Tea Party Enters the Wisconsin Recall Fray
Groups are raising money and lining up thousands of volunteers to review signatures in the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
On Tuesday, organizers of the effort to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will submit stacks upon stacks of signed petitions to the state, a move that will set a 60-day time clock into motion as the signatures are counted and verified.
Both the Republican and Democratic parties of Wisconsin have set up their own vetting and verification operations to ensure only valid signatures are counted.
However, there’s a new guest joining the recall party, and they’ll be sure all their “I’s” are dotted and their “Teas” are crossed.
Tea Party groups in Wisconsin and around the country have recruited nearly 10,000 volunteers from 49 states to scrutinize the signatures and verify that people who signed petitions are indeed who they say they are.
On top of that, the nationally known Tea Party Express is offering its support of the Republican governor and is actively raising funds to defend Walker in a recall. The group is sending regular emails its supporters, imploring them to make donations to "help us stand up for Walker and the Tea Party values that are under attack by Obama’s campaign machine and his radical union mobs!"
While Tea Party groups insist they’re simply doing their civic duty, not everyone is happy they’ve invited themselves to the party.
“They will accomplish nothing, except mischief on behalf of Scott Walker,” state Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski said. “That Scott Walker would take help from groups like this shows that his priority is with preserving his job, while not caring a thing about the rest of Wisconsin."
Two groups lead effort to verify signatures
Anchoring the efforts in Wisconsin are the Wisconsin Grandsons of Liberty and We The People of the Republic (WPR). The two groups combined forces and launched VerifyTheRecall.com to recruit volunteers to vet the more than 540,000 signatures that are expected to be filed with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board on Tuesday.
Both groups were spurred into action after the state board announced in December that it wouldn’t eliminate signatures like “Mickey Mouse” and “Hitler” from its counts. However, Waukesha County Circuit Judge Mac Davis recently stated it was the board's responsibility to strike fake and duplicate names.
“We want to make sure the people of Wisconsin are the ones who have the choice, and that it’s not left to fraudulent practices. When that happened there was public outcry for someone to do something,” said WPR founder Ross Brown. “We want to emphasize that our efforts are independent, and being done in a nonpartisan way.”
However, since its inception, the Tea Party has been one of the most outspoken advocates of conservatism in the United States. Although the groups involved in the verification operation assert their independence from Walker, the Democrats just aren’t buying it.
The state Democratic Party is conducting its own signature vetting process before submitting the stack to the state. Zielinski said their final count will hold up to any scrutiny and legal challenge.
Recall organizers need to submit 540,000 valid signatures, but Democrats are aiming to turn in about 725,000 to the state in case some names are challenged.
“Our total will be beyond any reasonable, legal or moral challenge,” Zielinksi said. “The only thing Walker has left is to delay and try to leverage his sleazy corporate cash, which he is raising right now in Texas while the rest of Wisconsin digs out of a snow storm.”
Tea Party targeted by left and right
For Brown, criticism has been his constant companion, but he and thousands of other volunteers move forward with their independent verification effort. In fact, it’s been a two-headed monster of criticism of the “Verify the Recall” campaign.
“We have been demonized by both the left and the right during this, but it’s about protecting the process and recognizing integrity,” Brown said. “The left is making the accusation that we are the thugs of the Walker administration, which is not true at all. To say this is a coordinated effort is just false.”
Some on the right are questioning why the Tea Party groups are verifying the signatures - saying that should be left to the Walker campaign.
Regardless of the side it’s coming from, Brown said he welcomes the criticism.
“We must be doing something right if everyone is mad at us,” Brown said. “But that will not hinder our efforts. We are pursuing this regardless. No matter what.”
Ben Sparks, a spokesman for the Republican Party of Wisconsin, reaffirmed that there was a clear line in the sand drawn between the Walker's campaign and the Tea Party efforts. He said Republicans also are conducting their own verification operation.
When asked if Walker and the Republicans welcomed the support of the Tea Party groups, Sparks wouldn't say.
"These are independent efforts and are not affiliated with The Republican Party of Wisconsin or the governor's campaign,” he said. “We will continue our statewide volunteer effort to preserve the integrity of the process, and ensure that Wisconsin electors are not disenfranchised."
Recall will cost big bucks
If there is a recall election, it is expected to cost taxpayers at least $9 million. The state announced Thursday that it will have to hire temporary employees, rent an off-site facility, and purchase a $100,000 upgrade for its software.
The Verify the Recall group plans to employ software designed by a Texas-based group called True the Vote, which used the program in a congressional district vote in that state.
“They already have a small-scale system built, but they’ve never tried it on a statewide scale,” said Jerry Gamble, a spokesman for the Grandsons of Liberty. “The IT folks are putting in a lot of time making sure the database will work properly, and we’ve just completed a large-scale test of the system and it is working fine right now.
Only time will tell how all the counts from the different interested parties will turn out. However, the state Republican Party and the Friends of Scott Walker are the only groups that can legally bring a challenge to the courts regarding the final signature counts. The tallies from the Verify the Recall group can only be submitted for consideration if legal action is pursued.
In addition to verifying the signatures, the Verify the Recall group also created a “No Sign” registry to protect people who did not sign a recall petition. Those who add their names to the list affirm they never signed a petition, and if their name appears on a recall petition during the group’s vetting process, those people will be contacted.
Brown said that would stand as proof that their names were added to a petition without consent.
“If their name shows up, they will be notified via e-mail,” Brown said. “These individuals didn’t sign a petition, and want to ensure their names weren’t used. That individual can take further legal action if they choose to.”
Brown said more that 30,000 people have signed up for the registry.