Three Tosa dads candidates have right-wing ties, finance records … – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Michael Meier is a current school board member, to note campaign assistance provided to some candidates by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and reflect that the candidates have not “accepted” all endorsements.
In what the chair of the Republican Party of Wisconsin has called “the most important school board race” in Wisconsin, the election for the Wauwatosa School Board has come to represent the increasing politicization of such races across the country.
Three candidates denied any political affiliations in their campaigns. However, public campaign finance records submitted on March 27 paint a different picture and contradict statements Mike Zollicoffer Jr., Daniel Gugala and Chris Zirbes — campaigning together as the three Tosa dadsmade to the Journal Sentinel last month.
They’ve maintained that they do not have ties to any political individuals, including ones involved in last year’s protests against the school district’s new human growth curriculum. Campaign records don’t align with those claims.
The candidates have not responded to repeated attempts to speak to them about the discrepancies.
Campaign finance records show that, for all candidates, the race for a seat on the Wauwatosa school board wasn’t cheap.
Here are the total donations received and spent by each:
Heimerl-Rolland and Zirbes are running for Seat 5; Woehrle and Gugala are running for Seat 6; and Willis and Zollicoffer are running for Seat 7.
Heimerl-Rolland, Woehrle and Willis told the Journal Sentinel about their endorsements last month, which included groups aligned with the Democratic party, such as the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 494 of Milwaukee, the Wauwatosa Education Association, Fair Wisconsin and more.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin did not give Heimerl-Rolland, Woehrle or Willis direct monetary contributions, but helped with their campaign costs, covering consulting and mailing services and Voter Activation Network access.
The candidates said that accusations linking them to anyone involved in last year’s sexual education curriculum controversy were only made to spoil the dads’ campaigns.
However, vocal opponents of the curriculum, including some interviewed by national news organizations about their opposition, have donated to Gugala, Zirbes and Zollicoffer.
Last year, Wauwatosa residents Michele Hughes and Ted Barthel expressed their objections to the curriculum changes in an interview with Fox News.
Barthel donated $200 to each Tosa dad. Hughes volunteered with the dads’ campaign, records show; her total contributions in campaign materials, though, are worth over $360.
Paul Bruno, another parent who’s publicly spoken against the curriculum, donated $100 to Zollicoffer’s campaign.
Wauwatosa School Board member Michael Meier sued the board in order to stop the implementation of the new sex ed curriculum because he suspected the board was meeting to discuss the topic without him. He was also the only member to vote against the curriculum, citing concerns about the legality of the approval process. The lawsuit is pending.
Finance records show that Gugala’s campaign paid Meier $160 for a voter list.
Other notable donors include $350 to each dad from Bonnie Lee’s husband, Matt Lee. Bonnie Lee is the executive director of the Conservative organization the 1848 Project.
The 1848 Project was founded by Wisconsin’s former lieutenant governor Rebecca Kleefisch, who ran for governor last year. The 1848 Project recruits conservative candidates, assists with their campaigns and continues to mentor them after their elections.
Kleefisch’s PAC sent voters texts Monday night, urging them to vote for the three Tosa dads, according to screenshots of the messages posted by local activist John Norcross.
Finally, the president of a Wauwatosa-based pro-life organization Family Life Council, Daniel Ziedler, donated a total of $60 to the three dads’ campaign.
Moms for Liberty is a national organization that’s been at the center of school board debates across the country. The group protested in Wauwatosa last year.
When the three Tosa Dads denied their connection to any organizations, Zollicoffer specifically said he had no idea who Moms for Liberty was, calling his supposed connection to the organization “the new Twitter thing.”
The Ozaukee County chapter of Moms for Liberty shared the school board candidates they endorse last week with the right-wing news platform Wisconsin Right Now.
All three Tosa Dads are listed.
Zirbes and Zollicoffer posted on their campaign Facebook pages to say that the only endorsements they accept are ones listed on their websites.
Gugala previously told the Journal Sentinel that all website work had been done by an unpaid volunteer. “We pay for the printing and stuff like that, but for the electronic things, it’s a volunteer,” he said.
However, financial records show that Gugala paid Pendletone, a company owned by Wauwatosa resident Kevin Deval, more than $2,000 for his campaign’s: “Website/Yard Signs/Handout #1.”
Zirbes and Zollicoffer each paid Pendletone $172 for Squarespace subscriptions, records show.
The Journal Sentinel’s March article pointed out similarities between Awake Tosa’s site, created to protest the district’s sex-ed curriculum, and the Tosa dads’ online presences.
Both and are now locked from the public’s view. Deval and the candidates have not responded to questions about whether their sites all share the same designer.
The reports do not indicate any payment or in-kind contribution for website design.
More:Wauwatosa School Board candidates share views on sex ed curriculum, student discipline and more
More:Parents sound off on concerns over discipline problems in Wauwatosa schools
Quinn Clark can be emailed at Follow her on Twitter @Quinn_A_Clark.


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