Sunday, April 1, 2012

Wisconsin Is Not For Sale

The unprecedented flow of millions of dollars into the war chest of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker threatens the future of Wisconsin democracy.

Most of Walker’s contributions for the upcoming recall are from out of state — and he is on track to raise more for his campaign than any gubernatorial candidate in Wisconsin history. Which raises the question: Will Walker sell out the state to the highest bidder, whether hedge fund managers in New York City, oil magnates in Texas, or right-wing think tanks?

Gov. Walker has raised “more than $12 million, more than any candidate for governor has ever collected for a race in Wisconsin,” according to the March 31 New York Times. What’s more, the report continued, “that only includes money raised through mid-January, when the last campaign financial reports had to be filed with the state.” It doesn’t, for instance, include the more than $200,000 Walker raised in early March at a single event in Palm Beach, Fla.

According to Mike McCabe of the election watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, about 61 percent of money contributed to Walker came from out of state during the reporting period ending in January. That was significantly higher than earlier reporting periods, and there is reason to believe the percentage will again increase when the next reporting period ends.

Among Walker’s supporters, as the New York Times described them:

• “Foster Friess ($100,000), the Wyoming man who has donated heavily to a ‘super PAC’ that has kept Rick Santorum’s presidential hopes afloat.”

• “Trevor Rees-Jones ($100,000), the Dallas president of Chief Oil and Gas and an established donor to Republican causes.”

• “Bob J. Perry ($500,000), a Texas homebuilder who helped finance the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads against John Kerry in 2004.”

“Walker also received $250,000 from David Humphreys of Tamko Building Products in Joplin, Mo., another $250,000 from Sarah Atkins of Tamko, and $250,000 from Stanley Herzog of Herzog Contracting, also of Missouri,” according to a January 25 article in the Wisconsin State Journal.

In recent months, Walker has held fundraisers in Palm Beach, Washington and Manhattan. On the day nearly one million signatures were submitted for the Walker recall, the governor was in Manhattan at an event sponsored by Maurice R. Greenberg, the former chief executive of the American International Group. AIG is infamously known as a poster boy for Wall Street greed, with its irresponsible lending practices helping set off the near-financial meltdown in 2008-09.

The fundraiser in Palm Beach had only 10 people in attendance but Walker walked away with over $200,000 — and even more in pledges. (Protesters met Walker as well – something that occurs almost anywhere he goes in the country.)

Walker was invited to Florida by the uber-conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation, according to Daniel Bice of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Bice noted that the Heritage Foundation is “a regular recipient of funds from the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, which gave the Washington, D.C., outfit $478,000 in 2008 and '09, the last years for which data is available. Walker's campaign chairman, Michael Grebe, is the president of the Bradley Foundation.” (Over the last two decades, the Bradley Foundation has also been the most single important source of financial support for the movement to funnel public dollars into private voucher schools.)

Walker’s fund-raising has been aided by a loophole in the state recall law, which allowed Walker (but not his opponents) to receive donations in excess of the usual $10,000 limit per individual, until the actual date of the recall was set — which basically meant mid-November, when the recall campaign started, until March 30, when Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board set the recall elections dates of May 8 for primaries and June 5 for the election.

The Walker recall was set off by his unprecedented attacks on the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively. But it quickly became apparent that democracy and Wisconsin’s Progressive tradition were also at risk.

This March, a well-known conservative commentator was in Milwaukee and explained to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel why Walker is receiving conservative support from across the country. Answering the question why Wisconsin is “ground zero for the conservative movement,” commentator Michelle Malkin said, “Well, I think it was pushback to the excesses of progressivism. That’s wrapped up in your state history, and somebody has to pay for that.”

Wisconsin’s Progressive tradition involves a host of reforms that are a bedrock of this country’s social safety net for working people. As historian William Cronon noted in an opinion last year during the Madison protests, “Wisconsin was at the forefront of the progressive reform movement in the early 20th century, when the policies of Gov. Robert M. La Follette prompted a fellow Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, to call the state a ‘laboratory of democracy.’

Wisconsin pioneered many social reforms, from workers’ compensation to unemployment insurance to public employee bargaining. University of Wisconsin professors helped design Social Security. While a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson helped spark the environmental movement, and is most well known as a founder of the first Earth Day.
The only successful strategy for those who support democracy is match Walker’s money power with people power and win the recall election. It is only then that we will be able to say truthfully, that “Wisconsin is not for sale.”

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People in Milwaukee will have an opportunity to hear the Democratic gubernatorial candidates at a Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, April 5, at 6:30 p.m. at Serb Hall, 5101 W. Oklahoma Ave.

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