Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Corporate Lawyer Spins 'Em Dizzy

I about fell out of my chair this morning while reading a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about a report issued by the state Government Accountability Board on outside interest group spending in this year's state elections.

A corporate attorney in Madison who is richly compensated for representing the most powerful lobbying groups in Wisconsin, not to mention running interference for some of the shadiest electioneering groups operating in the state, gave the newspaper's reporter this take on the GAB report:

Mike Wittenwyler, an attorney who works with independent political groups, noted that of the $9.9 million in disclosed spending, about $2.5 million was from corporations in the new category created by the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United. That shows corporations didn't hijack the political process as some critics of the ruling had predicted, he said.

"The sky didn't fall," Wittenwyler said. "Corporations did not do what everyone was predicting."

Saying that corporations spent only $2.5 million twists the truth beyond recognition. It is a lie of omission, but a lie nonetheless.

The $2.5 million figure Wittenwyler cited was spending by so-called "1.91 Corporations." This is a new category of reporting triggered by a rule (GAB 1.91) approved by the Government Accountability Board earlier this year. But that's hardly the only kind of election spending that was funded by corporations. There was another $1.95 million spent by what GAB labeled "Corporation PACs." And of the $3.8 million that fell into the category the GAB called "Other Committee Types," much of that spending was done by the corporate-funded Republican Governors Association through its RGA Wisconsin 2010 PAC.

Then there is the unreported spending. For example, conspicuously absent from the list of reported spenders is Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, whose election spending in 2010 reached seven figures but was not reported to the GAB.

While all of WMC's spending was of the undisclosed variety, RGA was one of several groups that did both reported and unreported spending. Others in that category include the liberal group Greater Wisconsin and the conservative American Federation for Children, which is undoubtedly corporate funded. Groups that also did unreported spending and almost certainly did it with corporate money include Jobs First Coalition, the National Association of Manufacturers' American Justice Partnership and Club for Growth Wisconsin.

The Democracy Campaign has accounted for at least $5 million in additional outside group spending in the 2010 state elections that went unreported. We are not done digging for evidence of such activity and are still tallying what we've found so far.

I don't know about the sky falling, but contrary to some very disingenuous spin, corporations did behave precisely as expected and took full advantage of the Citizens United ruling.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing the hard work of documenting the truth concerning the effects of Citizens United on our democracy.

Anonymous said...

Yeah. McCabe and his group have been so effective. Have they ever accomplished anything? Considering your track record of failure Mike, falling off of your chair might be an accomplishment. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

The only one guilty of "some very disingenuous spin" here is McCabe. The attorney quoted was addressing only that corporate money which was new to this election cycle -- that which was enabled by Citizens United. McCabe cites money which has nothing whatsoever to do with C.U., trying to bolster his case that C.U. is the end of the world. Nice try, Mike, but way too obvious.

Mike McCabe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike McCabe said...

What attorney Wittenwyler pointed to was one place where new spending could be found, but not even close to the only place. Because Citizens United overturned century-old laws prohibiting the use of general treasuries to fund election campaigning, there has been an explosion of activity in setting up political committees, tax-exempt corporations and other kinds of groups to do election spending. Some are organized under section 501c4 of the Internal Revenue code, others under 501c6, some are still organized under section 527. Some are PACs, others are not. Some fit in the category that Wittenwyler pointed to, others fit under one of the other categories. And a number of the groups that were new to Wisconsin in 2010 don't fit under any of the categories of reported spending because they operate in ways allowing them to avoid any kind of disclosure. WMC was not alone in keeping all of its spending a secret. New groups like Jobs First Coalition and American Federation for Children surfaced for this election. In Jobs First's case, none of the spending was disclosed and only some of AFC's spending was reported.

clyde winter said...

Thank you, Mr. McCabe, for your persistent, precise, challenging work to inform the people, defend true democracy, and gain government that is of, by, and for the people, rather than government that is by and for the corporations and the super-rich.