In The News
Political Notes: Money exceeds ideas in recall campaigns
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
Posted Aug. 3, 2011
Can you have too much money to spend in a political campaign? For candidates the simple answer might be no, but for an exhausted public in the eight recall races (six on Aug. 9, two a week later), the answer is, “Yes! Oh, God, yes! And please Stop!”
The media is spending a lot of energy measuring the money being spent on TV and radio (while the same companies owning these outlets are gleefully counting up the profits), but at best the few careful journalists among them can provide only incomplete numbers, guessing at the anonymous fortunes (probably $18 million) from right-wing third-party networks, which don’t reveal their funding. So journalists are stuck counting and recounting past ad buys at many local station not cable and other outlets.
Nor can anyone accurately measure the generally unclicked but inescapable ads on the Internet (where any pretense of accuracy or decency tends to evaporate) nor the constant robocalls, personal calls and phone surveys inundating all these districts.
The best estimate is that the GOP side is outspending its opposition 2 to 1. Most of the opposition, such as the hard-punching progressive and union coalition We Are Wisconsin, reveals its sources and amounts, which is still a remarkable $9.7 million in all the recall races. The right-wing Club for Growth, the Koch tea party machine Americans for Prosperity and the always shadowy American Federation for Children refused to reveal their money sources or amounts – allowing them to keep spinning the accusations and spending the secretive money.
What the media generally neglects are the acres of forests being pulped to keep the mailboxes overflowing.
But with so much mailer money on hand, the GOP is out of inventive gas. It’s understandable that TV ads endlessly repeat images and phrases – you could argue that they cost too much to change too frequently. But with cheaper mail, the supporters of the Republican incumbents are just exhausted of brain power. With oodles to spend on multiple mailings, they’ve flat run out of things to say. They keep reaching back to a previous Democrat era, federal stimulus money or other policies the current targets had little to do with – anything to avoid addressing the actual issues in the race, which is how voting for this budget and to take away public worker bargaining rights will spread pain to all citizens except the very rich.
So they just keep putting new wrappers on old material, flailing to find a point. In District 8, Darling has collected an astounding $1.1 million in campaign cash, more than double what Rep. Sandy Pasch and her supporters can muster in opposition, and that produces some bizarre mailers, now running five to one for Darling, as residents emptying their mailboxes can testify. Most aren’t worth the time of even political junkies.
It’s not just the local hired guns. The national American Federation for Children, which hires big ad companies out East, constantly recycles the same questionable research exposed in a previous column. It blames Pasch for anything Doyle ever did and for a pay raise a month after she took office that most Republicans also took.
But even more desperate is Darling’s own campaign team – and no wonder. It has to do handstands to figure out how to spend $1.1 million in a mere senate district race. And at the mailbox the effort is becoming laughable.
Running out of things to say, the Friends of Alberta Darling, as the group of hired hands is known, thought that the high sales of iPhones and iPads at suburban malls might justify an entire mailer playing on the idea that Pasch is iBad and that stimulus spending is iOink. In the process the Darlings simply revealed their own technological iNeptitude and political iNsanity.
At least it was a step up from the group’s mailer distorting Pasch with a Pinocchio nose (while also employing 20-year-old photos of Darling to make the senior citizen look younger) or an even more ridiculous "caravan Pork" mailer that pretends that Pasch trolled the state spending money on the Opera House in Oshkosh, or the Wisconsin Rapids Armory or a sports scoreboard – all items that came out of money she had nothing to do with (and for community advancements that a mystified District 8 citizenry didn’t think was evil).
At least the mailers on the other side are thankfully fewer and more direct in strategy. The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO simply outlines why Darling is “Dangerous for Wisconsin” and pushes a vote for Pasch. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin takes aim at “Scott Walker’s Tea Party Agenda” and simply provides absentee ballot information – but with the right Aug. 9 dates. (In contrast to Americans for Prosperity claims it was inadvertent when it mailed absentee ballot information to Democrat-leaning voters in some districts giving them a date two days later than the actual election.)
