MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Democrats are polling to test a potential run against Gov. Scott Walker next year by Mary Burke, a former state Commerce Department secretary and daughter of Trek Bicycle's founder.
The poll was made public Tuesday after the state Republican Party filed a complaint with election regulators saying Democrats broke the law by not properly disclosing who was paying for it.
No Democrat has announced plans to challenge Walker in 2014. And while Burke's name has been mentioned by some Democrats as a potential candidate, the Harvard-educated former business executive has not publicly said whether she's interested. She did not return telephone messages seeking comment Monday or Tuesday.
Walker is seeking re-election after winning the governor's office in 2010 and surviving a recall last year, both times against Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker is also frequently mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, but he has said he's focused on winning re-election as governor.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate would not comment directly on a potential Burke candidacy.
"With Scott Walker looking incredibly weak heading into 2014, Democrats are conducting a number of research surveys looking at the strengths of several potential strong challengers to the governor," Tate said in a statement.
Other Democrats mentioned as potential Walker challengers include Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, state Rep. Cory Mason, Dane County Executive Joe Parisi, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson, and Madison business executive Kevin Conroy.
Online records show that on June 12, the day before the telephone poll was placed, six Internet domain names that point toward a Burke candidacy were registered anonymously. They are: Burkeforwisconsin.org, Burkeforwisconsin.com, Maryburke.org, Burkeforgovernor.com, and Burkeforgovernor.org.
Burke was elected to the Madison school district board in 2012 but has never run for statewide office. Republicans said the fact that the telephone poll is asking questions about Burke, who spent $128,631 of her own money in the school district race, shows that she's serious about running.
"As Democrats desperately work to defeat Scott Walker, they have recruited an out-of-touch Madison activist to wage an attack against the reforms that have put Wisconsin back on solid financial ground," said Joe Fadness, executive director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin.
Burke, 54, is the daughter of Richard Burke, who founded Trek Bicycle in 1976 in Waterloo. She worked for the company in a variety of capacities, including as its director of European operations, helping to start and oversee companies in seven countries.
Burke left Trek in 2005, when then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, tapped her to serve as Commerce Department secretary. She held the post for two years.
Burke also served as president of the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County for nine years, and along with the Burke Foundation, she has donated about $2.6 million to the district's AVID/TOPS program. She also donated $2.5 million in 2011 to help start a Madison charter school, which the school board ultimately decided not to open.
Burke is a graduate of Georgetown University and received a master's in business administration from Harvard.
The complaint, filed by Fadness with the state Government Accountability Board, alleges that Patrick Hogan, who was political director for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in Wisconsin, received a call from a pollster on June 13. During the call, the complaint said that Hogan was asked about Burke, Walker and other politicians including Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.
The complaint said Hogan was specifically asked about his opinion of Burke and whether certain facts could influence his vote. That included the fact the Burke spent six figures running for a school board seat, which could equate to her spending millions of her own money on a run for governor. The poll also asked about Trek and its outsourcing jobs overseas, the complaint said. The poll also asked for impressions about a sabbatical Burke took to go snowboarding.
The complaint said Hogan asked who had paid for the poll but the person calling refused to disclose it, in violation of the law.
The law requires anyone conducting a poll to disclose who is paying for it when asked.
"We are fully confident any research firms used are aware of and in full compliance with Wisconsin law," Tate said.