Friday, July 27, 2012

Better Ways To Spend $81 Million

This week the Democracy Campaign issued a report showing that candidates, interest groups and political committees spent $81 million on the recall election for governor. Reflect on that a moment . . . $81 million was just spent in the pursuit of political power, with the aim of convincing voters that Scott Walker is a scandal-plagued, promise-breaking, "right-wing rock star" and that Tom Barrett has singlehandedly thrown Milwaukee's finances into disarray, put most everyone there out of work and rubbed salt in their wounds by repeatedly raising their taxes.

For anyone whose life does not revolve around the pursuit of political power, it is impossible to ponder $81 million being spent in Wisconsin on a state election – more than double the previous record that was just set in the last election for governor in 2010 – without thinking about how much good that kind of money could do if spent for some productive purpose.

Think what the Brewers could do with $81 million. They could have a bullpen. With plenty left over for other roster upgrades.

Or that $81 million could go for something important. It could fund the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's entire budget for a year. That's the agency formerly known as the state Commerce Department that is responsible for promoting job creation. Think about that. A bunch of millionaires and billionaires and special interest groups from across the country just dumped as much money into smear campaigns as Wisconsin spends in a year promoting job growth.

The $81 million wealthy donors poured into trashy ads that poison our democracy while nourishing the bottom lines of the media conglomerates would cover the budget for the state's Environmental Improvement Fund for nearly two full years. This is the program that helps local communities provide safe drinking water and protect public health by funding improvements to wastewater treatment facilities, storm water runoff projects, as well as helping municipalities build, upgrade or replace public water systems.

All the money spent on the governor's race could provide more than 25 years worth of funding for the agency that provides services to victims of child abuse and neglect and finances prevention efforts. Or it could fund the agency charged with assisting people with developmental disabilities for 60 years.

The governor's race is obviously not the only example of how mind-boggling sums of money are poured down a rat hole, nor is it the biggest. By the time this year's presidential election is over, some $3 billion is expected to have been spent on advertising that often is deceptive, sometimes downright untruthful and always dispiriting.

That's as much as the federal government spends in a year on the entire Community Development Block Grant program. Three billion dollars. That's what the federal government spends in a year on urban renewal projects aimed at revitalizing our cities, programs to create affordable housing, and efforts across the country to stimulate community development and stabilize neighborhoods hard hit by foreclosures.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Walker's Legal Defense Fund Paid Public Relations Bill

A fund created by Governor Scott Walker to pay legal expenses associated with a John Doe probe doled out nearly $10,000 for a public relations bill in the closing weeks of his June 5 recall election, a report filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service shows.

A report filed by the Scott Walker Trust shows it paid $9,988 May 15 to APCO Worldwide Inc. in Chicago - one of the largest independent public relations agencies in the country.  The purpose of the expenditure was listed as "public relations" on the quarterly reported filed with the IRS.

Walker established the fund in March to pay legal bills in connection with a three-year-old John Doe probe by the Milwaukee County District Attorney's Office into the activities of former aides to Walker while he was Milwaukee County executive.  Walker has repeatedly said he is not the target of the probe and that the fund was established to pay lawyers to review emails and other documents as part of the probe.

So far, three former aides, a county appointee and a campaign donor have been accused or convicted on charges ranging from illegal campaign contributions to campaigning on state time to embezzlement.

The report to the IRS shows Walker's defense fund spent $155,489 of the $160,000 transferred to it as of June 30 by Friends of Scott Walker, his gubernatorial fundraising committee.  Except for the public relations bill, the remaining payouts went to three law firms. 

The report shows the fund paid $115,000 to Sidley Austin LLP, a Chicago law firm where Walker has reportedly retained the services of criminal defense attorney John Gallo.  The fund also paid $29,200 to Milwaukee attorney Michael Steinle and his law firm, Terschan & Steinle Ltd. and $1,301 to Lind Weininger LLC, a Madison law firm.