A Republican Party of Wisconsin subcontractor who was fired last week is accused of not paying workers he hired to go door-to-door to encourage people to vote for President Donald Trump.
The subcontractor, John J. Bush, did not respond to requests for an interview. But Will Oliver, who replaced Bush, said some canvassers were committing fraud by claiming pay for doors they never knocked on.
Oliver on Saturday fired more than a dozen canvassers and threatened some of them with arrest. The canvassers called that unjust, saying they were wrongly having their pay withheld from them.
“I guess this wouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s money that I need presently to eat and (for) gas,” canvasser Scott Ciamarichello told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by text message this week. “And there are a ton of people that are in the same boat.”
He said he didn’t hear from his bosses for days and got paid only after the Journal Sentinel inquired about why he hadn’t.
A Republican Party of Wisconsin spokesman said the contractor who fired Bush would be paying people for their work.
“As we understand, the contractor on the ground ended their relationship (with) the subcontractor and is in the process of paying all workers who are owed directly,” party spokesman Alec Zimmerman said in a statement.
Ciamarichello said he got paid regularly for his first weeks knocking on doors in Green Bay, but struggled to get paid for last week. He said someone called him Friday and said he would be paid.
On Saturday, he got a text message telling him Bush had a family emergency and would no longer oversee the canvassers. His new boss would be Oliver, the text message said.
Before long, Oliver sent a text message telling Ciamarichello and others they were out of a job, accusing them of fraud and threatening to arrest them, according to screenshots of his messages.
“Everyone is fired,” Oliver wrote. “If your (sic) owed anything it’s paid tomorrow I’ll be at the office.”
“If u committed fraud and clicked doors and show up to get paid your (sic) just going to be arrested. I have pictures of all of your work. I’m still going over it. If you really knocked doors you will get money.”
Canvassers’ work was logged on an app that tracked their whereabouts as they knocked on doors. Oliver said Wednesday a review of the work found some canvassers were reporting they had knocked on doors they were nowhere near.
“These people never should have been hired,” he said Wednesday of many of the canvassers. “When we started looking, we said, ‘Holy (expletive), no one’s doing the work.’ “
He said much of the problem was in Milwaukee and he was not familiar with Ciamarichello’s work in Green Bay.
Ciamarichello said he could not get answers for days from Oliver or others about $750 he said he was owed. He received his full pay on Tuesday, shortly after the Journal Sentinel asked his bosses about it.
Corey Kirkwood, a Milwaukee man who said Bush hired him as a recruiter for canvassers, said Tuesday that he was still owed more than 1,500 for his work.
Kirkwood shared a screenshot of a text from a man who worked with Oliver that read, “We are done here. Lose my number. This has been a ridiculous mess all around. So the office is now closed to everyone.”
Kirkwood said far more people who did work for the group around the state are still owed money, but that he was threatened when he said some planned to show up at the subcontractor’s office in Milwaukee to demand payment.
“We are not getting paid correctly,” he said.
Oliver countered that he was the one who received threats, saying some of those who hadn’t done legitimate work tried to intimidate him into paying them.
Kirkwood and others went to the Republican Party of Wisconsin office on the city’s north side Saturday in an effort to get paid for the canvassing work.
The office, at 2242 N. King Drive, opened earlier this year as part of an effort to help Republicans do outreach to African American and Latino voters. This year was the first time the state party has opened an office in the heart of Milwaukee, which is predominantly Democratic, as part of an effort to win over voters in the city.
“We have to meet people where they are,” Andrew Hitt, chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said when the office opened in February. “And if we don’t come here, if we don’t become part of this community, we have no chance of connecting with voters and talking about the things we believe in and have accomplished.”
Those going door-to-door in Milwaukee were given door hangers promoting Trump and “Make America Great Again” hats, some of the canvassers said.
The canvassers were working for a subcontractor with Delaware-based In Field Strategies.
In Field spokesman Dave McCulloch said the company was investigating the complaints but would not provide the name of the subcontractor Bush, Oliver and the canvassers worked for.
“We take all allegations of misconduct seriously — and while we continue to investigate the situation in its entirety involving this subvendor, we have taken immediate action to ensure the subvendors’ employees in question are fairly compensated,” McCulloch said in a statement.
It’s unclear where Bush was this week.
This month, Bush frequently posted photographs to Facebook of himself, his hotel room and office in Milwaukee, and his meals around the state.
“Awesome wing night,” Bush wrote Oct. 21, tagging himself at Brothers Bar & Grill. “I kind of like Milwaukee. Lol.”
“Another amazing find in the middle of nowhere Wisc. Lol,” Bush posted on Oct. 24, tagging himself at Luigi’s Italian Restaurant in Sheboygan.
The posts were public on Monday. His Facebook page has since been made private.
Contact Patrick Marley at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.