Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Falk Heads Outside Wisconsin For Campaign Cash

Turns out Kathleen Falk, a Democrat who wants to face Republican Governor Scott Walker in a likely recall election, plans on hitting up special interests for campaign cash at a Chicago fundraiser Friday.

This, after Falk's campaign and other Democrats have criticized Walker for crisscrossing the country in recent months to raise millions of dollars from outside Wisconsin.

Falk campaign aide Scot Ross says his boss "is riding a couple of hours to meet with environmental friends and supporters" and this event doesn't compare to Walker's out-of-state fundraising.

Well, yes it does in a couple of ways.

First, Falk's Chicago event is just as much an out-of-state fundraiser as the appeals Walker has been aptly criticized for making outside Wisconsin.

And second, the event's invitation shows it is an effort to draw continued support from out-of-state labor interests that are already spending big money through an outside group to get Falk elected just as corporate interests outside Wisconsin are doling out millions to keep Walker in office.

Former Democratic Senator Russ Feingold says using massive amounts of out-of-state money in a Wisconsin election is a losing strategy in the public's eye. "By funneling out-of-state special interest money to support Kathleen Falk’s campaign, Wisconsin for Falk muddies what had been absolutely crystal clear waters in the recall effort. Up until now, the only beneficiary of ominous super PAC support was Governor Scott Walker. That can no longer be said, and because of that, Kathy Falk has been forced to cede what could have been a powerful strategic advantage, namely the complete rejection of support from dubious organizations that the American public overwhelmingly rejects."

Friday, March 16, 2012

Dems Go West For Recall Cash

The head of the state Democratic Party was in California Thursday raising money from wealthy special interests for Republican Governor Scott Walker's likely recall election.

At the Democratic “happy hour” event attendees met Wisconsin Dem Party chief Mike Tate and members of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party to talk about and contribute towards the recall.

The California fundraiser was a day after Walker was in Florida for a luncheon-fundraiser where he reportedly hauled in $200,000.

Tate criticized the governor in a January interview for raising millions of dollars outside Wisconsin to prepare for a likely recall.

California has been fertile fundraising territory for the Dems in recent years.

Former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle raised $176,002 from California contributors from 2002 through 2005 – second only to Illinois in out-of-state contributions to his campaign.

Overall, Democratic candidates for statewide office and the legislature accepted about $918,000 from well-heeled contributors in the Golden State – second only to Illinois – from 2001 through mid-2011.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Walker Draws $200K Over Lunch In Palm Beach

Republican Governor Scott Walker reportedly raised $200,000 over lunch Wednesday in Palm Beach, Florida where a mining baron who wanted to start a northern Wisconsin iron mine lives.

As the story goes, Walker stopped by a meeting of the Palm Beach Town Council to congratulate them for their stand to cut employee pensions and other benefits.

He later attended a luncheon fundraiser organized by Town Council President David Rosow, whom Walker contacted a few weeks ago, at a Palm Beach home. Walker has crisscrossed the country in recent months raising millions of dollars outside Wisconsin to pay for a likely recall election – probably in June.

One council member called Palm Beach “the ATM of American politics.”

What the story didn’t say was that Palm Beach is also the home of Chris Cline, head of the Cline Resources and Development Group. Until recently, Cline and his supporters had spent more than a year in Wisconsin lobbying to relax state mining regulations and shelling out campaign contributions to pave the way for an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin.

Efforts to start the mine appeared to fail last week when the state Senate failed to muster the necessary votes to pass an Assembly bill the company liked. The company – Gogebic Taconite – immediately issued a statement saying it was dumping the Wisconsin project.

But Walker told reporters Tuesday – a day before his Florida visit – that the company would return if the legislature approved the version of the bill Gogebic supported. It’s not known whether Walker met with or talked to Cline before, during or after the governor’s trip.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Will IRS Notice Angry Badgers With Smoking Guns?

Yesterday the Democracy Campaign asked the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether three groups should keep their tax-exempt status in light of frank admissions that they are working to keep Governor Scott Walker in office.

The three groups – Americans for Prosperity Foundation, the MacIver Institute for Public Policy and the Heartland Institute – enjoy tax-exempt, nonprofit status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Such status is meant for charitable and educational organizations and they have one purpose under the law – "promotion of social welfare." Federal law prohibits them from using any resources to participate or intervene in political campaigns. The rules also puts strict limits on the time and resources 501(c)(3) groups can devote to issue advocacy to influence legislation.

There are two very good reasons why federal law requires 501(c)(3) charitable groups to steer clear of electoral politics. First, donations to charitable organizations do not have to be publicly disclosed. That means groups that play politics while masquerading as charities can keep their fundraising hidden, and the public's right to know who is behind campaign advertising is thwarted.

Second, charitable donations to 501(c)(3) groups are tax deductible. Political donations are not. When the IRS allows political groups to game the tax code and use tax-deductible donations for overtly political purposes, taxpayers are forced to subsidize the political agendas of millionaires and billionaires who fund these operations.

