In a historic recall election that garnered national attention, embattled Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker defeated Democratic challenger Tom Barrett 53%-44%. Walker’s lieutenant governor and three Republican state senators were also able to overcome recall challenges.
But this race was never really about Scott Walker versus Tom Barrett. This race was about business/corporate funded Super PACS and outside interests versus unions and local grassroots operations. This race was a test…a science project…a Petri dish experiment to see if big money/outside interests could influence a local election. The answer is an emphatic, YES!
In 2010, of the top ten outside organizations funding political campaigns, the top four and six of the top ten were corporate groups giving to the Republican side of the ledger. Karl Rove’s Super PACS; “American Crossroads” and “Crossroads GPS,” are examples of these corporate groups; ranking #3 and #4 on the list of contributors. These PACS poured millions of anonymous outside money into the coffers of Republican candidates.
Only three of the top ten outside organizations funding political campaigns supported Democratic candidates. And these three organizations had one thing in common…they were all unions. Unions were the only major funding organizations that could stand up to the Republican corporate Super PACS. Republicans correctly understood that if they could kill off the unions they would eliminate a major source of the Democrats’ funding and grassroots organization.
Scott Walker’s union busting agenda quickly made him the poster boy for the Republican game plan. Of the $68 million spent on the Wisconsin recall election, 70% came from sources outside of the state. Walker and his corporate contributors outspent Barrett and the Democrats 7.5 to 1. In the end, outside big money trumped local grassroots efforts.
Republicans will no doubt be emboldened by this victory. They have proven that even in a blue state like Wisconsin, the state where collective bargaining got its start, you can bust the unions and implement your austerity agenda if you pour in enough money.
Scott Walker is now a national hero within the Republican Party. You can expect to see him prominently featured at the Republican convention; perhaps a speech given in prime time. You can also expect to see this same Republican strategy played out in swing states all across the country as the election season heats up. If you can’t beat them with ideas…then drown them in money.
This was a great day for big business and corporate America. It was a bad day for unions and middle class wage earners. The implications going forward are worrisome.
As we watched the election returns come in we could not help but hearken back to the President’s 2010 state of the union address. The President criticized the Supreme Court’s decision on “Citizen United,” where the court in effect said that corporations and wealthy individuals could anonymously give unlimited funds to political campaigns. The President said: “Last week the Supreme Court reversed centuries of law to open the floodgates for special interests…including foreign corporations…to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think that American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign interests.” In the classic camera shot, Justice Samuel Alito was caught shaking his head in response and mouthing the words: “that’s not true.”
The President’s words have proven to be prophetic. The old adage “one man…one vote” no longer applies. Not when that one man is writing multi-million dollar checks.