Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Trojan Badgers

Wisconsin isn't Wisconsin anymore. Our politics are not in keeping with our state's culture. We are a mild-mannered, polite people. Ask most anyone visiting for the first time to describe us, and chances are the word "nice" will cross their lips. But there's nothing nice or polite or mild-mannered about our politics these days. The New York Times was moved the other day to call Wisconsin the "land of cheese and rancor" and the "most politically divisive place in America."

Our laws are not even our own anymore. What was called "2011 Wisconsin Act 1" is not of Wisconsin. It was not written by any Wisconsin lawmaker. Nor was "Wisconsin Act 2." These laws were written by an invading alien force based in Washington, D.C. known as the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC for short.

ALEC cooked up Act 9 and Act  10 too. And Acts 14, 21, 22 and 23. Not to mention seven different parts of Act 32. All of Acts 35, 38, 93, 94, 174 and 285.

An incredibly detailed report by the Center for Media and Democracy shows the countless ways ALEC has worked to deliver a national right-wing ideological agenda to Wisconsin.

A website called "Kids in the House" managed by the U.S. House clerk's office says this to its young visitors: "Laws begin as ideas. These ideas may come from a Representative or from a citizen like you."

Or from a corporate-funded bill mill a thousand miles away.

We all know the legend of the Trojan Horse. It lives on as a metaphor for sneak attacks and concealed agendas. What we have now in Wisconsin is beyond metaphor; it is a living embodiment of this ancient tale. Under elaborate cover, wealthy outside interests bastardize the idea of representation, usher in their agenda and have laws written for their benefit, not ours. And they make Wisconsin look less and less like the state we all once knew.

Call it the Trojan Badger.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Missing Pieces Distort Recall Money Picture

Sunday's Wisconsin State Journal featured a front-page story based on the newspaper's analysis of political fundraising in Wisconsin from the beginning of 2011 through late April of this year. After poring over close to $87 million in contributions to candidates and political committees that have been reported to state election authorities, the State Journal concluded that "despite rhetoric, the parties' mountains of money are about even."

There is a treasure trove of information in the story, and readers could surely learn a lot from reading it. But because of what was missing from the analysis, readers also could be left with substantial misconceptions.

The key point is that the newspaper's analysis was based on contributions reported to state election authorities. Looking at these disclosed donations, the partisan split is indeed remarkably even. What's missing from the picture, however, is contributions (of which there are a lot) to unregistered groups (of which there are many) that do not report their sources of income.

In last year's senate recall elections, there were 16 such groups that raised and spent close to $18 million. Over $15 million of that money went to support Republicans. That's not accounted for in the State Journal analysis because it does not show up on any campaign finance report. So far in the 2012 recalls, there are seven groups that are not registered and are not disclosing their donors. Six of the seven are Republican groups. Leading up to the May 8 primary, these groups collectively spent somewhere between $5 million and $8 million, almost all of it on the Republican side. Where they got the money is a mystery because they do not report their contributions to election authorities. So that money wasn't included in the newspaper's tally either.

The story mentions that about $50 million has been spent by interest groups sponsoring their own campaign advertising in the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, with the spending "fairly evenly split between the parties," citing me as the source of that information. It is true that about $50 million has been spent, and it is true that overall interest group spending this year and last has been fairly evenly split. But what the State Journal missed was the fact that close to half of that money was included in its analysis because the groups' donations were reported and the other half was not included because the groups did not disclose their income sources. It just so happens that most of the disclosed donations went to Democratic groups and most of the undisclosed money flowed to Republican organizations.

For example, the leading spender on the Democratic side in last summer's senate recalls was We Are Wisconsin, which reported spending more than $10.7 million. Its funding sources were reported, so the donations were included in the State Journal analysis. The leading spender on the Republican side was Club for Growth, which spent a fairly comparable amount. In fact, based on our analysis of TV ad buys, the group outspent We Are Wisconsin by 18% on television advertising. But Club for Growth does not report its election fundraising and spending, so its donations were not included in the newspaper's tally.

If such undisclosed interest group money were included in the recall money analysis, roughly a $20 million fundraising edge for the Republicans emerges because of a lopsided candidate fundraising advantage on the Republican side in 2012. Governor Scott Walker raised in excess of $25 million by the third week in April, which is over $20 million more than his Democratic opposition.

Overall, spending on last summer's senate recall elections was about $44 million. By our best estimates, Democrats outspent Republicans by nearly $3 million. In this year's recall election for governor, $40 million was spent before voters cast their ballots in the May 8 primary election. Governor Walker alone accounted for more than $20 million of that spending and Republican groups spent over $10 milllion. Add in fundraising in the four senate recall elections this year, where Republican incumbents have a significant edge, and again it is clear the Republicans have overcome the narrow lead Democrats opened in 2011 and this year have surged ahead in the recall money race by something on the order of about $20 million.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

When You Gotta Go, You Gotta Give

Hardly any of the innovative energy in the political world is put to work solving real problems. That's because politicians and their handlers are spending almost all of their time thinking up ways to raise campaign money. Sometimes it's creative, most often it's crass. You've heard of pay to play. Now it looks like it's pay to pee. Hey, if you can spare a hundred bucks for the big rally there'll be a porta-potty for you to use when nature calls!