Thursday, October 30, 2014

Walker To Out-of-State Interests: Keep Your Celebrities, But Send Money. . . To Me

"I don't need people from outside of this state.  This is about me and the people of the state of Wisconsin."  comments by Governor Scott Walker reported by during a campaign stop in Pewaukee this week.

Walker's comments referred to recent visits by President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and former President Bill Clinton on behalf of his opponent, Democratic candidate for governor Mary Burke, in next Tuesday's elections.

But if that's how the governor feels about outside influence in Wisconsin elections then maybe he should return the $13 million in individual campaign contributions he has accepted from outside Wisconsin since January 2013 to run his reelection campaign.  These outside contributions are responsible for about 52 percent of his total $25.1 million in identifiable individual contributions he accepted from 2013 through October 20, 2014, according to a Democracy Campaign analysis.

And Walker's out-of-state haul in direct contributions doesn't count the millions of dollars in out-of-state influence being spent to support him by electioneering groups led by the Washington D.C.-based Republican Governors Association which he has encouraged and thanked for its help.  The association's 527 group has raised tens of millions of dollars from wealthy individuals, multi-national corporations and trade groups across the country to help Walker and other Republican governors and candidates win elections.

As for Burke, the Democratic candidate raised $2.8 million or 31 percent of her total $9 million in identifiable individual campaign contributions from outside Wisconsin, according to a review of campaign finance reports she has filed since she entered the race in October 2013.

Like Walker, Burke has benefited from millions of dollars in outside electioneering spending chiefly led by the Greater Wisconsin Committee through its issue ad and 527 groups and a political action committee fueled by numerous state and national labor unions and Democratic ideological organizations that get millions of dollars in contributions from wealthy business interests.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Transportation Amendment Was Birthed And Nurtured By Special Interests

With few exceptions the news reports and editorials about the proposed constitutional amendment voters are being asked to approve on next Tuesday's ballot don't get into where it came from and why it got there.

The measure is a special interest-backed plan to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to prevent elected officials from being able to use the state transportation fund to pay other bills in the future like they did during the Doyle administration. At first whiff, the proposed amendment seems like a good idea given the growing short- and long-term shortfall the fund faces to pay for the state's wish list of major highway projects.

But the amendment isn't a solution to the transportation fund's cash shortage because it doesn't cut highway spending or raise more cash to pay for projects.  The concrete protection the proposed amendment grants the fund isn't afforded other important pots of money used for health care, education, the environment, poverty and other programs.  Perhaps more critically, the amendment will tie the hands of public officials from ever using money from the fund for non-transportation purposes under any circumstances, even an economic emergency or widespread public health or safety crisis.

The proposal is before voters because a group of wealthy special interests contributed nearly one-third  $5.5 million  of the $18.3 million large individual and political action committee contributions accepted by the current legislature, which gave it final approval between 2011 and July 2014.

Those interests include manufacturing, business, construction, tourism, agriculture, transportation, natural resources, road builders and a couple of labor unions that represent workers in the industry.   They support the proposed amendment because the state transportation fund  fueled by state gas taxes and vehicle registration fees  pays for major highway projects, road maintenance and other transportation costs and services those industries build or use.

That's how the amendment got on the ballot.

Where did it come from?  The proposal is a hybrid of a plan developed by the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a pro-business organization that connects powerful business interests and big campaign contributors with state legislators around the country to develop model legislation on economic and social issues that elected officials can introduce in their states. 

Wisconsin governors have no authority to approve or reject proposed constitutional amendments, which must be approved by two successive legislatures and then by voters in a statewide referendum like the one on the November 4 ballot.  But GOP Governor Scott Walker, who supports the amendment and criticized his predecessor for raiding the transportation fund when the state faced a multi-billion dollar deficit, is also a major beneficiary of the amendment's special interest backers.  Those interests contributed slightly more than a third  $15.7 million  of the $45.1 million in large individual and PAC contributions the governor accepted between 2011 and July 2014.

And whether the amendment passes  as is likely  or not next Tuesday, Walker and the legislature still face the politically distasteful problem of how to close the fund's multi-million dollar deficit and sell a solution to voters that is likely to include tax and fee increases.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Founders' Design Corrupted

Our nation's founders wrote the Federalist Papers to articulate their vision for a new independent nation and justify their proposed design for a new government. They wrote using pseudonyms due to fear for the authors' liberty and life if the crown discovered their true identities.

Writing as "Publius" in Federalist No. 52, one of the founders (widely thought by historians to be James Madison, although some believe it may have been Alexander Hamilton) argued for a "government which ought to be dependent on the people alone."

