Putting in context the “fake” candidates in Wisconsin recalls

Jun 6 2011

By Greg Janetka

MADISON, Wisconsin: Last Friday the recalls of six Republican Wisconsin senators — Robert Cowles[1], Alberta Darling[2], Sheila Harsdorf[3], Luther Olsen[4], Randy Hopper[5] , and Dan Kapanke[6] — were certified by GAB Director and General Counsel Kevin J. Kennedy, making the election date official. The timeline is as follows:

  • June 21: Candidates must have at least 400 certified signatures submitted to the GAB
  • July 12: Primary election if multiple opposing candidates; recall election if only one
  • August 9: Recall election if primary was necessary

Incumbents will automatically appear on the ballot, unless they choose to resign beforehand.

Fake candidates

Currently there is only one declared challenger in each of the Republican recalls, but that could soon change. Media reports point to efforts by GOP officials to get “spoiler” candidates on the Democratic ballot in order to force a primary, effectively delaying the actual recall elections by four weeks.[7] Nominating petitions are circulating to place John Buckstaff on the ballot as a Democratic candidate in the 18th District, where Jessica King has already indicated a desire to face incumbent Randy Hopper. Additionally, a petition has been published to get Rol Church on the ballot in the 14th, where Fred Clark has declared to oppose incumbent Luther Olsen. Hopper has said he wants to have the recall election as soon as possible, and hopes there is no primary. Buckstaff and Church are both retired and have a history of donating to Republican candidates.[8]

The recruitment of such “fake candidates” is not unprecedented, and in fact even happened in Wisconsin as recently as last summer. In the 2010 race for the 25th Assembly district, Andrew Wisniewski ran as a Republican against incumbent Independent Robert Ziegelbauer and Democrat Kerry Trask.[9]. Wisniewski was reportedly recruited to run by Jason Sidener, a political action representative for the union ASFCME. “It is in our interest to see that Bob is defeated and having opponents from both parties helps that,” Sidener said.[10] Prior to the race, Ziegelbauer commented on what he thought was a sham campaign. “It’s pretty obvious to everyone that the Madison Democratic machinery put up a fake candidate to put a name on the ballot because they think it will screw up our election in the 25th Assembly District,” he said.[11] The chairman of the Manitowoc County Republican Party — where Wisniewski is from — wrote in a letter to the Manitowoc Daily Herald that Wisniewski is not a Republican.[9]

Meanwhile, other states have encountered “fake candidates” as well. There have been allegations that longtime Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D) ran against recruited candidates in 2006, 2008, and 2010 in order to give the appearance of competition. While election results will show he faced a Republican opponent, local GOP officials have said they had never even heard of the candidates.[12]

But the fake candidates don’t end with the Midwest. Additionally in 2010, a Republican in Arizona recruited homeless people to run on the Green Party ticket[13], and a Democratic Party official in Michigan resigned for his role in running 23 candidates on the Tea Party ticket.[14]

Whether the candidates are running “farce campaigns” or not, one thing that is clear is there is no new ground being broken here. Political operatives have been playing this game for years.

GOP may sue over secret recording

La Cross County Republican Party Chair Bill Feehan met with an attorney on Friday and said he will soon file suit against the person who made a secret recording at the party’s meeting on May 25.[15] Portions of the recording include La Cross County Republicans discussing the possibility of running a spoiler candidate against Dan Kapanke’s likely opponent in the recall election, Jennifer Shilling. This would necessitate a Democratic primary and push back the recall election by four weeks. The discussion occurred before Kapanke arrived at the meeting and his campaign said they have not been involved in discussions of running a Democratic candidate.[16] Under Wisconsin law it is legal to record a conversation if one party gives consent. Feehan says that early on during the meeting, party vice chairman Julian Bradley said the meeting should not be recorded and, therefore, the person who did broke the law.

Democratic convention

Wisconsin Democrats held their state convention on June 3-4. Dubbed the “recall convention” by organizers, the issue was given center stage as Democrats indicated they intend to launch a recall effort against Governor Scott Walker. [17] Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate stated, “Simply put, Scott Walker must be stopped, and it will be the Democratic Party of Wisconsin that stops him.”[18] While recall proceedings can not begin against Walker until 2012, the group United Wisconsin urged conventioneers to sign a pledge stating they would sign a petition to recall the governor when it becomes legal to do so.