Prosecutors examine bribery claims in Wisconsin recall race

MILWAUKEE Thu Aug 4, 2011 6:59pm EDT

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MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Milwaukee prosecutors have launched two investigations into voter bribery accusations in Wisconsin involving a hotly contested upcoming recall election, officials said on Thursday.

Milwaukee County Assistant District Attorney Bruce Landgraf was probing if Wisconsin Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, broke the law when it gave gift and gas cards to volunteers who got voters to complete absentee ballot applications in the recall election of Republican state Senator Alberta Darling.

"It is unfortunate that the intense feelings of some individuals involved in the recall elections could result in casting aspersions on the legal activities of responsible organizations like Wisconsin Right to Life," Wisconsin Right to Life spokesperson Susan Armacost said in a statement.

Landgraf was also examining if Wisconsin Jobs Now broke state elections law when it held several block parties last week in low-income areas of Milwaukee that "celebrated the right to vote." Conservatives had complained about the events.

Darling, one of six Republican state senators facing recall on Tuesday, is being challenged by state Rep. Sandy Pasch, a Democrat. The election is expected to be one of the closest recall races due on Tuesday.

The election will help determine whether Republicans, who have a 19-14 majority, keep control of the Senate. Two Democrats face recalls on August 19. David Hansen, a Democrat from Green Bay, won reelection in a recall challenge on July 19.

During the Jobs Now events, people enjoyed games, free food and activities for children. Voters were also offered rides to polling locations where they could cast absentee ballots.

"There was no food for votes, that wasn't the exchange. We are fully confident that we operated in the bounds of the law," said Mike Lauer, executive director of Wisconsin Jobs Now.

"I really see this... as an attempt to suppress the vote in low income communities. There are powerful interests in this state that have engaged in voter suppression in the past, they are doing it now and they'll do it in the future."

The recalls stem from Republicans successfully passing legislation in March that prohibits collective bargaining for many public workers and requires them to pay more for benefits.

Darling's own campaign is being challenged by the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which has filed complaints with the state's Government Accountability Board alleging that the campaign engaged in "multiple felonies" as part of a "collusion and obstruction conspiracy."

The Democrats complained that the Darling campaign was refusing to release records showing correspondence with groups that are being investigated for campaign violations.

Stephan Thompson, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, called the complaints frivolous.

"Sandy Pasch desperately needs to distract attention away from her growing scandals, so DPW fired up its frivolous lawsuit machine," he said. "Their lawsuit is based clearly on timing and headlines, full of frivolous claims with no merit."

(Writing and reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Cynthia Johnston)

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