Outside Money Pouring In To Wisconsin Recall Elections

The recall elections against Republican State Senators that were prompted by Governor Scott Walker’s public employee union legislation will start taking place next week, and the outside money is pouring in from both sides of the political aisle:

Months have passed since protests snared the Wisconsin state capital and a collective bargaining argument shut down the state government. But the anger has not died away, and legislators from both parties face recall elections.

It may sound like a local Wisconsin issue, but both sides say this is a major bellwether for 2012, and a staggering amount of money — about $30 million — is being spent by outside interest groups to influence the recall elections.

This month, voters will go to the polls to either keep or replace their state senators. On Tuesday, six incumbent Republicans are facing recall and the possibility that the chamber flips control from the Republicans to Democrats. The following week, two Democrats are also facing recall.


An unprecedented amount of money is being poured into the Badger State from outside groups on both sides of the aisle. Democrats want the win not just to overturn the measure, but to send a message to national Republicans and fire up their supporters going into the 2012 elections.

Neil Sroka, press secretary of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, says they have joined up with another liberal activist group, Democracy for America, to spend $2 million in the state — $1.5 million on television ads and $500,000 on grassroots work.

“It’s absolutely crucial. This was the start of the war on working families this year. These folks in Wisconsin are fighting back and they are going to fight back strong,” Sroka told ABC News. “They have a chance to take back the senate and send a resounding message not just to Republicans in Wisconsin, but Democrats across the country that if you take on Republicans and stand up and fight, you can win.”


The Tea Party Express is joining up with other like- minded groups to launch a bus tour Friday for the four days leading up to Tuesday’s election. They will hit nine cities, ending in a rally in Green Bay on Monday night. They launched television ads in the state on Thursday, according to Levi Russell, communications director for the Tea Party Express. Russell said it was about a $50,000 buy and says the tour stops will look like other Tea Party Express rallies they’ve held all over the country before voters go to the polls.

“The purpose is to celebrate the great things about Wisconsin and this country and change the tone of the debate and the intense anger, the personal attacks, and the fearmongering that’s been pounded into Wisconsin voters,” Russell said. “And remind them these state senators made the tough decisions to help get the economy back and make Wisconsin prosperous for everyone rather than the villains they have been made out to be for having stood with Governor Walker.”

In all likelihood, these elections will receive as much national attention as the April Supreme Court race between David Prosser and Joann Kloppenberg did, and I’ve got to wonder if that attention is really deserved. Do a handful of recall elections for the State Senate in Wisconsin really tell us much of anything about the state of national politics? Given that the turnout is likely to be significantly different from what it would be in a November election, I’m not even sure they tell us much about the state of Wisconsin politics.

Nonetheless, the pundits will point to these elections as evidence of some national trend just as they do when there’s a special election to fill a Congressional seat on some random Tuesday. And they’ll be just as wrong.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. PD Shaw says:

    In my state, Wisconsin’s collective bargaining law apparently terrified and paralyzed the teacher’s union, so that unprecedented reforms were passed (by Democrats) on things like teacher tenure and retention. So I would think the national unions have an interest in seeing punishment inflicted.

  2. SJ Reidhead says:

    There is something almost obscene the way outside interests are now attempting to manipulate individual states. We’re going to be seeing it here in NM over the pending Senate race. DeMint has already pounded his chest against Heather Wilson, who is the only Republican who can win. That doesn’t matter.

    I wish someone would get it into these people’s pea-brains to stay in their own states.

    The Pink Flamingo

  3. Anonne says:

    @SJ Reidhead:
    Outside money is what explains Sharron Angle, Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller, etc. The saying “all politics is local” has been taken to the extreme, but should we really be surprised? These are a bunch of extremists.