MADISON – Republican state lawmakers agreed Friday to reimburse two counties that went to President-elect Joe Biden nearly $2.5 million for their recount costs after blocking the payments for a month.
The move will allow Dane and Milwaukee counties, along with the state Elections Commission, to recover their costs for the recount President Donald Trump sought after narrowly losing the state. It will also allow Trump’s campaign to get a refund of more than $500,000 for expenses that weren’t incurred.
Under state law, Trump’s campaign had to pay $3 million before the recount could begin. But after the recount, Republicans on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee prevented the Elections Commission from reimbursing the counties because they wanted to review receipts.
Now that that’s happened, they announced Friday they were freeing up the money so the counties could be reimbursed.
They made the decision two days after pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol and Congress confirmed Biden’s win.
“Although the receipts from Dane and Milwaukee counties have raised concerns, we now have the information we need to approve their request,” said a statement from Rep. Mark Born of Beaver Dam, a co-chairman of the committee.
The other co-chairman of the committee, Sen. Howard Marklein of Spring Green, said lawmakers would consider changing how much election officials can bill campaigns for future recounts.
“We continue to have concerns about the high hourly rate paid to workers, expensive rental costs when we have county-owned buildings sitting empty and inflated operational expenses. We plan to consider options for the future. This committee will protect the state’s checkbook,” Marklein said in a statement.
That drew a rebuke from Dane County Clerk Scott McDonell, a Democrat, who noted the state wasn’t paying for anything.
“What ‘state checkbook’ are they talking about? The recount was funded by the Trump campaign. They can’t go five sentences without lying,” McDonell wrote in an email to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Recount workers in Dane County were paid $30 an hour, which McDonell said was necessary because of the risks of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The hourly rate was based on tabulators risking their lives to recount ballots for a president who has repeatedly lied to voters about the integrity of the election and fomented an insurrection against our republic,” McDonell said by email.
Dane County rented the Monona Terrace convention center and Milwaukee County rented the Wisconsin Center because officials said they needed large spaces to allow for adequate social distancing during the pandemic.
Milwaukee County Clerk George Christenson said he was glad the funding was being released but that there was “no legitimate basis for objecting to reimbursing us for the cost of the recount in the first place, as all of our expenses were reasonable and necessary.”
“I think it’s scary that Sen. Marklein sits on Joint Finance considering he doesn’t understand this wasn’t money coming from the state’s checkbook,” he said. “Maybe someone needs to take the checkbook away from the senator.”
Milwaukee County’s recount cost about $1.72 million and Dane County’s about $730,000. The Elections Commission spent about $6,000 to help with the recounts.
Trump’s campaign will be refunded nearly $550,000 of the $3 million it paid in advance.
Alison Dirr of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this report.
Contact Patrick Marley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @patrickdmarley.