And while Doyle may not be running in the recall contests, Walker is or will be, judging from the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund – its mailer sets the stage to recall him as soon as the voters legally can, urging them to “Send Walker a Message” by changing the senate.
The Sierra Club just flat goes after Darling -- not mentioning Pasch at all as they chronicle how Darling’s leadership is weakening Wisconsin air quality standards and allowing corporations to release more toxins and pollutants without fear of court action because of budget changes. As Darling tries to play the “I care for children” card despite the devastating cuts in education, Sierra Club calls her out for a direct attack on “the health of children and families," by raising the risks of asthmas, mercury poisoning, birth defects and other serious disorders for everyday citizens. This is a mailer that makes a change from caricatures and distortion. And at least it provides a photo of Darling as she really looks today.
Steitz steps on seniors in District 22
Political reality last winter deflected new Gov. Walker from one cruelty and financial stupidity he was about to land on seniors through the state budget. His original bill, vetted by joint finance co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (now facing recall) and Rep. Robin Vos (clearly the ALEC henchman in Wisconsin), would have strangled SeniorCare, the popular and cost-saving state prescription drug alternative to Medicare Part D, It was once embraced by leaders of both parties.
Some 14,000 petitions from citizens along with angry editorials across the state forced Walker and Darling to back off (hence her current claim to have “saved” a program she was once willing to chop) though both refused to endorse legislation that would have expanded its life and savings.
The irony of this history? One of Walker’s chosen candidates, the conservative Chicago lawyer who is seeking to oust Democrat incumbent Robert Wirch in that Aug. 16 recall election in District 22, is now criticizing Walker for not going far enough.
Coming from Illinois, Jonathan Steitz apparently doesn’t know how many voting seniors benefit from SeniorCare in this Kenosha region – or didn’t think they were listening when he bluntly said at a campaign event, “I would have advocated for a system that phases out SeniorCare.”
Added Steitz, “It’s one of the areas that I, uh, disagree with Scott Walker’s approach on,” raising the troublesome question of what even more extreme policies he wanted the governor to include.
His cavalier approach caused many senior groups to foam at the mouth. Recovering composure, Kelly Steele of We Are Wisconsin simply pointed out: “It appears because Jonathan Steitz spends his life in Illinois and overseas shilling for powerful corporate interests, he has no appreciation for the seniors in his district who rely upon SeniorCare and the live-saving access to healthcare it provides.”
Why Nusbaum decided Cowles had to go
She once ran as a Republican. She was the mayor of De Pere for seven years and the Brown County Executive for eight (nonpartisan office) – and she thought she was through with politics. So what brought Nancy Nusbaum back into the political spotlight? As an outspoken Democrat she now stands a better than even chance to oust Republican incumbent state senator Rob Cowles in the District 2 recall election on Aug. 9.
She’s candid in interviews about why she regained the political fire. It was seeing “changes to public-sector collective bargaining powers and deep cuts to public education and health care funding in the state's biennial budget.”
Her compulsion to restore balance by helping Democrats take back the senate -- to prevent Walker from continuing his free pass to extremism since his party now controls both houses and refuses to deal with opposing views – this week brought criticism from her opponent, Cowles, who must be feeling the heat. He told the Appleton Post-Crescent that Nusbaum had dared to inject national issues of policy and philosophy into a state senate race.
He’s crying foul because Nusbaum, aside from defending Social Security and Medicate, which are national programs, also says things on the stump he interprets as national issues more than local. You be the judge. Nusbaum says things like:
"I see (wealthy) people being very well served right now by a government, a governor that looks out for them and makes sure that if there's benefit to be had, they're getting it. I see the very basic things that allow people just to eke out a life being taken away at the same time I see the wealthiest wealthy people being benefited. It just is not fair.
"Everybody knows we've got problems and everyone knows we have to tighten the belt and we have to give up some things, but I don't want to see someone sitting at home, struggling to get by on Social Security giving up a lot so other people can just get richer. That's not right."
If Cowles thinks those are only national issues and that the budget he supports doesn’t add to the problem, it is definitely time for District 2 voters to replace him.