The Wisconsin Republican Party is encouraging protest candidates to run in recall elections to force a Democratic primary that would give their candidates more time to campaign.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported the plan for Republican spoilers to run as Democrats in primaries for seats held by Republican Sens. Randy Hopper of Fond du Lac and Luther Olsen of Ripon.
Nine senators — six Republicans and three Democrats — could face recall elections for their responses to Republican Gov. Scott Walker's bill to eliminate most collective bargaining for public workers. The polarizing bill sparked weeks of protests at the Capitol earlier this year, and Democratic senators fled to Illinois in an ultimately futile attempt to block a vote on it.
Stephan Thompson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, said in a statement Monday that Republican state senators face recalls for doing their jobs, unlike Democratic senators who he says deserted their constituents for Illinois.
Thompson said the Republican senators are busy crafting a state budget, which puts them at a disadvantage to challengers to have time to campaign.
"Because of this disadvantage, and the outrageous nature of elected officials facing recall for standing up for a balanced budget, the Republican Party of Wisconsin has advocated that protest candidates run in Democratic primaries to ensure that Republican legislators have ample time to communicate with voters throughout their districts after the state budget is approved," he said in the statement.
By doing this, Republicans would force the Democratic challengers to spend money on a primary instead of saving it for the general election. Spoiler candidates could also launch negative attacks on the Democrats while the Republican incumbents stay out of the fray.
Democratic Senate Leader Mark Miller called the effort a "partisan, coordinated attack on democracy."
"These dirty Nixonion tactics have no place in Wisconsin," he said in a statement Monday. "And we don't need to waste taxpayer money on phony elections to help these Republicans duck the voters and needlessly delay these elections."
The Journal Sentinel obtained letters sent by local Republican parties to "fellow conservatives" asking them to support fake Democratic candidates.
"We need to make sure Democrat challengers face primaries to allow our Republicans time to mount a campaign," Dan Feyen, chairman of the 6th Congressional District Republican Party, wrote in a letter Friday regarding Hopper's race.
In Olsen's district, Sauk County Republican Party Chairman Tim McCumber and Waupaca County Republican Party Chairman Fred Zaug also wrote a letter, encouraging conservatives to gather enough signatures to get Rol Church on the ballot as a Democrat.
"Please help maintain our Republican legislative majority today!" the pair wrote. "We can't stress enough how important it is to have Rol on the ballot to combat the shady maneuvers of Madison liberals and their out-of-state allies."
The letter asks supporters to collect 800 signatures by June 13.
"Please join us in supporting Rol Church's 'protest candidacy' on the Democratic ballot by signing the enclosed nomination paper and returning it to us right away!" the pair wrote.
Republican leaders in La Crosse were secretly recorded May 25 discussing getting a spoiler Democratic candidate in the recall election tentatively scheduled for Republican Sen. Dan Kapanke of La Crosse. During that discussion, La Crosse County Republican officials mention Mark Jefferson, the former head of the state GOP, and Kapanke's campaign manager.
Kapanke's campaign has denied any involvement in the matter. Jefferson, who stepped down to take a job with the national party last week, has not commented.
In an interview Sunday with the newspaper, Hopper said he had no involvement in the "protest candidates" effort.
"I have absolutely zero to do with it," he said.
Hopper said he hoped that neither he nor his likely opponent, Jessica King, has a primary race.
"Let me freakin' be done," Hopper said.
Feyen admitted he knew very little about the spoiler candidate he's backing, John Buckstaff.
Buckstaff did not return calls from the newspaper. A listed number could not be found for Buckstaff by The Associated Press.
State records show Buckstaff, who is retired, has a long history of giving modest amounts to Republican candidates, including Walker and Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. He even gave $575 to Hopper's campaign in 2008.
Hopper said he knows Buckstaff but wouldn't say whether he considers him a Republican or a Democrat.
Church, who is retired, made five small donations to Walker during the last gubernatorial campaign. He's also donated to Van Hollen and a handful of other Republicans.
Reached Sunday by the newspaper, he was coy about his party affiliation.
"Stay tuned," he said. "It will all be announced soon."
A message left Monday by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.