Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) is in a last-minute scramble to challenge "fraudulent" recall petition signatures.
Of the six public officials facing recall in Wisconsin, Fitzgerald has the slimmest margin of recall signatures. While the effort to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker garnered 185 percent of the necessary signatures, the effort to recall Fitzgerald in a heavily Republican district turned in 123 percent of the amount needed.
Thus, it was no surprise when Fitzgerald announced this week that he would challenge "more than 3,000" recall signatures -- enough to prevent a recall election against him, if he can convince the independent GAB to agree to strike the signatures.
Fitzgerald Sends Out Thousands of Postcards
On January 17, The Committee to Recall Scott Fitzgerald, led by Ft. Atkinson woman Lori Compas, filed an estimated 20,600 recall signatures to the Government Accountability Board (GAB). They were required to turn in 16,742.
Under a recent court ruling, Fitzgerald and the other officials facing recall were given 20 days to review and challenge the signatures on petitions against them. The elected officials have until February 9 to challenge signatures and the Fitzgerald team has been working overtime. Last week, Fitzgerald sent out postcards to all the residents within his senate district who signed the recall petition.
"Dear 13th Senate District Resident,
We are sending this postcard to inform you that your name has shown up on a recall petition against Senator Scott Fitzgerald. We have discovered a large number of questionable signatures through our initial inspection of recall petitions, so we wanted to ensure that you did in fact sign the petition, and that your signature was not added mistakenly or fraudulently. If you DID NOT sign a recall petition against Scott Fitzgerald between the dates of November 15, 2011 and January 14, 2012 please contact us immediately at (608) 520-0745, or email us at email@example.com.
Scott Fitzgerald for Senate Campaign Team
Paid for Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, Scott Fitzgerald, Treasurer"
By sending the postcards, Fitzgerald may be trying to determine if an address is fraudulent or flawed. Any type of address problem will likely result in the filing of a challenge against the signature from Fitzgerald lawyers.
Fitzgerald is also seeking out fraud by showcasing the names of those who signed the recall petition on his website. The website writes, "Could your name be on a recall petition fraudulently? Click here to verify that your name is not on the signature list to recall Fitzgerald." The list was taken from the GAB's website. Wisconsin has one of the strongest open records laws in the nation. After some debate, the GAB decided to make all recall petition signatures public on their website in PDF form.
Fitzgerald justified his actions by telling local WKOW TV: "My answering machine is full of people who say, 'My neighbor is on the list and they did not sign.'" To many observers, it is no surprise that recall petition signers might want to keep their electoral activity private in this heavily Republican district.
But to some, Fitzgerald is going too far: "I firmly believe in my heart, it is nothing but an intimidation factor to scare people off," said Fitzgerald constituent, Howard Stenner of Columbus, WI. Or as another recipient of a recall postcard from Senator Terry Moulton put it: "its is a great way to let those petition signers out there know: WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE AND WHERE YOU LIVE."
Fears of Fraud
A fuss about potentially fraudulent signatures has been whipped up with no evidence of organized fraud. In response to one report of duplicate signatures, Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, brother of Scott Fitzgerald, introduced new legislation, AB 441, which would make it a felony to sign a recall petition more than once. Under the proposed legislation, overly enthusiastic signers would be guilty of a class I felony and would face up to $10,000 in fines and/or three and a half years in prison.
This week, national Tea Party groups offered to help the GAB review the signatures (an offer politely declined), and MacIver Institute President Brett Healy, who works in partnership with the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity Group to promote the benefits of Governor Walker's budget, boldly predicted on camera that 400,000 Walker recall signatures will be disqualified.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel conducted a review of 500 recall signatures and only found a few that they disqualified because they did not meet state elections guidelines. For instance, they disqualified "homeless" and a person who used a P.O. Box as an address; they found no duplicates. But they decided to discount 73 simply because the address could not be verified with other public records. So a renter or student not in the phone book or not in the voter data base would not be counted using the paper's methodology. That is a very high standard, not used by the state. But even with this standard, the paper found only 15 percent of the names to be "questionable," enough to qualify all the races for recall, including Scott Fitzgerald's. In the 2011 Ohio collective bargaining referendum fight, some 30 percent of signatures were disqualified due to incomplete records and other problems.
Problems with recall signatures, most commonly non-complete information, are usually weeded out by lawyers working on behalf of the candidates. But to some, Wisconsin Republicans appear rattled by the huge volume of recall petitions that have been submitted and have attempted to force the GAB to do the work for them. They asked a judge in friendly Waukesha County to force the GAB to create a costly database to weed out duplicates. That court ruling was later overturned by an appellate court, yet the GAB appears set to go ahead with the database in any case.
Fitzgerald Lays Out Aggressive Recall Strategy
In addition to his challenging individual signatures, Fitzgerald told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he would argue that recall organizers should have used newly drawn maps of his district to collect signatures, rather than the ones that have been in place for the last decade. This issue is currently being litigated, but the GAB has held to the simple standard that the old maps should be used because the new ones do not take effect under the Republican-authored redistricting plan until the fall.
Fitzgerald is also arguing that the massive number of signatures collected on the first day should not be counted, because to his count, recall organizers collected signatures over 61 days instead of 60. However the GAB consulted with the Republican Attorney General JB Van Hollen and got a legal opinion from him on the dates, before telling petitioners when their signatures were due.
In response, recall organizer Lori Compass issued the following: "After wasting $500,000 of taxpayer dollars with fake candidates in last summer's recalls, [Fitzgerald] is now filing challenges based on rejected legal arguments to prolong this process. Based on my role in the signature-collection effort, I can say with confidence that this is a perfect example of why this district wants Fitzgerald recalled, and that his frivolous challenges are destined to fail."
With a flood of over 1 million signatures, almost 25 percent of the electorate, most observers believe that Scott Walker will face recall, as will most of the other incumbents. All eyes will be on Scott Fitzgerald and his legal team this week as they work to strike signatures and disqualify the recall.
CMD's Emily Osborne contributed to this piece.