Formal complaints and allegations mark Wisconsin recalls days before voters head to polls

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August 5, 2011

By Geoff Pallay and Greg Janetka

Seal of Wisconsin.svg.png
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 timelineElection Results

MADISON, Wisconsin: The race for the 8th senate district has recently become the most high profile of the Wisconsin recall campaigns. In the past week the fight between incumbent Alberta Darling (R) and first term Assemblywoman Sandy Pasch (D) has seen record amounts of money raised while accusations of collusion and bribery have flown from both sides. All the while the candidates still differ on why the recalls are occurring in the first place.

Darling and Pasch met for their final debate Wednesday, where the incumbent Republican senator told voters the recall has more to do with DC than Wisconsin. Darling stated, “This is about the Obama election. Obama cannot win unless he wins Wisconsin. That's why you see all this money in here. That's why you see all the arrows and guns pointed at me. Because we had the audacity to take on the special interest groups and say, 'We are Wisconsin.'"[1]

Pasch shot back, citing what she sees as failures by Darling on a number of issues. "They are recalling you because you have cut quality of education, quality of health and quality of life for many, many people,” she said.[1]

Meanwhile, both sides are alleging that their opponent is engaging in election collusion with 501c4 organizations, which if true is illegal. The state Democratic Party filed complaints yesterday against Darling, accusing her of multiple felonies for collusion and conspiracy. It also names Americans for Prosperity, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Right to Life and the American Federation for Children. Mike Tate, Democratic state chair, said, "It appears that Alberta Darling is engaged in a coverup to hide election collusion. The last acts of her desperate campaign are not merely pathetic. They are illegal.”[2]

The complaints against Darling come quick on the heels of similar complaints filed against Pasch by the state Republican Party and Media Trackers earlier this week. The claims against Pasch revolve around the group Citizen Action, of which Pasch is a board member. Media Trackers added to their complaint with emails obtained through the Open Records Law which, they say, show collusion between the campaign and the organization.[3][4]

While all of this is going on, investigations are also under way in Milwaukee to determine whether Wisconsin Right to Life and Wisconsin Jobs Now broke state election laws by illegally bribing voters. Wisconsin Right to Life gave out gift and gas cards to volunteers who successfully got voters to complete absentee ballot applications in the 8th District. Susan Armacost, legislative and PAC director for the organization, issued a statement saying, "The activity that the district attorney was subsequently requested to investigate was perfectly legal and in no way a violation of election law, or any other law.”[5]

As we reported earlier this week, Wisconsin Jobs Now came under fire for hosting several get-out-the-vote “block parties” where they gave out free food and prizes, as well as providing free rides to the polls. Mike Lauer, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now, defended the parties, saying, "There was no food for votes, that wasn't the exchange. We are fully confident that we operated in the bounds of the law."[6]

Today, Wisconsin Jobs Now filed a complaint with the GAB against Friends of Alberta Darling and the group We’re Watching, alleging the organizations engaged in illegal activities in an attempt to suppress the vote. The activities cited in the complaint include videotaping voters for extended periods of time, as well as tailing and surveillance of voters.[7]

Speculation is that the 8th will be a close race. A poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showed Darling up by five percent, while one from the Mellman Group showed Pasch up by 1 percent.[8]

August 9, 2011 Recall - District 8 - Daily Kos/PPP Poll
Candidate Party Percent
Alberta Darling Ends.png Republican 52%
Sandy Pasch Electiondot.png Democratic 47%
Undecided 1%
August 9, 2011 Recall - District 8 - Mellman Group Poll
Candidate Party Percent
Alberta Darling Ends.png Republican 46%
Sandy Pasch Electiondot.png Democratic 47%


The glut of money that continues to flow to Wisconsin has put the recalls “off into the stratosphere,” according to Mike McCabe, Executive Director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign finance. McCabe said that, as of yesterday, registered interest groups have reported $12.8 million in spending, while groups that are not required to register may have spent even more. What is clear is that both registered and unregistered groups have greatly outspent the candidates themselves. Although much has been made about We Are Wisconsin spending $7.9 million in support of Democratic candidates, McCabe says spending has been about even on both sides.[9]

It was reported yesterday that Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and have purchased $265,000 worth of ads to run in three markets prior to the August 9 recalls. The purchase includes a new ad against Alberta Darling, where a long time Republican voter says he’ll be voting for Sandy Pasch. The buy also keeps on the air an ad targeting Darling’s position on Medicare, and another targeting Luther Olsen.[10]

GAB dismisses complaints

Yesterday the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board dismissed complaints filed against three of the senators facing recall. A complaint was filed by One Wisconsin Now against Luther Olsen (R), alleging he co-sponsored a bill that would benefit his wife’s organization financially, the educational agency for east-central Wisconsin. GAB ruled,"An official action that benefits a CESA (or a school district or other local government unit with which an official is associated), even one headed by the official's spouse, does not violate the Ethics Code."[11]

Two complaints were dismissed against Jim Holperin. In the first, Holperin wrote to a judge, asking for consideration of the character of a campaign donor who was being sentenced. GAB said there was no law making the letter illegal. The second accused Holperin of breaking federal copyright law, which GAB said is not an issue for them to decide.

The final complaint came against Robert Cowles, accusing him of sending out a mass mailing after June 3, the cut-off date in an election year. GAB determined the mailing went out in May.[12]

See also


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