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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pro-Walker Electioneering Group Gets $1 Million Contribution From Wisconsin Couple

A tax-exempt nonprofit group used by the Republican Governors Association to collect unlimited contributions to spend on elections received the largest single contribution ever from Wisconsin – $1 million from a Milwaukee-area couple.

The contribution to the association’s 527 group was made March 7 by Mike and Mary Sue Shannon. The group’s report filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service identifies Mike Shannon as a managing partner of KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in travel and leisure businesses, and Mary Sue as a homemaker.

Combined with a $500,000 contribution last March and another $25,000 in 2012, the Shannons join two other individuals, two union groups, a business and a trade organization from Wisconsin that have each made multiple contributions totaling more than $1 million to these unregulated fundraising and spending organizations since 2000.

The Republican Governors Association’s 527 group reported a total of $22.4 million in contributions from wealthy individuals, corporations and trade groups during the first three months of 2014, including $1.27 million from Wisconsin contributors. In addition to the Shannons, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce – another $1 million-plus donor to 527 groups – donated $256,250, followed by Bill Johnson Jr., a Hayward timber company owner, at $6,250, Johnson Controls in Milwaukee at $5,556 and Sheboygan businessman Terry Kohler, a longtime supporter of Republican candidates and conservatives causes, at $5,000.  Johnson Controls and Kohler have each made multiple contributions totaling more than $1 million to 527 groups.

Contributions to the Republican Governors Association paid for three television ads since February that attacked Republican Governor Scott Walker’s likely Democratic opponent, businesswoman Mary Burke. Before this year, the group had spent an estimated $16.4 million in Wisconsin on independent expenditures and phony issue ads in three elections for governor since 2006, and the bulk of it was spent in the 2010 general and 2012 recall elections to support Walker. The association ranks among the top groups in spending on outside electioneering activities in Wisconsin.

The Republican group’s counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association, reported $11.7 million in special interest contributions during the first quarter of 2014, including $14,112 from Wisconsin contributors. The Wisconsin cash came from Johnson Controls at $11,112 and eight individuals who gave a few hundred dollars each.

The Democratic Governors Association reported direct spending of only about $36,000 during the 2012 recall against Walker, but it contributed more than $4.3 million since 2006 to other Democratic groups to help pay for their electioneering activities.

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Time For New Beginnings

While I believe is time both for me personally and for the organization to transition to new leadership at the Democracy Campaign, I want no one to mistakenly conclude that I am retiring or stepping away from civic life and the fight for democracy. My movement building is going to take a new form after the end of this year, but I will most definitely be in the construction business.

The Democracy Campaign is an absolutely invaluable group that I love dearly. It is my fervent hope that you will continue to care about and support the incredibly important work of following the money in politics, speaking truth to power and working for reforms aimed at making people matter more than all that money.

After 15 years of doing this work as WDC's director, I have reached the conclusion that there is a threat to democracy even greater than scandalous campaign financing, voter suppression, voter apathy, consolidation of media ownership, partisan gerrymandering or any of the other cancers that are growing in the body of American democracy. The greatest threat of all is the sense of powerlessness and the feelings of resignation that afflict so many of us.

I am still sorting through how best to apply my experiences and my energies to promote citizen empowerment. But what I do know is that there is a void that needs filling. We need to somehow find a way to house the politically homeless, reform political parties that are failing us, and get common citizens back into the driver's seat of an actual democracy.

Twenty years ago, there was a void that needed filling. Money was starting to play a greater and greater role in Wisconsin's elections, but there was no practical way of tracking that money. To see who was giving to whom, you literally had to visit the old state Elections Board office and paw through thousands of pages of paper reports, looking for the proverbial needles in haystacks. A few of us wondered if we could put the power of this new thing called the Internet to use and build a database of political donations that anyone could see online free of charge. We started the Democracy Campaign from scratch to fill that void. We asked people to support and invest in this entrepreneurial enterprise. Today the Democracy Campaign is a fixture on the political scene in Wisconsin and an indispensable institution. I am certain someone more able than me can be found to lead WDC to even greater heights.

As for me, I am feeling that entrepreneurial itch again. There is a void that needs filling.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Seniors Show Dramatic Shift In Partisan Support

A recent Gallup poll that shows older Americans dramatically shifted their political support from Democrats to Republicans supports a trend the Democracy Campaign has seen involving campaign contributions by retirees. 

