Kim Simac, a Wisconsin tea party leader, took aim at state Sen. Jim Holperin after the Conover Democrat fled to Illinois in February 2011.
Like 13 other Democratic senators, Holperin, who represents a North Woods district where Simac lives, spent three weeks in Illinois. The move delayed a vote on Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget-repair bill, which curtails the collective bargaining power of most state and local government employees, although the bill eventually became law.
Court challenges have kept the collective bargaining changes from taking effect. But the law, and the Democrats’ reaction to it, spurred a recall movement of historic proportions. Campaigns were launched against all 16 state senators -- eight Democrats and eight Republicans -- who were eligible to be recalled.
Simac, vice-chairwoman of the Vilas County Republican Party and founder of Christian values group called Northwoods Patriots, headed the signature-collecting campaign to recall Holperin, a first-term senator who previously served 10 years in the state Assembly.
On April 21, 2011, Simac submitted some 23,000 signatures to the Government Accountability Board, which has not completed its review. She has announced plans to run against Holperin if a recall election is set.
Eight days after the petitions were filed, Simac issued a news release that claimed petition signers, "are being subjected to harassing phone calls from out-of-state telemarketers claiming to represent the Democratic Party and insinuating foul play by petition circulators."
Let’s see if that’s what happened.
When we asked Simac for evidence to back her claim, she asked people who received the calls to contact PolitiFact Wisconsin directly.
We received calls from 17 people and e-mails from more than 30 others. We interviewed 10 of the people who called. Here’s what we found:
- The calls began days after the Holperin recall committee filed its petitions in Madison on April 21, 2011. Some people said they received one call, while others said they received two or more.
- Many of the people, including five we interviewed, said the callers identified themselves as representing the Wisconsin Democratic Party.
- Some of the people said the callers identified themselves as being from Minnesota. And one caller, when pressed by a woman he called, said he was being paid by Meyer Teleservices, a telemarketing company in St. Cloud, Minn.
- Nearly everyone who contacted us said they were asked if they understood what they had signed. "It was questions as though, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ It was very irritating," said Robert Means of Eagle River. Others said the callers were polite and they didn’t feel harassed.
- Some people said the callers told them that some people had been misled about what they were signing. "They stated the signers were lied to on what the petitions were for," said Jeff Kirschmann of Eagle River, one of five people we interviewed who signed petitions and also circulated them. "It really irritates me that they called us liars."
Those statements back the claim made by Simac.
What did Holperin and the Democrats have to say about it?
Holperin said he authorized the Wisconsin Democratic Party to call about 5,000 of the people who signed recall petitions against him.
Graeme Zielinski, spokesman for the party, said the Minnesota telemarketing firm was hired to call people who signed petitions against Holperin and against two other Democrats who are facing possible recall elections.
Holperin said he authorized the calls because, although petition circulators who worked under Simac were "earnest, honest and friendly," more than a third of the 23,000 signatures were collected by Kennedy Enterprises, a Colorado marketing and consulting firm hired by the Wisconsin Republican Party. Those petition circulators were often aggressive and misleading when they asked residents to sign petitions, Holperin said.
According to Holperin, 534 petition signers -- about 10 percent of those who were called by the Minnesota telemarketing firm -- said they were given misleading information and that they asked to have their names removed from the petitions. He said that was the basis for a complaint he filed with the Government Accountability Board challenging the petitions.
Holperin provided a script that he said the firm used in asking questions of people who signed recall petitions against him. The script shows that, among other things, callers were to: identify themselves as representing the Wisconsin Democratic Party; ask people whether they were aware their signatures appeared on a Holperin recall petition; and state that reports had been received that "out-of-state paid circulators were misleading people about what they were being asked to sign."
"So, did we ‘insinuate’ that foul play had occurred?," Holperin said. "You bet we did, and we think we offered ample evidence that backs up our claim."
Let’s wrap up.
Simac said people who signed Holperin recall petitions received "harassing phone calls from out-of-state telemarketers claiming to represent the Democratic Party and insinuating foul play by petition circulators."
Some people who received calls said they felt harassed even if they received just one call because they didn’t expect to be questioned about signing a petition. The callers were employed by an out-of-state firm, they did identify themselves as representing the Wisconsin Democratic Party and did claim that petition circulators misled signers of the petitions.
We rate Simac’s claim as True.