In The News
Walker hopes money deflects star power – and facts
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted May 31, 2012
“How many poor kids could be fed lunch for $30 million?” a Waukesha resident asked me upon hearing in the news how many “bucks for Scott Walker” were being thrown in by far-flung financiers in his recall defense.
The money machine is taking advantage of a quirk in the law that allows unlimited contributions to a Wisconsin official who had ticked off voters enough to face early removal –- something lawmakers had deliberately left room for, noted private citizen (and former US Senator) Russ Feingold, the Marquette University guest law professor (“I taught at the school but that doesn’t mean I like how their polls are interpreted,” he joked) campaigning May 31 for Mahlon Mitchell for lieutenant governor at Milwaukee’s Cathedral Square.
Feingold is hardly alone in the final-week push to support Tom Barrett as well as Mitchell, who roused the crowd with a feisty combative speech. Former US President Bill Clinton is organizing a campaign event in Milwaukee Friday, Obama may reference the Wisconsin issue in Minnesota remarks this weekend, my contacts said, and they were also swirling with rumors Thursday about other notables eager to help the Milwaukee mayor move to Madison by winning election June 5. All agree that turnout is the key, and the Republicans are flailing desperately to hold opposition votes down while trying to spice Walker’s side up, using money to deflate one and energize the other.
So celebrities are not making as much conversation in Wisconsin as the impact of cash. But the conversations may not be going the way the right wing hoped.
“How many teachers could be back in the classroom with that dough?” asked another citizen. “How many poor kids would that feed lunch?” interjected another. “Do they know what my mother has to pay for heart medication every month?” said an angry custodian hearing the figures.
The money in this race is clearly on everyone’s mind as well as constant on their TV screens. Right now the $30 million advantage is propping up the right-wing side of the debate. There are intellectual arguments to be made about the US Supreme Court decision that freed so much corporate and anonymous money for campaign spending even though President Obama famously warned and correctly predicted that Citizens United was opening a floodgate of disaster for democracy.
But the consequences have gone beyond most expectations – and have taken some bizarre turns. It is not just rich citizens who can, through third party vehicles and legal glitches like Wisconsin’s, use their money to speak their minds. It is the abuse of anonymity by a few who represent outrageous views. It is the ability of a handful of fairly reprehensible offshore operators, Ayn Rand extremists and heirs to others’ hard-earned fortunes who can hijack open debate with money, fostering myths, exaggerations and lies so frequently via advertising that opponents have little opportunity to be heard against the volume.
No one, not even Feingold who is now leading a national movement for campaign finance reform, anticipated just how a handful of the very rich, and sometimes the slimiest rich, as opposed to committed citizens willing to put money behind their views, could dominate elections.
The money has allowed Walker to build entire ad campaigns around stuff so trivial or commonplace that it is not normally part of a statewide election – such as secondary crime statistics in Milwaukee that even the reporters who wrote about them concede have no benchmarks to know whether they are better or worse than the past or are just the result of 6% human error. Even the conservative cops who support Walker are furious when he suggests they were invented to make Barrett look better.
“Of course Scott thinks that,” sneered one outraged police detective. “It’s the sort of thing he would do with data.” (This from a supporter!)
(For an objective inside view of what this crime discussion ought to be about, check journalist Erik Gunn’s report including a video sitdown between JS reporters and police leaders after the article was written but before it was published -- strange timing.)
Even the sudden “better” job numbers Walker’s campaign “discovered” and promoted in a TV ad blitz the last two weeks – numbers that move the state up from being the hind dregs of the nation to just being the rump of the Midwest – have no benchmarks to other states in time for the voters to truly know. They would be laughed away as last minute desperation – except for all that ad money to promote them and lame media explanation.
The game is to allow Walker to say Barrett is unhappy that the state is doing better than last, which is beyond ridiculous. He would have made the argument about Walker’s administrative failures if the state was near bottom as it is with even the new numbers.
The real question it ought to raise is, “Who can believe Walker anymore?” Money has become the emperor’s clothes.
“He’s not wrong about saving money,” said one bank teller about Walker, “but he’s sure wrong about who should be punished to fix things.”
“I don’t want to lose my rights because I’m not consumed by getting richer,” said one veteran participating in the May 25 actions against Scott Walker’s legislative policies. He was deeply upset when he learned that the so-called “war on women” also turned out to be a war on minorities, the disabled – and veterans. Last March a veterans’ groups had pleaded with Walker to veto a bill that made it more difficult for women to fight pay discrimination because it wrapped veterans and others in its protection of corporate managers against pay discrimination lawsuits – and Walker ignored that plea.
“Who owns our legislature?” asked another worker. “I thought we elected them. I can’t tell from all the garbage whether we’re broke or they want us to think we’re broke to get their way.”
These fears about money and extremism are not leftist views. One recent column from the red side: “As a life-long center-right Republican, I’m mad as hell that my party has been hijacked by Corporate America’s cash and carry system of political bribery. All Republicans should be.”
A liberal author known his moderate tone, E. J. Dionne, noted in a recent column that trying to paint Barrett as the equivalent left extremist that Walker is on the right is making Walker a laughingstock, noting that Barrett – from a state with many conservative governors in its past -- represents “regular order, consensual politics, Wisconsin-style.”
“He has been a tough negotiator in Milwaukee, to the consternation of some of its public employees,” Dionne wrote. “Walker simply cannot cast his opponent as a captive of the movement. No wonder the Republican is closing his campaign with a demagogic ad on crime in Milwaukee. Walker knows he can’t win the last swing votes he needs on the basis of his record.”
But maybe with all that money, the conservatives who ought to be the most dismayed about the machinations of their guy just won’t notice. Or hear even a convincing celebrated chorus of opposition.