Monday, September 23, 2013

Influence To The Ninth Power

In a recent letter to the editor of Wisconsin's second largest newspaper, Representative Steve Nass claimed those wanting performance report cards for private schools receiving public funds under Wisconsin's school voucher program are under the spell of the money and power of the "education bureaucracy."

When the state started handing out vouchers in Milwaukee 23 years ago, supporters promised it would boost the achievement of poor students. It hasn't. Test scores show students getting vouchers to attend private schools are doing no better than public school students and, by some measures, are actually doing worse.

Voucher backers also promised the program would breed innovation and system change by creating competition in the education system. That hasn’t happened either. The latest statewide school report cards show Milwaukee schools are alone in failing to meet expectations.

When a government program doesn't work, it should end. Yet after failing to deliver on its promises for 23 years, lawmakers did not debate whether or not to stop this failed experiment. They expanded it statewide.

Why does the voucher program still have so much wind in its sails despite its inability to produce results?

There are at least 97 million reasons. Over the last 10 years, pro-voucher interests have poured $97 million into Wisconsin elections. Anti-voucher forces spent $10.5 million in the same period of time trying to influence those state elections.

Steve Nass says opposition to vouchers is driven by money and power. Support for vouchers is driven by that same kind of money and power – times nine.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

48 For 48

Quirky factoid: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has raised $48 million to get a 48% approval rating.

Walker raised $11 million in campaign funds to win the governor's office in 2010. And he raised an additional $37 million to survive the 2012 recall.

Of course, interest groups backing him spent many millions more on his behalf, including nearly $23 million in 2012 alone.

The governor's approval rating is holding steady. Polling done in early summer mirrored the latest opinion survey, with public approval of his performance at 48%.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Full-Time Fundraising

Fundraising by legislative and statewide candidates has become a nonstop chore with no break even in non-election years.

Large contributions funneled through check-bundling operations known as conduits prove this point.

A recent Democracy Campaign report showed conduit contributions to sitting legislators jumped 317 percent from about $900,000 in the 1993-94 election cycle to a record $3.7 million in the 2011-12 election cycle.

But the surge in large individual conduit contributions in odd-numbered years was especially striking, increasing 728 percent from a low of nearly $307,000 in 1995 to $2.54 million in 2011 (see Bar Chart).

Large Individual Conduit Contributions in Non-Election Years to Legislative and Statewide Candidates

The record-breaking fundraising in the 2011 recall races was responsible for some of the large conduit contributions generated in 2011, but steady, substantial increases in off-year fundraising occurred before then. Statewide and legislative candidates raised about $1.2 million in large individual conduit contributions in 2005, 2007 and 2009 – nearly 300 percent more than in 1995.

Even governors who historically rely less on conduit contributions than candidates for other offices are raising dramatically more conduit cash when they’re not up for reelection.

In the 1990s, Republican Governor Tommy Thompson collected about $300,000 in large individual conduit cash in the 1993-94 and in 1997-98 when he was up for reelection, but only about $54,000 in 1995-96 and $23,100 in 1999-2000 when he did not face reelection.

A decade later Democratic Governor Jim Doyle’s campaign pulled down large conduit contributions totaling about $450,000 in 2003-04 and 2007-08 when he didn’t face reelection.

In the 2006 cycle when Doyle faced reelection his campaign collected a record $629,665 in large individual conduit contributions. Doyle’s record was recently topped by Walker’s $663,234 in large conduit contributions in 2011-12.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Walker's Casino Approval Strategy Likely To Benefit Large GOP Donors

Governor Scott Walker’s plan to require unanimous approval of the Menominee Indian Tribe’s proposed Kenosha casino by all of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes likely means the project is doomed – an outcome that benefits a couple of huge GOP campaign supporters.

Two of the tribes – the Forest County Potawatomi Community and the Ho-Chunk Nation – who oppose the project have contributed a total of $193,400 in the last two years to two GOP outside electioneering groups that have spent an estimated $16.7 million to help Walker and numerous Republican state senators and legislative candidates win elections in recent years.

The Forest County Potawatomi which operates a lucrative casino in Milwaukee and has opposed the Menominee project for years has contributed $150,900 to the Republican Governors Association since July 2011, including $50,000 on February 25, 2013, a Democracy Campaign review of U.S. Internal Revenue Service records found.

Not only is the Potowatomi a big supporter of a major GOP group, but the association has spent more than any other outside electioneering group to support Walker. It doled out an estimated $5 million to elect Walker in 2010 and another $9.4 million in the 2012 recall election to keep Walker in office.

Another outside electioneering group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which helped numerous Republican legislative candidates received $42,500 from the Potawatomi and the Ho-Chunk Nation which wants to build a casino in Beloit and is also opposes the Menominee’s Kenosha project.

The Republican State Leadership Committee spent an estimated $2.3 million mostly on Senate races in the 2010 general and 2011 and 2012 recalls. Most notably the group spent about $472,000 in the 2010 general elections to help take out former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker and turn control of the Senate over to the GOP.

The likelihood that all of Wisconsin’s 11 tribes would approve the project was probably a tough hurdle from the get-go, but now seems almost impossible given the Potawatomi and the Ho-Chunk are among those tribes.

That the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk are major GOP campaign contributors puts Walker’s criteria for approving the deal in a different light. The governor says he didn’t want to play King Solomon and use his unilateral authority under federal law to “pick or choose between two well-respected entities” referring to the Menominee and Potawatomi tribes.

But the governor has created a casino approval process that is a likely no-win scenario for the Menominee, benefits wealthy supporters and makes it look like Walker tried to be exceedingly fair.