Luther Olsen recall, Wisconsin State Senate (2011)

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Luther Olsen

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 BoardElection Results
A 2011 campaign to recall Luther Olsen, a member of the Republican Party, from his elected position representing District 14 in the Wisconsin State Senate failed. Supporters of the recall say Olsen was targeted because of his support of Gov. Scott Walker's Budget Repair Bill. A committee to recall Olsen was formed on March 2.[1]

Olsen defeated Fred Clark (D) in the recall election on August 9, 2011.

Path to ballot

About 24,000 signatures to recall Olsen were filed on April 18, 2011. Signatures were filed against nine different state senators in Wisconsin, while a total of sixteen were originally targeted for recall.[2]

Location of Wisconsin State Senate District 14
Map of Wisconsin Senate District 14

On May 9, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board verified 22,381 signatures, 14,733 were necessary to force a recall. Olsen challenged the petitions, citing missing paperwork as well as the possibility of hundreds of invalid signatures. The Board heard arguments on May 23[3] rejecting most of the challenges and verifying 22,207 signatures.[4] This cleared the way for a recall election to be held July 12.[5] The Board officially certified the recall against Olsen on June 3, effectively setting the election for July 12. Since there was more than one opposing candidate, however, a primary took place on July 12, with the recall on August 9.


Democratic state Rep. Fred Clark announced on April 21[6] he would run against Olsen in a recall.[7] Efforts by GOP officials put Rol Church on the ballot as a Democratic "protest" candidate, forcing a primary between Church and Clark, and delaying the actual recall election by four weeks.[8]

Stephan Thompson, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, issued a statement on June 6 indicating that the party was advocating fake candidates run because Republicans were 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.[9]

Democratic Senate Leader Mark Miller called the move "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."[10]

July 12 Democratic Primary

Clark easily defeated Church in the primary.

July 12 Democratic primary[11]
Candidates Votes Percent
Fred Clark Approveda 15,052 66.7%
Rol Church 7,346 32.55%
Scattering 169 0.75%
  • Robert Forseth Note: Forseth filed nomination papers with sufficient signatures but did not file final papers to be on the ballot.

August 9 recall

Olsen defeated Clark to retain his senate seat.

August 9 Recall - District 14[12]
Candidates Votes Percent
Luther Olsen (R) Green check mark transparent.png 26,553 52.1%
Fred Clark (D) 24,355 47.79%
Scattering 56 .11%


Olsen (R) signaled a willingness to engage in at least three debates with Clark. Clark reportedly initiated the idea with Olsen suggesting dates and topics -- including a possible forum hosted by Baraboo schools.[13]

The Democratic Party released a statement on May 31 saying that Olsen ignored the challenges for a debate. Olsen's campaign manager, Jeff Weigand, called the accusation "ridiculous," adding that they had not received any calls or emails from Clark asking for debates.[14]

On June 5, Olsen said he would be happy to debate his opponent, but as Clark had not yet filed nomination papers, it was premature to set up debates.[15]

Clark's campaign released a statement on July 11 calling out Olsen for failing to respond to requests for debates, stating,

"With concrete invitations on the table, it is time for Senator Olsen's campaign to stop waffling and communicate clearly and publicly about his intentions to actually speak to voters about the real issues in this campaign. Senator Olsen cannot leave voters to make their decisions at the polls based only on the unregulated third-party advertising that his friends are now paying for on his behalf. My campaign is ready to begin discussions regarding proper locations and formats for at least three debates so the voters have the information they need to cast their ballots in this historic election."[16]

Clark and Olsen agreed to a series of debates taking place on three consecutive days from July 26-28, with a fourth proposed. The first was sponsored by the Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative, and had no audience participation, but the public were able to suggest questions beforehand. The second was put on by the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce, with the third sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Ripon Area.[17]

Ads relating to the campaign

Ad controversy

On July 15, the state Democratic Party sent a formal letter to six television stations asking them to pull an ad paid for by Wisconsin Family Action which they said was "shameful" and "grossly mischaracterizes and purposely deceives the voters about Fred Clark and his strong commitment to his family."[18] The ad alleged that Clark stated his child support payments "weren't a huge priority."

Petition challenged

Olsen officially challenged the recall petition on April 28, arguing that the petition was invalid because the petitioner did not properly file a registration statement per Wisconsin statute. At a meeting of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board on May 23, the Board rejected the challenge, citing a staff memo which stated that the two documents must be attached when filed.[19]

Olsen additionally challenged some 1,005 signatures for various reasons.[20] The Board validated 22,207 signatures, over 7,000 more than the required 14,733.

