's largest Hispanic newspapers (El Conquistador and the Spanish Journal) have rebuked Voces de la Frontera for a frivolous campaign against Palermo's Pizza; and recently, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Wisconsin has stood with Palermo's pledging that the Hispanic community respects and appreciates all it does for Milwaukee.  Embarrassingly, Hispanic community support for Palermo's Pizza has not been reported by any mainstream television or print media outlets.  

Finally, Voces de la Frontera has been in the news for months over lawsuits they filed against Republican-led redistricting and Wisconsin's new Voter ID law. Their litigious efforts against a Republican-led state have not gone underreported by the press.  It is certainly difficult to imagine Mr. Mauer not knowing that Voces de la Frontera was a politically charged group.

In response to Belling’s program, VDLF has issued a press release stating they're a nonpartisan organization that advocates for labor rights and the civil rights of low-wage workers. Someone will have to explain to me, as a Latino, the inherent connection between illegal immigration and labor rights. Historically, labor unions have despised undocumented immigrants for driving down wages and stealing union jobs. Yet, we have an organization funded by labor to promote labor rights, which has been at the expense of Latinos.

An outstanding example of this merger is the ongoing conflict between VDLF and Palermo’s Pizza. In summary, ICE conducted an audit of Palermo’s that prompted the company to terminate the employment of 87 unauthorized workers. Palermo’s had no choice but to follow the Immigration and Nationalization Act (INA), which specifies that once an employer gains knowledge -- whether the knowledge is certain or inferred -- that they have unauthorized employees, the company becomes civilly and criminally liable if they keep them on the payroll

Voces de la Frontera used the termination of 87 employees as an opportunity to organize a union -- allegedly promising fired employees their jobs back if they had helped organize a Palermo’s union. When Palermo’s wouldn’t recognize their status as a bargaining unit, VDLF initiated a national boycott enlisting help from the national AFL-CIO.

The Racine County United Way failed to do the most basic vetting necessary when doling out funds received through charitable donations. Voces de la Frontera, regardless how their official 501(c)(3) status, is not a “nonpartisan organization.” At an annual meeting last December, VDLF openly announced that removing Governor Walker from office was their number one goal.

501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations are strictly forbidden from directly or indirectly participating in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office. Violation of this prohibition could lead the IRS to revoke an organization's tax-exempt status or impose excise taxes on the organization in question.

However, VDLF has a political advocacy arm called Voces de la Frontera Action, which is a 501(c)(4). As such, they would have increased flexibility to participate in lawful political campaign activities involving the nomination or election of public officials, provided such activities are insubstantial compared to its overall activities.

Interestingly, VDLF Action is currently looking for individuals to assist in “voter mobilization efforts for the November 6th presidential election.” They list the job title as “Temporary Canvasser,” paying $10 an hour to cover a “targeted constituent base in Milwaukee’s south side with the goal of mobilizing the Latino vote” during the election to “support for candidate Barack Obama.”

This sounds eerily similar to what VDLF did for the June 5 recall election using high school students from Racine Unified to canvas heavily democratic neighborhoods, knocking on more than 8,100 doors to turn out the vote for John Lehman (Lehman won by just 800 votes). Instead of paying high school kids $10 an hour to canvas neighborhoods like their seasonal help for November, students received volunteer credits for class sanctioned by our public school system.  (As an aside, Voces de la Frontera wouldn't be able to infiltrate choice schools the way they have in Racine Unified and Milwaukee Public schools.)

When questioned about canvassing Racine neighborhoods, VDLF said partisan politics had nothing to do with their get out the vote efforts.  They simply targeted city wards with the lowest voter turnout. Yet, voter turnout in Racine’s recall election topped 78%, which is 20% higher than the state average and 22% higher than Milwaukee’s turnout.  This had some people wondering why Voces had targeted Racine over Milwaukee -- it likely had much to do with the most closely contested senatorial recall election in the state.

Ultimately, the United Way of Racine County had no business giving money to one of the most heavily partisan, democratic fringe groups in the state while pretending not to know who they were. Although they have distanced themselves from Voces de la Frontera and suggested looking for a different vendor, they have not stated they would refrain from using them in the future,  Shame on United Way and shame on Dave Mauer.

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