By Kirsten Adshead |Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The campaign to recall Gov. Scott Walker may be a grassroots effort as its organizers insist, but it proved less than transparent Tuesday evening when Wisconsin Reporter showed up to report on a recall training session.
Graeme Zielinski, a Democratic Party spokesman with a history of threats against Wisconsin Reporter, ranted at the news organization's reporter in attendance by phone and threatened Wisconsin Reporter again.
More than 100 supporters turned out to the event at the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees Council 40 office on Madison's west side. The session, led by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, is designed to ensure that recall volunteers know how to collect signatures properly.
Within minutes of arriving, however, a Wisconsin Reporter journalist who identified herself as a member of the media was asked to leave by an organizer who cited the campaign's desire to keep the information out of the media.
The reporter agreed to leave, but asked to speak with the person making the request. The reporter was then put on the phone with Zielinski.
Zielinski called the reporter unprofessional, accused her of sneaking into a party function and then threatened to discuss the incident Wednesday with the statehouse press corps, of which Wisconsin Reporter is a member.
“Get out,” Zielinski shouted. “Don’t come to our party functions anymore.”
He then hung up the phone.
Tuesday wasn't the first time Zielinski has threatened Wisconsin Reporter.
In August, the spokesman sent an email to Wisconsin Reporter Bureau Chief M.D. Kittle complaining about the organization's news coverage, charging that it was biased to conservative or Republican causes.
“What happens next is that I contact the publishers and editors of the papers that publish you as ‘unbiased,’ and let them know our deep concern about the obvious bias that permeates your entire operation,” Zielinski wrote in his email.
“Then, we let our activists know which papers publish you, and they write the publisher and editor. Then, we contact the Capitol press pool and let them know about our concerns about your credentialing.
“And we continue on until you actually admit to the truth of your operation.”
Wisconsin Reporter's stories appear in a numerous daily newspapers statewide and several national publications.
The Madison-based news bureau requested to attend the meeting to report on the recall process, an unprecedented event in Wisconsin political history. Nothing in the invitation stated the session was closed to the media.
This event is one of several Democrats are holding statewide.
The petition drive is expected to begin Nov. 15. Volunteers will have 60 days to collect 540,208 valid signatures to trigger a recall election, but the Democratic Party wants to collect 650,000, which would give a cushion in case any signatures are declared to be invalid.
What Wisconsin Reporter found was an event that drew dozens more people than organizers had anticipated, perhaps signaling what organizers claim: a groundswell of support for the recall movement
Organizer Nick Niles announced that they had run out of training packets and asked people to share. Every chair was taken, including the extra seats organizers brought.
That’s in keeping with a campaign that Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, expects to far outpace the state Senate recalls held this summer in terms of how much money and attention are spent.
The nonprofit Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, or WDC, tracks campaign funding.
The senators who faced recall elections "were not really the target of voters’ wrath,” McCabe said.
“They were really the proxies for the governor. Now it’s no longer a proxy fight."
Walker has had a target on his back since he pushed through legislation in the spring that reformed collective bargaining for public union employees.
The GOP, though, still controls the Senate and Assembly.
On Tuesday, McCabe said he had estimated that spending on those recall campaigns could top $20 million.
The total was just less than $44 million, according to the WDC.
McCabe wouldn’t guess how much would be spent on Walker’s recall, though McCabe noted that while the summer recalls only targeted voters in nine of 33 Senate districts, recalling a governor takes a statewide effort.
Is it possible that those trying to oust Walker and those trying to keep the governor in office could spend $100 million?
McCabe said that would be “outlandish.”
“But then, $30 million for the Senate recall elections sounded unrealistic to me,” he said. “I guess nothing would surprise me anymore.”