$10 million, a staff of 100, and hired signature gatherers needed
Forget grassroots volunteers; it's all about the money. One of Michigan's leading political consultants told Capitol Confidential this week that with enough money in hand, he could get the 800,000-plus signatures needed to force a recall election of Gov. Rick Snyder.
“I've been quoted correctly saying you'd need $10 million to do it,” said Mark Grebner, president of East Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting. “I could get Snyder's name on the ballot if I had that amount to work with. I wouldn't need the $10 million because my fee was high. I'd need it because that's what it would take — realistically.”
Grebner's primary occupation is compiling political lists, which he sells to political groups, such as the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, various campaigns and so on. Because he has the lists that tell where like-minded voters are located and because he has the experience, Grebner is one of Michigan's top, perhaps the top, go-to guy when it comes to recalls.
It's generally believed that Grebner and his company were paid by the Michigan Education Association to at least help — possibly even coordinate — the campaign to recall House Education Committee Chair Paul Scott, R-Grand Blanc. Scott is the only legislator who is facing a possible recall election on Nov. 8. About 2,500 more signatures than required were turned in to force the recall election. If enough of the signatures were valid and if the process stands up to court challenges, the election will take place.
Scott's 51st House district was a logical target for a recall. It has an approximately 50-50 Democrat-Republican base, and plenty of union presence locally and in nearby districts. The campaign to recall Scott is called Citizens Against Government Overreach.
Initially it claimed to be a grassroots-based campaign.
Currently the signatures are being sorted and put into a database. But some of the circulators' names are available. They include: Mary E. Aldecoa of Fowlerville, in Livingston County; Deborah L. Lotan of White Lake, in Oakland County; Chinita Terry of Detroit, in Wayne County; Cynthis J Provo of Lansing, in Ingham County; and Capalene Howse of Edmore, in Montcalm County.
At the moment, verifying CAGO's expenditures is impossible. It was supposed to have filed its finance report with the Michigan Secretary of State on July 25, but didn't do so. The Secretary of State has been cutting CAGO some slack over the late filing because state regulation language was apparently confusing.
“We're getting a letter ready to send them today,” Fred Woodhams, spokesman for State Bureau of Elections Director Chris Thomas said Tuesday.
Capitol Confidential asked when CAGO's financial records would be made available to the public.
“I would say by the end of next week,” Woodhams said.
Grebner would neither deny nor verify that he'd been hired by the MEA to do the Scott recall. However, he said he was willing to discuss what he believes it takes to do any successful recall.
“You need to have paid petition circulators,” Grebner said. “People talk about an all-volunteer recall effort, but you can't do it that way. If you were talking about having to gather 1 percent or 5 percent, it might be possible, but each step you move up percentage-wise, the less likely it becomes. You won't be able to do it by just having people stand in front of the farmers market or at the line at the local football game. It just doesn't work with volunteers — especially if you're trying to recall someone who isn't tremendously unpopular with the average person.”
The 9,604 valid signatures of registered voters in the 51st House district required to force a recall election for Scott represent 25 percent of the number of voters in the district who voted in the 2010 governor’s election.
“If you just have volunteers out at public events, the pool you're looking at is only going to be maybe 10 percent to 20 percent of the potential petition signers,” Grebner said. “So you can be in front of a lot of the same people repeatedly and work that group over pretty intensely. Pretty soon you start getting duplicative. It's like trying to feed a population by fishing the same pool of water over and over again. It doesn't take long for you to exhaust the pool.”
Grebner compared a successful versus an unsuccessful technique for gathering recall signatures to the difference between hunting and growing crops.
'You can't feed a set population by fishing the same pool and you can't do it hunting deer, because soon you'll run out of fish and deer,” Grebner said. “You have to sort of turn to agriculture. You have to cover a lot of geography. Where did Japan grow rice in World War II? The answer is that they grew it everywhere they could. That's the way to get signatures. You really have to go everywhere and even go back and do it over again. It takes persistence. The only way to get it done is to go door to door and keep records.”
“It takes organization,” Grebner continued. “You really can't fire a volunteer. And you need to be able to fire the people who don't do what they're supposed to do or can't follow instructions. They have to be working for you and they have to do what they're told. We don't pay for signatures that won't be counted. We just won't do that.”
Grebner said if he had $10 million and was in charge of a Snyder recall, he'd want an office staff of about 100 people.
“To get enough signatures to recall Snyder, you’d need an army of signature gatherers and a well-organized central office,” Grebner said. “I'd probably need to have about 100 people on my office staff. We'd need office security, including rent-a-cops. To be successful, we'd have to pass through areas a second time and a third time. I'd bet we'd have to completely canvass places like Kentwood and Birmingham for two or three passes to get what we needed.
Grebner said he gets a lot of credit for his political successes — which include killing the first attempted recall of former House Speaker Andy Dillon in 2008 — but it's really the people who work for him who deserve the praise.
“All I really do is sit back and orchestrate,” Grebner said.