Millions of dollars have been spent in the Wisconsin on what is the largest state special election in U.S. history. In response to efforts by the state GOP, led by Governor Scott Walker, to effectively eliminate public sector bargaining rights and to slash the state budget, labor unions and supporters launched recall bids against six Republican Senators, whose fates will be decided on August 9th, 2011. Conservative groups responded by launching recalls against three Democrats. Estimates indicate that to-date outside groups have spent between $5 million and $6 million on the recall election in addition to $3 million spent by candidates themselves, and some suggest that the total may go as high as $20 million by the time voting ends. Groups, such as Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the extreme right-wing Koch Brothers, are spending heavily to influence the elections.
Now, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports a Milwaukee County prosecutor is examining allegations that the anti-choice group Wisconsin Right to Life and Family Action offered gift cards valued at $25 to $75 to volunteers who hit targets for persuading voters to fill out absentee ballot applications in the recall primary elections held last month. Offering cash, gifts or other items of value to potential voters is illegal in Wisconsin.
An email received by the Journal-Sentinel says:
“July and August are busy months for Wisconsin families who spend their time outdoors and on vacations, but this summer, there are very important elections that put a pro-family, pro-life state Senate at stake,” says the email, dated July 1.
“The Wisconsin Right to Life and Family Action coalition is offering rewards for volunteers who make an impact over the weekend by educating and encouraging family and friends to voted by absentee ballot.”
“Here are the rewards:
- $25 gift card or gas card reward for any volunteer who can get at least 15 pro-life/pro-family voters (and family and friends) to complete an absentee ballot application dated by Tuesday, July 5.
- $75 gift card or gas card reward for the volunteer in each Senate district who gets the most absentee ballot applications completed and dated by Tuesday, July 5.”
According to the Journal-Sentinel, Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf, who prosecutes election law violations, said he had been “advised by the Milwaukee County Election Commission and the (city) clerk of Glendale that Wisconsin Right to Life may have been offering things of value in exchange for signing up pro-life people to vote by absentee ballot in the Alberta Darling recall election.”
Darling, a Republican, is defending her seat against Democratic state Rep. Sandy Pasch on Aug. 9.
The Journal-Sentinel notes that “A Wisconsin Right to Life leader did not return repeated calls seeking comment. The state Democratic Party also did not respond to a request for comment.”