A plan by Republicans to run fake Democratic candidates in this summer’s recall elections would cost taxpayers upward of $428,000, according to election clerks. In one Senate district alone, the cost would top $100,000, interviews with county and municipal clerks show.
Even if Republicans back off their plans in some of the districts, taxpayers are all but guaranteed to have to pay the costs of the primary, because Democrats now plan to run multiple candidates in order to guarantee all the recall elections are held on the same day. Tuesday is the filing deadline.
Recall elections for six Republican senators are scheduled for July 12. But if there are multiple candidates from the same party in any of those elections, the July 12 election becomes a primary, with a general recall election to follow on Aug. 9.
Republicans have embraced a plan to run fake Democratic candidates to trigger Democratic primaries and buy time for the Republicans to campaign.
Election clerks estimate the cost of a Democratic primary in the districts of the recalled GOP lawmakers as follows: Sen. Rob Cowles of Allouez, $86,000; Sen. Alberta Darling of River Hills, $69,700; Sen. Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls, $27,000; Sen. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac, $84,200; Sen. Dan Kapanke of LaCrosse, $101,000; and Sen. Luther Olsen of Ripon, $60,200.
Those are only partial figures. Two counties in Harsdorf’s district, two counties in Olsen’s district and one county in Kapanke’s district did not provide estimates. The figures also do not include the costs for some of the municipalities within those counties.
The campaigns for the Republican senators tried to distance themselves Monday from the plan to run fake Democrats, saying it was orchestrated by Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) and the state Republican Party. Fitzgerald has said all the Republicans facing recalls were informed of the plan in advance.
Republicans have said they got the idea for running fake Democrats after a fake Republican last year ran against Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer of Manitowoc. Ziegelbauer for years was a Democrat who often voted with Republicans. He quit the Democratic Party last year to run for re-election as an independent.
Andrew Wisniewski then ran as a Republican to drain votes away from Ziegelbauer, but the ploy didn’t work and Ziegelbauer was re-elected. Democratic Party officials have said they did not have a role in the effort.
“I’m glad I’m an independent so I don’t have to apologize for either party,” Ziegelbauer said Monday. “I think they’re both equally foolish or worse. It’s certainly cynical.
“There are no rules anymore…It’s too bad, and it’s insulting to the people who vote.”
He said the Democratic move last year “opened the door” for what Republicans are doing now. But the Republican plan adds another element because it forces taxpayers to bankroll an entire new set of elections.
“The cost adds insult to the injury,” he said. “It makes it worse.”