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Recall campaigns spark allegations, complaints

By   /   November 17, 2011  /   No Comments

By M.D. Kittle | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Campaign ad violations. Fraud. Offended veterans.

Day Three of Wisconsin’s partisan recall battles turned increasingly bitter, in a war of words marked by campaign complaints, accusations and innuendo.

And one political observer said the parties haven’t yet begun to fight.

“We’re just starting. This hasn’t even ramped up to any level to predict just how bad, how out in the open this is going to get,” Scott Furlong, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay political science professor, told Wisconsin Reporter.

Republicans said a government employee was found to be using state resources to send political documents concerning the campaign to recall Gov. Scott Walker.

Democrats earlier filed a complaint with the Government Accountability Board, or GAB, the state agency that oversees campaigns and elections, charging that Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, also a target of recall, produced a “campaign Web” ad without noting who paid for it.

Social networks were humming with allegations that a group of Republicans had planned to solicit signatures on recall petitions, only to destroy them later.

Republicans shot back later in the day, charging “liberal activists” had offended veterans by covering up the entry sign at Veterans Memorial Park in DeForest with a banner promoting a “Recall Walker” petition drive.

“Until this process is over, we are going to see accusations and counter accusations from both sides,” Furlong said. “This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody. It started almost just as the (2010 general) elections were over last year.”

And this promises to be a lengthy process.

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin, along with United Wisconsin, a liberal political action committee, early Tuesday officially launched the campaign to recall Walker, aiming to collect the necessary 540,000-plus signatures on petitions to send the governor back to election — long before his term is up in 2014. The campaign would need the same number of valid signatures to recall Kleefisch, and tens of thousands more for four targeted Republican state senators.

Tuesday began a 60-day window of signature gathering. The GAB then must review the signatures, as would the incumbents, for several weeks. With legal challenges anticipated, GAB spokesman Reid Magney told Wisconsin Reporter earlier this week that it would be late spring at the earliest before Walker would face a recall election, should his opponents secure the proper signatures.

In the meantime, moments like these are expected:

• The Democratic Party of Wisconsin on Wednesday filed a complaint against Kleefisch for “producing a campaign Web ad that deliberately creates the impression it is being released by the office of the lieutenant governor.”

Democrats argue the video does not make clear the ad was paid for by the lieutenant governor’s campaign committee and that the Kleefisch camp used government resources for “partisan gain.”

“Rebecca Kleefisch, like Scott Walker, has failed to focus on any other job than her own and appears content to deceive Wisconsin voters using the same tricks being played on our state by corporate patrons like the Koch Brothers,” Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chairman Mike Tate said in a statement, referring in part to David H. and Charles Koch, the conservative industrialists who also head the Koch Family Foundations & Philanthropy.

Republicans fired back, noting the cost of the recalls to taxpayers.

“Lt. Gov. Kleefisch used a GAB estimate of last summer’s $2.1 million taxpayer funded recall elections and applied it to a statewide recall effort which supplied a figure of $7.7 million,” said Republican Party of Wisconsin spokeswoman Nicole Larson in an email. “That’s a tough burden for taxpayers to bear during a time of national economic uncertainty and the costs could go higher.”

Magney confirmed GAB has received the complaint from the Democrats. He would not go into specifics, only saying campaign committee ads must contain attribution statements.

• Republicans on Thursday decried what they described as “recent political activism of a government employee found to be using state resources to send political documents pertaining to the recall of Gov. Walker.” The incident, the party said, was brought to light by the Republican Party of Wisconsin’s Recall Integrity Center, a website designed to ensure “no foul play or suspicious behavior occurs” in the petition process.

“As Wisconsin Democrats and their special interests continue their political games in a desperate effort to recall Gov. Walker, union members affiliated with this recall effort have resorted to using state resources to promote their activist agenda,” in violation of state election law, Ben Sparks, the state Republican Party’s communications director, said in a statement.

Tate could not be reached for comment to respond to the issue, nor could Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the state Democratic Party.

Magney said unless the accused public employee was in a leadership position, the use of email for political purposes is generally a personnel matter. It is, however, a violation of campaign law for anyone to solicit political services or money from state employees at work.

• Among the more serious allegations this week was that some Republicans had noted on their Facebook accounts that they planned to collect signatures on recall petitions and destroy them.

Magney confirmed that GAB was made aware of the Facebook postings, and staff members have “had discussions with some district attorneys about this issue,” although he would not specify.

“It is something we take seriously,” he said. “The destruction, defacement or other fraud related to petitions is a Class I felony, punishable by up to three and a half years in prison and a $10,000 fine.”

• The specter of security concerns also was raised this week by Media Trackers, a Wisconsin-based, conservative watchdog nonprofit.

Media Trackers in a story Thursday noted that the information recall petition signers provide is not protected under state privacy law.

The information may be given or sold to anyone, including business or political entities, Media Trackers reported.

True, said Magney.

“Petitions are public records and there are no restrictions on that information. That is something that has always been true for any kind of petition,” the GAB spokesman said. “The fact of the matter is, all of this information can be found in a phone book.”

Petitions require the written name of the signer, the signature, street address, municipality of residence and the date in which they are signed.

There also is no law against individuals signing multiple times on the recall petitions, Magney said. It’s up to the GAB and the incumbent parties to vet the names for duplicate signatures.

• Finally, the Republican Party accused “liberal activists affiliated with the recall effort” of demeaning DeForest’s Veterans Memorial Park, covering up the park’s sign commemorating the park with a “Recall Walker” signup banner.

“It is truly disheartening to me that anyone could condone such an atrocious act,” said Larry Kutschma, state commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Wisconsin, in a Republican Party statement.

Democrats on social network sites mocked the indignation, arguing the park is public property, open to assembly.

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