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A website posting on Feb. 28, 2017 spurred a bashing the next day of U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, with charges that the Wisconsin Republican was cracking down on free speech.
Tweets such as these:
Sen Ron Johnson sends constituents a "cease and desist" letter so as to not hear their concerns!
Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) has sent "cease and desist" letters to constituents trying to meet with him.
Sen Ron Johnson orders citizens to "Cease and Desist" pleading for #ACA!
What we found is that the posting by Citizen Action of Wisconsin -- which claimed that "people who come to" the group’s actions "get a ‘cease and desist’ letter" from Johnson's office -- is overly broad and misleading.
Milwaukee-based Citizen Action describes itself as an "issue-focused coalition of individuals and organizations committed to achieving social, economic and environmental justice." The posting it put on its website said:
Dissent is patriotic, that's what we believe. That's why for months we've been showing up to Congressional offices, calling every day, writing letters/emails/postcards & more. And it's why our members took part in town halls and rallies across the state last week during the Congressional Recess, including a 500+ person rally in Greenfield and 150+ in Wausau. Complete with empty chairs for, and a large cardboard cutout of, Senator Ron Johnson.
And what do the people who come to our actions get? A "cease and desist" letter (click for full letter) from the Senator's office (signed "staff"). Senator Johnson is trying his best not to hear our concerns about the future of healthcare, about the future of our country and the fate our of families.
The post ends with a reference to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and the chance to sign an online petition saying "we will not cease and desist." By the morning of March 2, 2017, the count was more than 2,800 signatures.
Citizen Action included with its post a link to a photograph of a Feb. 27, 2017 letter on Johnson’s official Senate stationery. The name of the recipient of the letter is blacked out, but we confirmed that the letter was sent to Earl Good, a 72-year-old Milwaukee retiree.
The Johnson letter to Good, which is signed by "Staff," says:
This Cease and Desist letter is to inform you that any further communication from you to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s office can only be done in writing. This means that you are not to call or visit any of Senator Johnson’s staff or any of his offices at any time.
Our office has done all that we can to assist you with your concerns. This letter acts as a written notice of our expectation for you to discontinue your unwanted telephone calls and office visits.
If you fail to comply with this notice, then we will have no other alternative but to contact the United States Capitol Police and report your noncompliance.
Good told the Journal Sentinel that since the November 2016 elections, he has been calling Johnson's office on various issues and has joined others who visit Johnson's Milwaukee office to raise concerns about issues such as health care.
He said that in mid-February, he called Johnson's office 40 times on one day and 83 times another day. He said he kept calling until someone answered the phone rather than letting his call go to voicemail. He said he is persistent but has always been polite when interacting with Johnson's staff on the phone or in person.
Kevin Kane, the organizing director for Citizen Action, told us Good has been involved in recent months in the group’s initiatives, including visits to Johnson’s office in an effort to preserve the Affordable Care Act. Kane said he has observed Good as being persistent but respectful.
But Kane said he was not familiar with all of Good’s interactions with Johnson’s staff and that Good is the only person involved with Citizen Action that is known to have received a cease-and-desist letter from Johnson.
Finally, here’s what Johnson staff members Patrick McIlheran and Ben Voelkel told us (they would not identify Good as the recipient of the letter, but confirmed the letter is legitimate):
The letter was sent to Good because of repeated behavior over the previous two months, in person, that was harassing and threatening to Johnson's staff, not because of any dissent voiced by the resident about politics or policy. They would not provide more details.
Johnson's staff believed the man was acting on his own and the staff was not aware of whether he was involved with Citizen Action or any other group.
The behavior led Johnson's office to contact the Capitol Police, which suggested that the letter be sent.
Johnson's office has sent four or five cease-and-desist letters since Johnson took office in January 2011, and this was the first since the November 2016 elections.
Citizen Action says "people who come to" their dissent actions "get a ‘cease and desist’ letter" from Johnson's office.
Despite the broadness of the claim, the group produced a cease-and-desist letter written to only one person who it says has been involved in Citizen Action initiatives such as preserving the Affordable Care Act.
The letter demands that the man stop visiting or calling any of Johnson’s staff or offices, but says written communications will be received. And Johnson’s staff says it issued the letter, on the advice of the U.S. Capitol Police, because the man had been harassing and threatening to staff, not because he protested any of Johnson’s actions.
We rate the statement False.
Editor's note: Four days after this fact check was published, Citizen Action posted an apology about its claim against Johnson.
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, "Ron Johnson: ‘Cease & Desist,’" accessed March 1, 2017
Twitter, "Cease and desist Ron Johnson" search, March 1, 2017
Interview, Citizen Action of Wisconsin organizing director Kevin Kane, March 2, 2017
Interview, Ron Johnson staff members Patrick McIlheran and Ben Voelkel, March 1, 2017
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel interview of Earl Good, March 1, 2017
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