Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Helping The 0.004%

Voters are divided on many issues. But there is at least one thing that unites voters of every political stripe. There is tripartisan agreement among voters – Democrats, Republicans and independents alike – that the money in elections needs to be reined in.

Poll after poll by academic institutions, media organizations and private survey research firms shows that a supermajority of voters now believe there is way too much money in politics and unlimited election fundraising and spending is corrupting our government.

Two dozen Wisconsin communities have approved referendums or passed resolutions calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United and other related court decisions and allow more vigorous anti-corruption measures to be put in place. Sixteen states and over 500 communities nationwide have done the same.

Assembly Bill 225 goes in exactly the opposite direction. The bill takes the position that there is not enough money in politics. As amended and passed by the state Assembly, AB 225 would double existing state limits on campaign contributions. A tiny group of donors equal to four one-thousandth of 1% of Wisconsin’s population are bumping up against the current limits. That is not to say these donors are all from Wisconsin. Many of them live outside our state. In 2012 a total of 243 wealthy donors – including 149 from out of state – reached Wisconsin’s $10,000 annual limit on campaign contributions.

In the Assembly, AB 225’s supporters argued that raising the contribution limits would cause donors to give directly to candidates rather than steering so much money to outside interest groups that sponsor their own election advertising, thus reducing the influence of the outside groups. We’ve had 15 tests of this theory in Wisconsin. In the 2011 and 2012 recall elections, the limits weren’t doubled, they were eliminated altogether for the officials targeted for recall. This did not result in less money going to outside groups. They raised and spent more than ever. Despite a single donor giving as much as $510,000 to a candidate, outside groups outspent candidates by a substantial margin. Outside groups accounted for $75.8 million of the overall recall election spending of $137.5 million.

AB 225 makes the most powerful even stronger. For those who already have the loudest voices and the greatest influence in Wisconsin politics, AB 225 increases their capacity to influence candidates for state office by 100%. It is a gift to the four one-thousandth of 1% whose style is cramped by Wisconsin’s limits. It is a kick in the gut for everyone else.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New Name, Same Taint

The word "lobbyist" has become so tainted in the public eye that the American League of Lobbyists decided last month to change its name to the Association of Government Relations Professionals.

Sorry, but that won't help.

There is nothing inherently wrong with lobbying. After all, at its core is the exercise of the First Amendment right to petition our government. From my vantage point, what has tarnished lobbying is not the act of lobbying itself but rather the modern-day marriage of lobbying and campaign fundraising. Lobbyists are seen as key brokers in the system of legalized extortion and bribery that we now have. They are seen this way because the lobbyists representing the biggest, most influential interest groups are indeed key brokers in this crooked system.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Reported Doe Targets Did Most Recall Spending

Political committees and outside electioneering groups named in various media reports as possible targets of a second John Doe investigation into suspected political wrongdoing in Wisconsin accounted for more than half of all the campaign spending in the 2011 and 2012 recall elections and two-thirds of the spending in last year's election for governor.

The committees and groups spent $70.5 million, or 51% of the total $137.5 million in recall spending. They accounted for $54.4 million in spending in the 2012 recall election for governor, which is 67% of the overall spending of $81 million in that race.

A Wall Street Journal editorial identified Friends of Scott Walker, the Republican Party of Wisconsin, the Republican Governors Association, the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin and American Crossroads as targets of the criminal probe. The newspaper also quoted Wisconsin Club for Growth officer Eric O'Keefe saying he is a target and was subpoenaed by investigators.

Walker's campaign spent $36.1 million to thwart the recall effort and the Republican Governors Association spent $9.4 million. The state Republican Party reported spending $1.2 million on the senate recall elections. Wisconsin Club for Growth also focused mostly on the senate recalls, with $9 million of its total spending of $9.1 million going to help targeted Republican senators. Wisconsin Family Action spent $850,000 to sway the senate elections. WMC spent $4.7 million on advertising, including $4 million on ads in the governor's race. Americans for Prosperity spent a total of $4.5 million on recall ads, with $3.7 million going to the effort to keep Walker in office and the rest helping GOP senators.

Two groups named by the Wall Street Journal – American Crossroads and the League of American Voters – did not do any detectable campaign spending in the Wisconsin recall elections. But American Crossroads and its affiliate Crossroads GPS in particular are known to funnel large sums of money to other dark money groups.

Other groups whose names have cropped up in media reports in association with John Doe 2 also played conspicuous roles in the recall elections. Citizens for a Strong America spent $1.7 million on the senate recalls. According to a Center for Media and Democracy review of tax filings, the group got almost all of its funds in 2011 from Wisconsin Club for Growth. In turn, Citizens for a Strong America supplied Wisconsin Family Action with virtually all of its reported grant revenue for 2011.

Club for Growth also gave $425,000 to the Jobs First Coalition, which was close to half of what the coalition raised in 2011. Jobs First Coalition spent $100,000 on the senate recalls. The group also transferred $245,000 to the American Federation for Children, which spent $2.8 million on all of the recall elections including $1.1 million on Walker's behalf.

Two more groups that figure into the equation are the national Center to Protect Patient Rights and a dark-money conduit known as the Wellspring Committee. Neither did any detectable spending in the recall elections, but Wisconsin Club for Growth received $225,000 from CPPR and $400,000 from Wellspring in 2011. CPPR and another group were ordered to pay $1 million in fines in October to settle allegations in California that they conspired to conceal the origins of political campaign money.