The Dane County Democratic Party hasn't endorsed candidates for Madison Common Council in races where two Democrats are running. So some candidates were upset to learn the Democratic Party of Wisconsin has been using its phone banks to do polling for non-endorsed candidates.
'There are active Democrats competing in a lot of these races,' says Vicky Selkowe, who is challenging Ald. Larry Palm on Madison's east side. 'To have what looks like our opponents being given an advantage ' that's pretty big.'
Jason Stephany, political director of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, says the party is merely a vendor, selling its phone service to any candidate who asks. 'This is not a new resource,' he says. 'Thousands of party activists have used it.'
But several candidates say they were never told about the service.
'Nobody's ever pointed it out to me,' says Ald. Robbie Webber, who is running against fellow Democrat Troy Thiel on the near west side. Thiel's campaign used the party's phone banks to do polling last week.
Stephany says a half-dozen council candidates have used the service, but says he 'can't disclose our client list without their consent.' (Candidates must disclose any expenditure on their next campaign finance reports, due in July.)
Selkowe has heard that Palm was offered a chance to use the service. Asked about this, Palm says, 'No comment.'
Mike Quieto, who volunteered to make calls, says he overheard party members working on polls for Thiel: 'I thought, 'That's odd, we didn't endorse him.''
Eli Judge, who is running against Lauren Woods on the UW campus, is also rumored to have made calls. Neither Judge nor Thiel responded to requests for comment.
Webber notes that the party apparently didn't offer the service to any female candidates. 'It's interesting that it's all men,' she says. Stephany calls this 'a little ridiculous. The party's commitment to diversity is clear.'
But an e-mail from Stephany to volunteers said polling was being conducted on behalf of 'targeted city council candidates.' Asked who the 'targeted' candidates were, Stephany demurs, 'That's just a euphemism. There's no picking involved.'
Webber also grouses that when the calls for Thiel were made, the caller ID read 'Democratic Party of Wisconsin,' making it look as though Thiel had the party's endorsement. 'This just stinks,' she says.
Stephany blames a technical glitch, saying 'I'm not sure how that occurred.' He adds that the problem was 'not widespread.'
Several Dane County Democrats are upset by the whole affair. Says Peter Rickman, a member of the Dane Dems' executive board, 'Where the local party has chosen not to endorse candidates, the state party should not get involved.'