Organized boycotts of companies that supported Governor Scott Walker's election are unquestionably giving some businesses around the state a bad case of heartburn. So bad that Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce was moved to condemn the actions, and the state car dealers' association sent their members a script on how to respond to angry customers.
Boycott websites like this one and Facebook pages including one with nearly 23,000 followers as of today are directing people to our website to see who donated to Walker. Traffic to wisdc.org has spiked dramatically with nearly 9 million hits to the site in just the last six weeks. In 2009 we had 3.2 million hits the whole year, which was by far the most we'd ever seen in a odd-numbered year.
Businesses that have become targets of boycotts are singing from a common hymnal in defending themselves. Their stock answer is to say individuals employed by their companies may have donated to Walker, but the companies themselves didn't. In most cases, that statement is true, as far as it goes. But it's what Woodward and Bernstein used to call a non-denial denial.
A business claiming it has not directly contributed to a candidate in Wisconsin out of its corporate coffers is not saying much. It has been illegal for corporations to give directly to candidates for over 100 years, and it remains illegal today. But companies can and some do establish political action committees (PACs) for the purpose of making campaign donations. Like KochPAC and M&I Political Awareness Fund.
Then there are the individual donations. Business leaders base their response to boycotts on a claim that company employees make their own decisions about campaign contributions and are free to support whoever they please. But if you look at the timing of individual donations by employees of a particular company – like, say, Kwik Trip – it's amazing how often you see a bunch of contributions all come in at the same time. If these employees are all making their own decisions, then how is it that they so frequently write checks to the same candidate on the same day? The unmistakable pattern that emerges when you follow the money makes it obvious that top executives and managers are doing the bidding of their companies.
Finally, there's one more pertinent piece of information some businesses aren't volunteering when they say they shouldn't be boycotted because they didn't financially back Scott Walker. Namely the sizeable donations they made to non-candidate committees and front groups that used the money to sponsor advertising supporting Walker. Koch Industries made $43,000 worth of donations directly to Walker's campaign through its PAC. But the company also gave $1 million to the national Republican Governors Association, which spent $5 million on advertising to help elect Walker. Kwik Trip chipped in $25,000 to the RGA. Top execs at Menard's gave a lot directly to candidates, but the company also sent the RGA $25,000.