Recall On: Scott Walker's Campaign Coffers "Open for Business"

Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkerPutting aside a laundry list of potential dates, calculations and concerns, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin announced last week that they will be joining with community groups to launch a campaign to recall the state's governor, Scott Walker. With a corruption scandal brewing behind the scenes, political activists decided there was no better time than now.

Hurdles for those wishing to recall Walker are high.

Wisconsin Recall Law Blows the Caps Off of Fundraising

Starting November 15, volunteers will begin collecting the 540,206 signatures needed to trigger a recall election, which is one quarter of the votes cast in the gubernatorial election. They will have 60 days to do this under the state's recall statute. Then they will submit signatures to the state elections board so a recall can be authorized for sometime in the spring.

An odd quirk in Wisconsin's campaign law allows donors to give unlimited cash to Scott Walker until the day that the state authorizes an election. In other words, Walker does not have to abide by the $10,000 limit that applies to a regular election, but could in theory accept $1 million dollar checks or $10 million dollar checks from now until an election is triggered in the spring.

"This is going to be tough," Mike Tate, chairman for the state's Democratic Party told the Ed Show. He anticipates that Walker could raise huge sums of money from the Koch brothers, and others, to keep his seat. "We need to be ready for a big fight."

The summer recall elections of nine State Senators cost $40 million. A gubernatorial recall might cost upwards of $70 million.

Corruption Scandal Brewing

Missing from official statements was any discussion of the secret "John Doe" investigation of Scott Walker's staff and campaign funders.

Wisconsin has been riveted in recent weeks by reports that Walker top aides are implicated in a secret investigation being conducted by the Milwaukee County District Attorney into potentially illegal campaign practices during Walker's 2010 gubernatorial race. Although the investigation has been underway for at least a year, recent revelations that the governor's spokesperson has been granted immunity and that another top aide had her house raided by the FBI, has the state abuzz with speculation about the target and scope of the investigation.

To date, 11 people have received immunity in the investigation.

New Polling Shows Support for a Recall

The Democratic Party of Wisconsin released a statewide poll (pdf) this week showing that independents support the recall of Walker by a margin of 16 points -- 52 to 36 percent -- and that 52 percent of all voters disapprove of Walker's job performance. Polls results that have not been released show various Democratic candidates beating Walker by healthy margins. Walker's job approval ratings are very poor. A recent Badger Poll says 59 percent of Wisconsinites disapprove of the way Walker is handling his job as governor.

But even with polls in their favor, the task won't be easy. Only two gubernatorial recall elections in U.S. history have been successful. In 1921, North Dakota Governor Lynn Frazier was recalled, and in 2003 California Governor Gray Davis was recalled.

"Independent" Election Board Under the Gun

With the looming threat of recall, the Wisconsin GOP has begun to meddle in decisions promulgated by the independent state elections board. The Government Accountability Board (GAB) recently issued decisions on several measures that would make the recall petition process smoother and facilitate voting by college students. The GAB is allowed to make independent decisions of this type.

But under pressure from the GOP-led Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules, which threatened to force the decisions into formal rule-making giving lawmakers a say, the head of the GAB agreed to "revisit" the decisions. Under reconsideration is a plan to allow Wisconsin residents to download petitions supporting the recall from the Internet and stickers to be used on student IDs making them acceptable for voting in state elections. The stickers would make it cheaper for colleges and universities to comply with newly-enacted American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Voter ID legislation, which disenfranchised over 300,000 Wisconsin college students by making their current IDs obsolete.

After a scandal in 2005, where legislators of both parties were found guilty of felony abuses of the campaign finance system, legislators moved to merge and revamp the elections and ethics boards. In 2007, the GAB was established as part of a bipartisan agreement. Now retired judges review issues and make rulings, not a board composed of Republicans and Democrats. Walker's GOP is now threatening to blow up this bi-partisan compromise.

Walker's Challengers?

Kathleen FalkHere are a few of the rumored candidates thinking about challenging Walker if the recall election is triggered:

Kathleen Falk was the County Executive of Dane County from 1997 until 2011, where she balanced many budgets for a major metropolitan area. Prior to this, she served as an Assistant Attorney General and Public Intervenor,an environmental advocacy position, in the Wisconsin Department of Justice. She is a well known entity with plenty of fundraising ability.

John Erpenbach, one of the "Wisconsin 14"Democratic State Senator John Erpenbach, who rose to fame as one of the "Wisconsin 14" Democratic Senators who left the state in February in efforts to stall the passage of Governor's controversial collective bargaining law, is also considering a run. His good-natured appearances on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report, won him many fans.

Milwaukee Mayor, Tom BarrettMilwaukee's current Mayor, Tom Barrett, lost the previous election to Walker, but is very competitive according to recent polling. He is a former Congressman with a liberal record. He is very well liked and would bring good name recognition and a record as an administrator to the race.

Kevin Conroy, CEO of Exact Sciences

Liberal businessman Kevin Conroy, CEO of Exact Sciences, has also been mentioned as interested in a run. He considered running for governor in 2010. As a successful businessman, he may be able to provide initial self-financing. He is not a proven entity as a campaigner, but has made a good impression on many interested parties.

Former Democratic Congressman David Obey is rumored to be considering a run. Also mentioned is Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, who famously challenged the state's Republican majority as they rammed through the vote on Walker's collective bargaining bill and Mahlon Mitchell, President of the Professional Firefighters of Wisconsin, are also mentioned as possible candidates.

One thing is for sure, the winter of 2012 is shaping up to be as interesting as the winter of 2011 for Wisconsin residents and voters.

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is a reporter for the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD). She helped launch CMD's award-winning ALEC Exposed investigation and is a two-time recipient of the Sidney Prize for public interest journalism from the Sidney Hillman Foundation.