Americans for Prosperity was created in 2003 by the billionaire brothers David and Charles Koch, owners of Koch Industries which includes companies with operations in Wisconsin like Georgia Pacific. The MacIver Institute was established in 2009 with substantial funding from Milwaukee's Bradley Foundation as well as the Koch family.

The 28-year-old, Chicago-based Heartland Institute also has received major funding from the Bradley Foundation and Charles G. Koch Foundation. It also has received large sums from Exxon Mobil to sponsor scientific "research" purporting to show that climate change is not happening. And Heartland teamed with Philip Morris to question the link between secondhand smoke and health risks.

It's bad enough that the IRS blesses such activity as "promotion of social welfare." But when the agency permits groups like these to cross the clear line drawn in federal law and use undisclosed, tax-deductible donations to engage in electioneering, it makes a mockery of the tax code and of legitimate acts of charity.

Political groups aiming to influence elections should be operating as so-called "527s," named for the section of the IRS code under which they are organized. Donations to 527s have to be publicly disclosed, and they are not tax deductible. Up to now, the IRS has not been enforcing the law that was designed to make political money transparent and spare taxpayers the indignity of subsidizing the private political aims of the likes of the Koch brothers. We hope the complaints we filed might snap the agency out of its stupor.

Our complaints offer dozens of pages of evidence that the three groups are involved in an illegal election intervention. But the strongest proof of all comes straight from the proverbial horse's mouth.

In a fundraising appeal for its "Operation Angry Badger," the Heartland Institute made no bones about the need to get involved in the recall election on behalf of Governor Walker:
The recall elections of 2012 amount to a referenda on collective bargaining
reform at the state level, making them of national interest. Successful recalls
would be a major setback to the national effort to rein in public sector
compensation and union power. Heartland is the largest and most influential
national free-market think tank in the Midwest, so we are in the right place
and with the right resources to help defend and secure Wisconsin's recent

Quoted in a story appearing last month in a Florida newspaper, Americans for Prosperity Foundation board chairman David Koch was equally blunt:
"We're helping him, as we should. We've gotten pretty good at
this over the years," he says. "We've spent a lot of money in Wisconsin.
We're going to spend more."

By "we" he says he means Americans for Prosperity, which is spending about $700,000 on an "It's Working" television ad buy in the state.

"What Scott Walker is doing with the public unions in Wisconsin is
critically important. He's an impressive guy and he's very courageous," Koch
says after a benefit dinner of salmon and white wine. "If the unions win the
recall, there will be no stopping union power."

This is not the first blatant abuse of a section 501(c)(3) charitable organization to further private political ends, but it is a rare instance where a smoking gun is found.

Now the question is whether the IRS will do anything about it.

Monday, March 05, 2012

"A Deal's A Deal". . . Until Donations Pour In

Fifteen wealthy contributors who support expanding the state’s school choice program gave $443,550 to Republican Governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans between mid-October and mid-January when legislative action to curb the program’s expansion stalled, a Democracy Campaign review found.

Campaign reports show 11 school choice backers gave Walker $417,000, including two contributions of $100,000 from investor Foster Friess of Jackson, Wyoming and hedge fund founder Bruce Kovner of New York. Other top contributors at $50,000 a pop include New York financier Roger Hertog, Bradley Foundation board member Dennis Kuester of Milwaukee and investor Rex Sinquefield of Westphalia, Missouri.

Republican legislators got $26,550 from school choice supporters between mid-October and mid-January, including $9,000 from San Franciscans William and Patricia Hume; $5,000 from Bradley Foundation board member San Orr of Wausau and SIG Financial Holdings executive Arthur Dantchik of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania; $3,750 from SPO Partners investment executive William Oberndorf of San Francisco; $3,500 from retired investor Virginia James of Lambertville, New Jersey; and $300 from Sam Adams Alliance board member Eric O’Keefe of Spring Green.

Topping the list of Republican legislators who got the $26,550 from pro-voucher donors were three senators – Pam Galloway of Wausau, Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls and Van Wanggaard of Racine – targeted for recall this year who got $5,000 each. Six Assembly freshmen got between $1,000 and $1,800 each, including Howard Marklein, Travis Tranel, Evan Wynn, Roger Rivard, Mike Endsley and Warren Petryk.

The timing of the contributions mostly from well-heeled individuals outside Wisconsin is significant because October 18 is the last time legislative action occurred on a proposal – Senate Bill 174 – by Senate and Assembly Republicans who control the legislature to change a provision in the 2011-13 state budget passed last summer that they say mistakenly expanded the school voucher program to as many as 37 school districts rather than just Racine as intended.

The 20-year-old Milwaukee school choice program allows children to attend private and religious schools at a cost of about $131 million a year to state taxpayers.

Representative Robin Vos of Burlington, co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and a sponsor of the stalled bill, said last summer “a deal’s a deal” of the agreement with Senate Republicans to limit expansion, and Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor would sign legislation to limit expansion.

But since the bill stalled in mid-October, Walker and three Senate Republicans have spent much of the time accepting unlimited campaign contributions from hundreds of wealthy special interests because they are now targets for recall. Since he signed his budget with the school choice expansion last summer, Walker has crisscrossed the country raising nearly $9.7 million – about half of it from outside Wisconsin.