Wednesday, September 28, 2011

How Did Political Class Get So Clueless?

I'm looking through today's print edition of The Capital Times and I come to page 22. Something called the "WisPolitics Stock Report." A telling title, implying that political ideas and public policies are nothing but commodities traded in some marketplace.

One of the things whose stock is said to be rising is the cost of recall elections. Cute.

The article says this: "Insiders agree on one thing – there was a ton of money spent on this year's recall elections. Exactly how much is another question. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign pegs overall spending at $43.9 million among the candidates, political committees and special interests. Some argue the numbers are inflated, particulary the $9 million estimate for spending by the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth; conservatives don't trust the WDC numbers considering executive director Mike McCabe's advocacy at events like Fighting Bob Fest."

Where to start.

Let's begin with the numbers. As the recall campaigns were being waged, Republican spin doctors were repeatedly telling news reporters that their side was being grossly outspent. One Capitol reporter told me the claim was a 12 to 1 spending advantage for the Democrats. Another reporter said he was told it was 15 to 1. Some loose talk in Internet chat rooms put it as high as 20 to 1.

After the elections were over, conservative bloggers and the right-wing echo chambers seemed to settle on 2 to 1.

A gathering of the facts exposed all such claims to be untrue.

Here's what we know. Looking at the campaign finance reports filed by groups that disclosed their recall election spending shows that most of the money – fully 55 percent – was spent on television advertising. Among those groups that disclosed their expenses, the leading spender was the labor coalition We Are Wisconsin which reported $10.7 million worth of campaigning for Democratic candidates.

As for the groups that kept their spending a secret, the one that spent the most clearly was Wisconsin Club for Growth. According to TV ad invoices shared with us by stations across the state and in the Twin Cities market, Club for Growth outspent We Are Wisconsin on TV ads by more than 18 percent.

So why did we estimate Club for Growth's spending at $9 million when this outfit spent considerably more on the single biggest campaign expense than another group that reported spending nearly $11 million? The answer is that we could only put a price tag on known activity. We Are Wisconsin reported spending substantial sums of money on things like direct mail, online advertising and automated telephone messages commonly called "robocalls." These kinds of expenses are next to impossible to track for the groups that don't disclose their spending. Club for Growth probably spent considerable amounts of money on such forms of campaigning, but we couldn't account for much of any of it.

The known facts don't suggest our numbers are inflated. If anything, our estimate of Club for Growth's spending is likely too low. But there is one way to know for sure. Publicly disclose all the spending. Have every group that spent money to influence these recall elections open their books. Show the people of Wisconsin the money or shut the hell up.

Club for Growth and its allies aren't happy that their bogus claim about being hopelessly outgunned by Democratic groups in the recall elections was exposed as a hoax. But they either can't or won't provide evidence disproving our findings. So if they can't find a hole in the message, they go after the messenger. Oldest trick in the political book.

Here's where the political class puts its utter cluelessness on display. To them, the mere fact that someone gives a speech at an event like Fighting Bob Fest is proof that this someone must favor Democrats over Republicans, never minding that the event's namesake Fighting Bob La Follette was a Republican.

They pore over every word of said speech and grow apoplectic and start yelling "SEE! SEE! He hates Republicans!"

Well, I do hate Republicans. At least what passes for a Republican these days. I once worked for three Republicans in the Assembly. After that, I worked for that known liberal group the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. I hate what the party of Lincoln has become.

But what they can't comprehend is that I hate the Democrats too. This is the insiders' blind spot. Everyone in the political class thinks that if you hate them, you must love their opponent.

They don't understand normal people. I have something in common with the vast majority of Americans. I am politically homeless. I hate both parties with a passion. Neither is worth a damn at the moment.

Partisans can't fathom that. Which means they really can't fathom what most Americans are feeling.

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