Wisconsin Recalls Threaten 527 Coffers

By Michael J. Behm, Senior Vice President

The petition drive to recall Democratic Wisconsin State Senator Julie Lassa ended quietly after organizers of that effort failed to file enough signatures to meet the May 16 deadline.

It was the last remaining petition drive in the efforts by both Democrats and Republicans to recall nine sitting state senators. Six of those senators are Republicans who supported Governor Scott Walker’s (R) successful, but explosive, effort to overhaul public sector collective bargaining rights. The other three senators are Democrats who tried to deny Republicans a quorum during that collective bargaining debate by leaving the state.

The state’s Government Accountability Board will meet May 23 and 31 to review the sufficiency of the recall petitions; a special election is now anticipated to be scheduled around or about July 12.

While this latest political effort goes largely unnoticed by the national press – contrast with the national media frenzy in Madison earlier this year when Governor Walker took on the public sector unions – two major 527 Groups are watching closely.

The stakes in this recall election are incredibly high for the Republican Legislative Campaign Committee (RLCC) and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC).

The recall effort puts Republican control of the State Senate at risk – a majority of seats the RLCC can claim credit for taking in the 2010 election. The GOP currently holds 19 seats to the Democrats 14; if Democrats can recall three Republicans and, of course, protect their own senators, they will be positioned to challenge Governor Walker’s agenda for the next three years. Republicans, on the other hand, will not only validate their 2010 efforts by successfully defending their new majority, they will likely embolden ongoing state GOP efforts to challenge both public and private sector unions around the country.

While this polarizing battle in Wisconsin will have a unique fundraising appeal among many of the two groups’ donor base, especially activists and affluent individual contributors, the recall campaign could prove disruptive to the fundraising and financing plans for the 2012 cycle.

The RLCC invested over $1 million in 2010 to capture both the Wisconsin House and Senate majorities; DLCC spent nearly $600,000 last cycle defending its majorities. Add this to the funds expended during the collective bargaining battle by both Groups. Other national 527 Groups will look to get involved, including national business organizations, unions, the national party organizations and activists such as MoveOn.org, increasing the cost of the campaign. The get out to vote efforts will be more critical (and costly) than ever, given the July election timeframe. The bottom line is that competing in these mid-cycle recall elections will cost a fortune.

What is predictable is that the money spent in this off-year campaign in Wisconsin will almost certainly require additional, national fundraising efforts by RLCC and DLCC to prepare for the equally critical general elections this November and in 2012. What is unpredictable is whether this costly political effort will have a chilling effect on other state legislative and gubernatorial efforts to tame state budgets by restructuring public union bargaining, addressing sky rocketing healthcare costs or reining-in taxes.

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