An investigation into possible campaign finance violations involving conservative groups in Wisconsin and Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign committee has become entangled in back-to-back federal court rulings on whether it should continue. On Tuesday, a federal judge halted the investigation, giving a momentary victory to Mr. Walker, a Republican who is seeking re-election this fall and is sometimes mentioned as a presidential possibility for 2016. The investigation, the details of which are murky because of tight state secrecy rules, had clouded Mr. Walker’s political prospects and become a focus of attention for his critics. But on Wednesday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit stayed the injunction, calling for a lower court review of an earlier, separate appeal in the case.
A federal judge ordered a halt Tuesdayto the John Doe investigation into campaign spending and fundraising by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups, saying the effort appeared to violate one of the group’s free speech rights. In his 26-page decision, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Randa in Milwaukee told prosecutors to immediately stop the long-running, five-county probe into possible illegal coordination between Walker’s campaign, the Wisconsin Club for Growth and a host of others during the 2011 and 2012 recall elections. ”The (Wisconsin Club for Growth and its treasurer) have found a way to circumvent campaign finance laws, and that circumvention should not and cannot be condemned or restricted. Instead, it should be recognized as promoting political speech, an activity that is ‘ingrained in our culture,’” Randa wrote, quoting from a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The Colorado House of Representatives passed, on a 37-28 party-line vote, a bill that will allow citizens to cast remote ballots in recall elections. Senate Bill 158 was being pushed by Democrats angered by the recalls last year of state Sens. Angela Giron and John Morse, who were voted out of office after their support for gun-control measures. A third Democratic senator, Evie Hudak, resigned rather than face a recall battle. Morse and Giron were removed after voter turnouts of 21 and 36 percent, respectively. Democrats argue that the outcome was, at least in part, the result of recall election laws, which effectively required voters to physically turn in ballots on a single day.
Century-old elections language sparked a fiery partisan debate in the Colorado Senate on Thursday as Democrats steered through an update to recall laws despite complaints that they’re trying to change the rules in their favor. The bill updates dusty recall requirements that were written long before modern elections procedures such as mail-in voting. The bill was approved on an unrecorded voice vote and faces a more formal vote before heading to the House. Democrats say the bill is not an attempt to make it harder to recall public officials, even though two of their own were ousted last year in the first state legislator recalls in Colorado’s history.
tung by the recalls of two state senators last September, Colorado Democrats are carrying out an age-old tradition – trying to revamp laws about recall elections. Going back at least a century, practically anytime a surprising recall effort has qualified for the ballot, legislators immediately scurry to modify the law. Despite the seemingly self-serving nature of this and many other post-recall reform proposals, Colorado’s Democrats are right in pushing this one forward. If approved, it would clean up poorly drafted statutes that don’t conform to general election laws. They would remove roadblocks to citizens seeking recalls. And, learning from the 2013 snafus in Colorado, they seek to avoid expensive delays and lawsuits. The proposed Colorado changes are an attempt to conform recall law to existing election laws, some of which were passed earlier in 2013. The major focus is to make workable a judicial ruling that prevented the recall from being an all mail election by defining the constitution’s language of “date for holding the election” so that it allows candidates to petition onto the ballot until 15 days before mail ballots are sent out, instead of 15 days before the election closes.
Democrats moved forward Friday with a measure they say will boost voter turnout in recall elections, despite strong opposition from Republicans assailing it as unconstitutional. The legislation looks to harmonize language in state statute with Colorado’s constitution in regard to the recall election process. Under the constitution, a candidate has up to 15 days before Election Day to submit signatures so that the candidate’s name can appear on the recall ballot.
Democrats this week unveiled legislation that aims to correct some of the legal conflicts revealed last summer during recall elections of two Senate Democrats that nullified mail balloting and contributed to the Democrats’ loss. During an impromptu media availability hosted by Senate Democrats on Monday, lawmakers proposed a measure that would modify a provision in state statute that allows a person to petition onto a recall election ballot 15 days before the election date. The provision was highlighted during a Denver District Court case this summer challenging the recall elections of then-Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and then-Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo. Both lawmakers were subsequently ousted from office for their support of gun control after the court allowed the elections to continue. The Libertarian Party of Colorado filed the lawsuit, arguing that they had not missed a 10-day deadline to submit signatures in order to petition a successor candidate onto the ballot. The case pointed out that state law mandates that ballots be mailed no later than 18 days before the election. But the state constitution requires that successor candidates have up to 15 days before the election to submit signatures.
The ability to circulate petitions and recall elected officials is a constitutional right. But recall elections are much more difficult than the regularly scheduled elections. They typically are more emotional and controversial. Fewer people vote in recalls so they tend to be less representative, and they are expensive for local governments. County clerks deal with recall elections periodically, more commonly for local officials such as city council members or school board directors. In Colorado last year, we held two recall elections for state legislators — the first time in the history of our state. I supervised one of those recall elections, in which 36 percent of eligible voters participated and cost Pueblo County $270,000. The participation rate would have no doubt been higher and the cost less burdensome had we been able to mail ballots to all registered voters. But a lawsuit by the Libertarian Party revealed 100-year-old constitutional language that candidates have until 15 days before the election to petition onto the ballot, not leaving enough time to print, mail and return ballots. This petition timeline is not in place for any other type of election. It is an even more burdensome timeline for small, rural counties with fewer resources.
With last year’s recall elections fresh in their minds, leading Democrats in the Colorado Senate laid out a case for changes in state laws governing recall elections. Democrats insisted their aim was to clear up confusion about how recalls work and encourage more voter participation, saying nothing in the bill they’re introducing would make it tougher to attempt to recall a public official in Colorado. ”As to the ability to actually recall someone or whether it’s harder or easier, it’s agnostic on that,” said Senate President Morgan Carroll. “It’s neutral. It doesn’t really affect that.”
Calling Colorado election law “dusty” and confusing, Democrats announced a plan Monday to update recall election regulations. Democrats called the plan nonpartisan, a straightforward effort to address conflicting, confusing language in state elections code. Republicans didn’t bite, immediately deriding the proposal as an effort to circumvent constitutional requirements for recalls. Colorado’s recall language came into focus last year, when two Democratic state senators were recalled over support for gun-control measures including expanded background checks.