He outlined principles of representation through elections that would produce such a condition.

A government dependent on the people alone. That was the founders' design. That was their gift to us.

You and I know we do not have that today. You and I know this design has been fundamentally corrupted.

Today's government officials are not dependent on the people alone. They have conflicting dependencies. Competing dependencies.

Elected representatives are supposed to take their cues from the voters alone. But with election campaigning so insanely expensive, those representatives have little choice but to also take cues from their campaign donors. And the donor population is not the same as the voting population. On average, state legislators get two-thirds of their campaign money from people who cannot vote for them because these financial backers live outside the legislators' districts. Governor Scott Walker gets more than half of his money from people who are ineligible to vote for him because they live outside Wisconsin's borders.

This corruption of the founders' design has very tangible costs.

A Democracy Campaign report identified close to four dozen actions taken by legislators and the governor just since January 2013 that provided at least $760 million worth of benefits to special interests in the form of tax breaks and other policy favors.

These decisions cost the average family of four $528. If you read the entire list of actions, you will be hard-pressed to find a single one that benefits you. There is a sales tax exemption for companies that print and deliver junk mail. There is another sales tax exemption for aircraft parts.

When you go to the department store to buy a pair of shoes or some clothing, you pay the sales tax. But if you have enough money to own an airplane, you no longer have to pay tax on parts for your plane. If you are in the junk mail business, you don't have to pay the state sales tax anymore either.

Manufacturers of lead paint have been given protection from future product liability lawsuits. Those who send their children to private schools now get an income tax deduction. The list goes on and on.

Here in Wisconsin we've been told repeatedly that the state is broke and government must do less for us. Yet those who bankroll election campaigns have been given more. At least $760 million more.

The few benefit at the expense of the many because the founders' design has been corrupted and we do not have a government dependent on the people alone.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ultrawealthy Pump $3.8 Million In 90 Days Into Elections

Wisconsin contributors gave $3.8 million in three months to political groups that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of cash on outside electioneering activities, and most of the contributions went to groups that have been sponsoring negative mailings and broadcast ads in the state's November 4 elections.

The contributions flowed to so-called 527 groups between July and September, and the bulk of the cash  $3.4 million or 90 percent  came from just two dozen donors.

Coupled with contributions in the first 18 months of the 2013-14 election cycle, wealthy Wisconsin individuals, corporations, unions and trade and ideological groups have doled out a total of $9.1 million to 527 groups, including about $6.6 million to 527 groups involved in the statewide and legislative elections.

Topping the Wisconsin contributions was another $1 million from a Milwaukee couple  Mike and Mary Sue Shannon  to the Republican Governors Association, which has spent at least $2.1 million on mostly television advertising to support GOP Governor Scott Walker’s reelection bid. The Shannons have contributed a total $2.5 million to the national group since January 2013, according to reports the 527 groups must file with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.

Mike and Mary Sue Shannon

On the Democratic side, Milwaukee philanthropist Lynde Uihlein and her Brico Fund doled out $888,000 to two 527 groups  EMILY’s List and the League of Conservation Voters  located in Washington D.C. The Brico Fund doled out $738,000 to EMILY’s List and Uihlein personally donated $150,000 to the league between July and September. Since January 2013 the Brico Fund and Uihlein have contributed a little over $1.3 million to 527 groups that back women candidates and environmental causes.

Six 527 groups that collected the bulk of Wisconsin contributions  about $3.23 million between July and September and $6.6 million since January 2013  have spent millions of dollars on independent expenditures and phony ads in the upcoming statewide and legislative elections, mostly on the governor’s race between Walker and Democrat Mary Burke.

Those groups and their Wisconsin contributions since January 2013 are: The Republican Governors Association, $4.05 million; EMILY’s List, $1.06 million; the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund, $863,400, Republican State Leadership Committee, $372,382, League of Conservation Voters, $200,000 and America’s Political Action Committee, $65,000.

Up-to-date election spending by these groups is unknown because some of the groups engage in undisclosed issue ads yet to be tallied and the latest independent expenditure reports filed by the other groups with the state don’t have to be filed until the end of the month. Earlier independent expenditure reports showed the Republican Governors Association and Greater Wisconsin have spent $3.3 million.

The 527 reports to the IRS also showed the Republican Attorneys General Association gave $300,000 to Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the state’s largest business group, which recently began airing television ads in support of GOP attorney general candidate Brad Schimel.

The most unusual contribution in the 527 reports was a $25,000 contribution by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, a longtime supporter of pro-business legislation and Republican candidates, to the Democratic-leaning Greater Wisconsin Political Fund.