The Gallup poll showed Americans aged 65 and older moved from reliably Democratic supporters to Republicans supporters between 1992 and 2012.  The Gallup story cites race as a primary factor because older Americans are predominantly non-Hispanic whites while younger age groups of Americans are more racially diverse and tend to support Democrats.

Whatever the reason for the shift, Gallup's contention that yesterday's Democrats support today's Republicans jibes with a Democracy Campaign finding in 2011.  A review of campaign contributions from retirees to candidates for governor and the legislature from 1993 through 2010 showed parity between Republican and Democratic candidates early on, and then a sharp shift to Republican candidates since the 2006 election cycle.

An updated Democracy Campaign analysis of large campaign contributions - those who contributed $100 or more in a year - from retirees by decade found this:

Retirees contributed about $1.5 million to Republican candidates and $1.2 million to Democrats between 1993 and 2002.   But from 2003 to 2012 retiree contributions jumped to $10.4 million to Republicans compared to $4.5 million to Democratic candidates for statewide office and the legislature.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Eisenga Contributed To Pro-Walker Electioneering Group

A wealthy Wisconsin donor contributed $6,250 to an outside electioneering group that supports Republican Governor Scott Walker around the time the contributor contacted the governor and sought to change the state's child support laws in his favor.

The contributor, Michael Eisenga who is president of American Lending Solutions in Columbus, was among 19 donors who contributed a total of $1 million in 2013 to the Republican Governors Association's 527 group.  The RGA's state political action committee recently sponsored its third television ad slamming Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke in her bid to defeat Walker in the 2014 fall elections.

Eisenga's first-ever contribution to the group September 10 came in between two direct contributions totaling $9,500 to Walker last March and December.  In addition to the direct contributions to Walker, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Dan Bice recently reported Eisenga contacted the governor last fall about changing the law and sent Walker an article about an appeals court ruling on Eisenga's divorce and child support payments.

But legislation to do just that by GOP Representative Joel Kleefisch of Ocononomoc was pulled after media reports - here and here - detailed Eisenga's role in writing the bill.

Campaign finance records show Eisenga has contributed $43,625 since 2001 - all to Republican candidates for statewide and legislative offices, including $19,500 to Walker and $10,000 to Kleefisch and his wife, Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch.

It also was reported that Eisenga’s former wife claims political donations were made in her name without her knowledge or consent. If true, the contributions would be illegal.

Other media reports said Eisenga’s company was the largest violator of the state’s “no call” list, soliciting more than a million individuals on the list. Eisenga also managed to put his children on BadgerCare, the state health care program intended for low-income families, despite a net worth estimated at between $20 million and $30 million.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Hiding Political Adultery

Elected officials are supposed to be faithful to the people.

Instead, many if not most of them are cheating on us. They are carrying on an affair with wealthy political donors, special interest groups and the lobbyists who represent them. They shower gifts on these mistresses, all the while neglecting the wishes and needs of the people they vowed to serve.

Like conventional philanderers, political adulterers go to great lengths to cover up their infidelity. Here in Wisconsin, the majority leader in the state Senate is now proposing to cement in state law a loophole allowing special interests and lobbying groups to conceal from the public who supplies the money they use to influence elections. The Senate's second-in-command, the assistant majority leader, has been pushing another scheme to blind the public to the financial interests of nearly all political donors.

Meanwhile, they are doubling down on the hanky panky. Literally. The Assembly already voted on a bipartisan basis to approve legislation that would double Wisconsin's limits on political donations. Senators are hoping no one will notice as they continue to flirt with the idea of ratifying the Assembly's action and sending it along to the governor for his signature. The Senate majority leader also wants lobbyists to be able to hand out checks year-round.

Take one step outside the Capitol and you find people of every political stripe in agreement that there is too much money in politics. Go inside the Capitol, and there is a bipartisan consensus that there's not enough.

Most people may be unaware that in 2012 a grand total of 243 donors – including 149 from out of state – reached Wisconsin’s $10,000 annual limit on campaign contributions. That tiny group of donors whose ability to influence lawmakers would be doubled is equal to four one-thousandth of 1% of Wisconsin’s population. But most voters are instinctively aware that their elected representatives are sneaking around on them. They have a sixth sense for adultery.

