WDC Files Complaints Against Recall Targets

Senators keep the public in the dark about big donors

June 7, 2011

Madison – Three Democratic and Republican senators targeted for recall elections failed to disclose required occupation and employer information about campaign contributors who gave them more than $50,000, according to complaints filed Tuesday by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

The complaints were filed against Republican Senators Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac, Dan Kapanke of La Crosse, and Democratic Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay. The complaints were filed with the Government Accountability Board, which enforces state campaign finance, ethics and lobbying laws, along with portions of the senators’ recent campaign finance reports that show the contributions that lacked the required information.

Chapter 11.06(b) of the Wisconsin Statutes requires candidates and officeholders to identify the occupation and employer of contributors whose cumulative contributions exceed $100 in a calendar year.

This transparency requirement is important because employment information about large political campaign contributors allows the public to see the wealthy special interests that support candidates for public office.

The Democracy Campaign initially identified this problem in a May 5 report that reviewed fundraising and spending by 11 state senators targeted for recall elections. The senators were the subject of recall efforts because of their support or opposition to a plan by Republican Governor Scott Walker to abolish most public employee collective bargaining rights. Walker’s plan was approved by Republican state senators after the senate’s 14 Democrats left the state in an unsuccessful attempt to block a vote on it. The measure drew a month of protests at the State Capitol by tens of thousands of public employees and their supporters.

Topping the list of those with missing donor information was Hopper whose campaign reports covering January 1 through April 18 failed to disclose employer information on 23 contributions worth $42,650. The contributions with missing information included six donations of $5,000 each and 11 contributions of $1,000 each. Most of the contributions came from Fond du Lac and Oshkosh business executives including $20,000 from executives with Badger Liquor, one of the state’s largest liquor distributors, and $6,000 from executives with J.F. Ahern, a mechanical and fire protection contractor, the Democracy Campaign found.

Kapanke’s campaign finance reports show he failed to disclose occupation or employer data for 12 contributions totaling $6,150, including four $1,000 donations, between January 1 and April 18. One of his reports claims he requested employer information from three of the contributors.

Hansen’s campaign finance reports show he failed to disclose employer information for 14 contributions totaling $2,939 he received between January 1 and April 18. The contributions with missing information ranged from $125 to $300 each and included a $250 contribution from former Democratic Congressman Steve Kagen of Appleton.

Six other Democratic and Republican legislators targeted for recall also did not include required occupational data with some of their large contributions though the total number and size of the contributions were smaller than those of Hopper, Kapanke and Hansen.

Democratic Senator Robert Wirch of Kenosha failed to include occupational data for five contributions totaling $1,225 and his colleague, Jim Holperin of Conover, did not properly identify one individual who gave him two contributions totaling $150. Fellow Democrat Julie Lassa of Stevens Point did not disclose employer data on three contributions worth $670.

Republican Senator Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls did not have employer information for three contributions totaling $1,325 and her colleague, Alberta Darling of River Hills, did not have occupational information for four contributors who gave her a total of $950. Darling and fellow Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend, who did not have employer data for one contributor who gave him $1,000, tried to get the information, their campaign finance reports claim.

Two other recall targets – Republican Senator Luther Olsen of Ripon and Democrat Lena Taylor of Milwaukee – properly identified all of their large individual donors and a third, Republican Robert Cowles of Green Bay, did not file any campaign finance reports, presumably because he did not raise or spend any money for recall expenses between January 1 and April 18.

Copies of the three complaints and portions of the campaign finance reports that show the missing contributor information can be obtained from the Democracy Campaign upon request.