GAB memo leaves fate of final Wisconsin recall certifications unclear

Jun 7 2011

By Geoff Pallay and Greg Janetka

MADISON, Wisconsin: Tomorrow the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board is scheduled to meet at 9 a.m. to determine the fate of the final three outstanding recall petitions against Democratic senators Jim Holperin, Robert Wirch, and Dave Hansen. The Board will hear challenges to the petitions made by the incumbents, as well as presentations from the respective recall committees and board staff.[1] If approved, it is expected that these elections would be held July 19, a week after the six Republican recalls. If there is more than one challenger, the primary would take place on the 19, with the actual recall election on August 16.

A little after 9 p.m. CST tonight, GAB officials posted on the state website the memos for tomorrow’s meeting. Four documents were posted — one each for Senators Hansen, Holperin, Wirch and an additional memo providing more background. The final memo provides context to the first three. Overall, the GAB memos leave the matter unresolved regarding whether the recalls are likely to be certified or rejected tomorrow.

In the memos, GAB officials invalidate some signatures in much the same way they did for the Republican incumbent petitions. Based on the initial affirming and invalidating, the following totals of signatures would be considered valid:

Those figures would be sufficient to trigger a recall. However, at the end of each memo, officials point to the possibility that an even greater number of signatures may be invalidated. The end of each memo reads:

…valid verified signatures, but all subject to review of signatures and involved petition pages pursuant to the circulator address and fraud allegations discussed in the accompanying Memorandum.

GAB officials have not made a recommendation whether petition circulators violated Wisconsin statute §8.40(2) and Wisconsin Administrative code §2.05(14). In its memo, GAB officials request that the Board determine whether it will enforce certain provisions of those laws regarding the residential address of circulators. In short, those two statutes pertain to the physical address of petition circulators. Democratic challenges to the recall petitions call into question the validity of addresses for some circulators. If a circulator were to violate those statutes, then all signatures on those petitions could in theory be invalidated.

In its memo, GAB officials provide several pages of background and context regarding the certification of recalls.

The next step appears therefore to be whether the six-member Board will make an ultimate decision regarding the two areas of Wisconsin law in question. If the Board rules that the recall campaigns did not violate those laws, then it would likely indicate that the recalls have sufficient numbers of signatures to continue. That would then open the door for possible Democratic lawsuits to bring the recall challenges to the courts — much like three Republican incumbents have already done.

However, if the Board rules that the recall campaigns did indeed violate the two statutes, then that opens the possibility for the Board to invalidate enough signatures to bring the recall campaigns below the required threshold. According to the GAB memo, the Board — if it were to enforce the two statutes — could invalidate any petition page submitted by circulators that were named in the Democratic challenge. Thereby the recalls would be deemed insufficient and no election date called.

However the Board acts tomorrow, further legal challenges from the losing side can be expected.

The GAB was originally slated to hear challenges to the three petitions on May 31, but announced that it would be unable to consider them due to “numerous factual and legal issues.” In a statement they said more time would be necessary in order to ensure a complete record is available for examination.[2] On June 3, Dane County Judge John Markson gave the Board a one-week extension to finish reviewing the three remaining recall petitions, giving them until June 10.[3]

More details on “fake” candidates

Yesterday we discussed media reports on the possibility of Republicans recruiting fake “spoiler” candidates to run as Democrats, noting that nominating petitions are circulating to place John Buckstaff on the ballot as a Democratic candidate in the 18th District, and Rol Church on the ballot in the 14th. A third protest candidate, Isaac Weix, is reportedly collecting signatures to run in the 10th district race, where Shelly Moore has already declared her candidacy against incumbent Sheila Harsdorf.[4] Moore called Weix’s candidacy, “about the most un-American thing I can imagine,” while a spokesman for Harsdorf said she does not support the protest candidacy and has nothing to do with it. James Smith, a recent member of the La Crosse County Republican executive committee, announced he is running as a protest candidate in the 32nd district, where Democrat Jennifer Shilling has challenged incumbent Dan Kapanke. Smith explained, “I want to bring light on the issue that 22,000 signatures can pretty much overturn an election where even the loser got 40,000 votes.” Shilling’s campaign declined to comment on his candidacy.[5]

Stephan Thompson, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, issued a statement on June 6 indicating that the GOP is openly advocating fake candidates run because Republicans are currently at a disadvantage. “Because of this disadvantage, and the outrageous nature of elected officials facing recall for standing up for a balanced budget, the Republican Party of Wisconsin has advocated that protest candidates run in Democratic primaries to ensure that Republican legislators have ample time to communicate with voters throughout their districts after the state budget is approved,” he said.[6] Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald came out in support of the tactic as a tool to give Republican incumbents more time to campaign.[7]

Democratic Senate Leader Mark Miller called the move a “partisan, coordinated attack on democracy,” and “Nixonion tactics,” saying, “we don’t need to waste taxpayer money on phony elections to help these Republicans duck the voters and needlessly delay these elections.”[8]

Campaign finance complaints

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed campaign finance complaints today against Republicans Randy Hopper and Dan Kapanke, and Democrat Dave Hansen for failing to disclose occupation and employer information about campaign contributors. [9] Hopper’s campaign report covering January 1 to April 18 was found to be missing employer information on 23 contributions totaling $42,650. Kapanke’s report from the same period was missing data on 12 contributions totaling 6,150, while Hansen had missing info on 14 contributions totaling $2,939. Under Wisconsin law, any contributor who gives over $100 in a calender year must disclose their occupation and employer. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign announced that they found undisclosed occupation and employer information for four of the other campaigns as well. But the Hopper, Kapanke and Hansen campaigns were by far the most. On the Democratic side, Robert Wirch was missing information on five contributions totaling $1,225 and Jim Holperin did not properly identify one contributor who gave a total of $150. For the Republicans, Sheila Harsdorf did not have information on three contributions totaling $1,325 and Alberta Darling had missing info on four contributors totaling $950. Luther Olsen’s report properly identified all of his donors, while Robert Cowles did not file any campaign finance reports.

2011 Wisconsin Senate Recalls

Senators Facing Recall
Robert CowlesAlberta DarlingSheila HarsdorfDave HansenJim HolperinRandy HopperDan KapankeLuther OlsenRobert Wirch

Other Recall Information
Recalls by YearRecall Law in WisconsinRecall laws in other statesRecalls in Wisconsin2011 Scott Walker Budget Repair BillProtests over Budget Repair BillWisconsin Government Accountability BoardRecall timeline