Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pro-Walker Electioneering Group Gets $1 Million Contribution From Wisconsin Couple

A tax-exempt nonprofit group used by the Republican Governors Association to collect unlimited contributions to spend on elections received the largest single contribution ever from Wisconsin – $1 million from a Milwaukee-area couple.

The contribution to the association’s 527 group was made March 7 by Mike and Mary Sue Shannon. The group’s report filed with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service identifies Mike Shannon as a managing partner of KSL Capital Partners, a private equity firm that invests in travel and leisure businesses, and Mary Sue as a homemaker.

Combined with a $500,000 contribution last March and another $25,000 in 2012, the Shannons join two other individuals, two union groups, a business and a trade organization from Wisconsin that have each made multiple contributions totaling more than $1 million to these unregulated fundraising and spending organizations since 2000.

The Republican Governors Association’s 527 group reported a total of $22.4 million in contributions from wealthy individuals, corporations and trade groups during the first three months of 2014, including $1.27 million from Wisconsin contributors. In addition to the Shannons, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce – another $1 million-plus donor to 527 groups – donated $256,250, followed by Bill Johnson Jr., a Hayward timber company owner, at $6,250, Johnson Controls in Milwaukee at $5,556 and Sheboygan businessman Terry Kohler, a longtime supporter of Republican candidates and conservatives causes, at $5,000.  Johnson Controls and Kohler have each made multiple contributions totaling more than $1 million to 527 groups.

Contributions to the Republican Governors Association paid for three television ads since February that attacked Republican Governor Scott Walker’s likely Democratic opponent, businesswoman Mary Burke. Before this year, the group had spent an estimated $16.4 million in Wisconsin on independent expenditures and phony issue ads in three elections for governor since 2006, and the bulk of it was spent in the 2010 general and 2012 recall elections to support Walker. The association ranks among the top groups in spending on outside electioneering activities in Wisconsin.

The Republican group’s counterpart, the Democratic Governors Association, reported $11.7 million in special interest contributions during the first quarter of 2014, including $14,112 from Wisconsin contributors. The Wisconsin cash came from Johnson Controls at $11,112 and eight individuals who gave a few hundred dollars each.

The Democratic Governors Association reported direct spending of only about $36,000 during the 2012 recall against Walker, but it contributed more than $4.3 million since 2006 to other Democratic groups to help pay for their electioneering activities.

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Time For New Beginnings

While I believe is time both for me personally and for the organization to transition to new leadership at the Democracy Campaign, I want no one to mistakenly conclude that I am retiring or stepping away from civic life and the fight for democracy. My movement building is going to take a new form after the end of this year, but I will most definitely be in the construction business.

The Democracy Campaign is an absolutely invaluable group that I love dearly. It is my fervent hope that you will continue to care about and support the incredibly important work of following the money in politics, speaking truth to power and working for reforms aimed at making people matter more than all that money.

After 15 years of doing this work as WDC's director, I have reached the conclusion that there is a threat to democracy even greater than scandalous campaign financing, voter suppression, voter apathy, consolidation of media ownership, partisan gerrymandering or any of the other cancers that are growing in the body of American democracy. The greatest threat of all is the sense of powerlessness and the feelings of resignation that afflict so many of us.

I am still sorting through how best to apply my experiences and my energies to promote citizen empowerment. But what I do know is that there is a void that needs filling. We need to somehow find a way to house the politically homeless, reform political parties that are failing us, and get common citizens back into the driver's seat of an actual democracy.

Twenty years ago, there was a void that needed filling. Money was starting to play a greater and greater role in Wisconsin's elections, but there was no practical way of tracking that money. To see who was giving to whom, you literally had to visit the old state Elections Board office and paw through thousands of pages of paper reports, looking for the proverbial needles in haystacks. A few of us wondered if we could put the power of this new thing called the Internet to use and build a database of political donations that anyone could see online free of charge. We started the Democracy Campaign from scratch to fill that void. We asked people to support and invest in this entrepreneurial enterprise. Today the Democracy Campaign is a fixture on the political scene in Wisconsin and an indispensable institution. I am certain someone more able than me can be found to lead WDC to even greater heights.

As for me, I am feeling that entrepreneurial itch again. There is a void that needs filling.