For their part, the politicians know they are betraying our trust and obviously fear having their infidelity exposed. Otherwise they would not be trying so hard to keep their affairs a secret.

They are fooling themselves. Their illicit activity is an open secret. Voters can tell when they are being two-timed.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Chaos On Bulls**t Molehill

Governor Scott Walker insisted for the longest time that he had zero tolerance for government employees doing campaign work while on the job, before the court-ordered release of more than 27,000 emails proved that claim false. The governor also repeatedly said he had no idea there was a secret email system in his county executive's office, until the emails showed he was prevaricating about that too.

Just the other day Walker said there is no secret email system in the governor's office like the one he had in Milwaukee County. Veteran journalist Bruce Murphy quickly cast doubt on that claim. Murphy has a source who was a close observer of the governor’s staff in the Capitol and who attended numerous meetings with them. The source told Murphy there was a system that sure looked like it was designed to enable staff to do political work on government time and evade public disclosure of such campaigning by using personal laptops and gmail accounts.

Now the governor's just refusing to answer any more questions. All of this is old news, he says.

To the national pundits and talking heads in D.C., all of this is definitely news but none of it is apparently sexy enough. In a time when they've grown so used to encountering what Jon Stewart calls "Bullshit Mountain" on the other side of the Potomac, apparently they are having a hard time seeing this whole Walker affair as anything more than a Bullshit Molehill.

It's this kind of thing that prompted the late politician and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan to coin the phrase "defining deviancy down" to describe the tendency of societies to respond to destructive behaviors by lowering standards for what is permissible.

Not only are ethical standards in Wisconsin politics going the way of temperatures in the polar vortex, but now deviancy is in the eye of the beholder. Mountain or molehill, sexy or not, all those emails inspired the Beloit Daily News to observe "here’s how partisans view these things. If the guy on the other side does something like this, it’s a raging scandal and the rascal should be drummed out of office. But if the guy at the center of the mess is your guy, then your guy is a blameless victim of biased media and the evil opposition."

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Walker Accepted Bulk Of Individual Campaign Cash From Big Donors

Republican Governor Scott Walker accepted more than half of his $8.38 million in individual contributions in 2013 from well-heeled donors who gave $1,000 or more, a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign review found.

The Democracy Campaign reviewed Walker’s 2013 contributions after his campaign boasted that 75 percent of the contributions were from donors who gave $50 or less. The Walker campaign’s claim and countless others like it by candidates over the years is often made to argue a candidate has strong grassroots support from average voters. But those claims skirt the more important question about where candidates get most of their money – big donors or small donors.

Here’s what the numbers from Walker’s campaign finance reports for 2013 revealed:

 The governor received $4.3 million from contributions of $1,000 or more – that’s 51 percent of his $8.38 million in total individual campaign contributions. And many of those $1,000-plus contributions – about $2.4 million – came from contributors outside Wisconsin;

 The governor accepted $2.6 million in contributions of $5,000 or more. That’s 31 percent of Walker’s total individual contributions, and most of that money – about $1.7 million – came from outside Wisconsin.

All told, the governor’s total haul from outside Wisconsin was about $4.4 million, or 54 percent of his total individual contributions in 2013. Walker’s out-of-state fundraising dipped a bit from the margin during his 2012 recall election when roughly two-thirds of the $37 million he raised came from outside Wisconsin. The decline in out-of-state contributions was because state fundraising rules during his recall allowed Walker to accept unlimited contributions from individuals, rather than the normal $10,000 per person.

Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke received $866,931 in individual contributions of $1,000 or more – about 68 percent of her $1.27 million in total individual contributions excluding her $429,730 self-contribution. Burke accepted $578,850 in contributions of $5,000 or more – about 46 percent of her individual donations, minus her self-contribution.

Burke’s campaign finance report also showed she received the bulk of her donations in 2013 from Wisconsin contributors. About $1.09 million, or 86 percent of her individual contributions, came from Wisconsin contributors and $180,274 came from out-of-state donors. She received $124,000 in out-of-state individual contributions of $1,000 or more – about 10 percent of the $1.27 million in individual contributions, and $105,000 in contributions of $5,000 or more – about 8 percent of her individual donations.

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