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Bill would outlaw paying for recall signatures

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NEIL W. JOHNSON
December 29, 2011
— A state lawmaker unveiled a bill Wednesday that he says would target "legal bribery" in the effort to recall Gov. Scott Walker.

Rep. Evan Wynn, R-Whitewater, has introduced a bill he said would eliminate a loophole in state law that allows recall petitioners to pay others in exchange for petition signatures.


The state's bribery statutes outlaw paying someone to vote or to sign nomination papers, but there's no state law on the books against paying someone to sign—or not to sign—a recall petition, Wynn said.


Wynn, who represents the 43rd Assembly District, said he learned of the issue recently after a constituent told him that someone collecting recall signatures door-to-door had paid the constituent's friend $10 to sign a petition.


Wynn has reached out to the state Government Accountability Board over the issue. He called the legal loophole "mind-boggling" and said it allows "legal bribery."


In a Dec. 22 letter to Wynn's legislative office, Government Accountability Board Director Kevin Kennedy confirmed there's nothing in state statutes that prohibits people from paying cash for recall petition signatures.


In the letter, Kennedy wrote that the GAB has no power to create rules governing recall petitions, and any changes in law would have to come out of the Legislature.


Kennedy wrote that the GAB would like some legislative reform to guard against people paying for others to sign or not to sign recall petitions, noting that such acts "would undermine public confidence in the electoral system."


The proposed bill would safeguard against acts of bribery by people who are both for and against any state recall effort.


The bill would outlaw the act of paying another person to sign—or not to sign—a recall petition by adding both to the state bribery law.


It would effectively make the act the same crime as bribing someone to vote: a felony with a $10,000 fine or up to 3 1/2 years in prison.


Wynn said he believes the loophole in statutes exists because recall elections are so infrequent.


"When they wrote the bribery statute, people honestly never thought about recalls. Up until this year, recalls weren't well discussed or that well known," Wynn said.


Wynn said he doesn't believe people paying for recall signatures is a widespread problem, but since looking into the issue he's learned of a few reported instances of people offering free pizza and gift cards in exchange for recall signatures.


Wynn also learned that prior to the recall election last summer, some people reportedly offered free alcohol in exchange for signatures to recall a Democratic state senator.


"It happens on both sides of the aisle," Wynn said.


Wynn called the proposed bill "common sense" and said he expects it to draw bipartisan support.


"Most of the people of Wisconsin, whether they're liberal or conservative, would agree that paying somebody off for a recall signature should be illegal," he said.



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