Legal challenges

Attorneys for Olsen, Dan Kapanke, and Randy Hopper filed petitions in Dane County Court on May 31 seeking to stop the recall elections against them. Their argument was based on improperly filed paperwork, similar to the argument they previously used before the GAB and saw rejected. The court petitions alleged that recall petitioners did not correctly register with the GAB and thus the 60-day period to collect signatures did not start, meaning every signature collected was "dated outside the circulation period" and therefore invalid.[21]

On June 7, Alberta Darling, Sheila Harsdorf, and Robert Cowles joined their fellow Republicans in filing suit against the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board in Dane County Circuit Court. Their lawsuits alleged that signatures on the recall petitions were invalid because of improperly filed paperwork.[22][23] Jeremy Levinson, attorney for the Democrats, filed motions with the court on June 14, asking them to throw out the Republican's "meritless" challenges.[24]

After hearing arguments on July 8, Judge Richard Niess ruled that all of the nine recalls should proceed, saying that election officials had already thoroughly and correctly addressed the complaints.[25]

Campaign contributions

An investigation by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign found Olsen's campaign report properly identified all of his donors.[26]

Luther Olsen Campaign Finance Reports (GAB ID No. 10316)
Report Date Filed Beginning Balance Total Contributions (Expenditures) Cash on Hand
Special Pre-Election[27] August 1, 2011 $70,656.40 $64,744.40 $(37,969.23) $97,431.57
July Continuing[28] July 5, 2011 $34,527.26 $72,375.68 $(36,246.54) $70,656.40
Special Pre-Election[29] April 25, 2011 $429.05 $34,735.59 $(637.38) $34,527.26
Spring Pre-Election N/A $ - $ - $( - ) $ -

The following political action committees have made donations to Luther Olsen:

  • Ellis to Madison Committe
  • Managed Health Services Insurance
  • Wisconsin Insurance Alliance PAC

Official reports


Conducted July 21-24

August 9, 2011 Recall - District 14 - Daily Kos/PPP Poll
Candidate Party Percent
Fred Clark Electiondot.png Democratic 49%
Luther Olsen Ends.png Republican 47%
Undecided 4%

Conducted August 5-7

August 9, 2011 Recall - District 14 - Daily Kos/PPP Poll[30]
Candidate Party Percent
Fred Clark Electiondot.png Democratic 47%
Luther Olsen Ends.png Republican 50%
Undecided 3%

Additional reading

Official documents

The following documents are attributed to the Olsen recall and have been publicized by the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board.


See also

External links


  1. Portage Daily Register, "Sen. Olsen faces anger, recall effort after vote," March 10, 2011
  2. Star Tribune, "Wis. Democrats file nearly 24,000 signatures to recall GOP Sen. Luther Olsen over union vote," April 18, 2011
  3. The Northwestern, "Independent state reviews of petitions to recall Republican State Senators Randy Hopper, Luther Olsen are valid," May 9, 2011
  4. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "Recall Election Information," retrieved May 23, 2011
  5. FOX 11, "GAB clears way for 3 GOP recall elections," May 23, 2011
  6. FOX 11, "Clark to challenge Olsen in recall," April 22, 2011
  7. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin Senate recall races tempt Assembly members," April 30, 2011
  8. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Wisconsin GOP leaders encouraging colleagues to place fake Democrats on recall ballots," June 5, 2011
  9. Daily Journal, "Wisconsin Republican Party encourages spoiler candidates to run in recalls to force primaries," June 6, 2011
  10. Twin Cities, "Wisconsin Republicans accused of dirty tricks in recall elections," June 6, 2011
  11. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "July 12 Primary Election Results District 14," accessed July 11, 2011
  12. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "District 14 Recall Election Results," August 19, 2011
  13. Wisc News "Olsen says he’s open to debates," May 24, 2011
  14. Baraboo News Republic, "Clark, Olsen debate debate," June 1, 2011
  15. Post Crescent, "No date set in recall debate between Republican State Senator Luther Olsen and Democratic opponent Fred Clark," June 6, 2011
  16. WisPolitics, "Clark Campaign: Time to plan debates," July 11, 2011
  17. Portage Daily Register, "Clark, Olsen plan debates," July 15, 2011
  18. WisPolitics, "WisDems: Shady conservative hit group smears Fred Clark with blatantly misleading attack ad," July 18, 2011
  19. ‘’Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “Board sets three more recall elections for July 12,” May 23, 2011
  20. Olsen challenge to recall petitions, April 28, 2011
  21. Wisconsin State Journal, "Recall-targeted GOP senators challenge validity of petitions," June 1, 2011
  22. Superior Telegram, "GOP planning lawsuit over Republican senator recalls," June 8, 2011
  23. Leader-Telegram, "Harsdorf, other GOP senators sue to stop recalls," June 9, 2011
  24., "Recall campaigns ask court to throw out 'meritless' challenges," June 14. 2011
  25. WUWM, "Judges Rules Senate Recalls Can Proceed," July 8, 2011
  26. FDL Reporter, 'State group files campaign finance complaints against 3 recall targets,” June 7, 2011
  27. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN: GAB-2: Olsen for Senate," August 1, 2011
  28. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN: GAB-2: Olsen for Senate," July 5, 2011
  29. Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, "CAMPAIGN FINANCE REPORT: STATE OF WISCONSIN GAB-2: Olsen for Senate", April 25, 2011
  30. Daily Kos, "Wisconsin recall elections: Too close to call," August 8, 2011