The Cost of Walker’s Victory

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  • Dale Eisman

Governor’s Big Money Backers Will Want a Return on Their Investment

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker emerges from Tuesday’s recall election with a personal mandate and a giant debt of gratitude to out-of-state, big money interests, Common Cause said today.

“This election demonstrates how the corporations and millionaire political investors unleashed by the Supreme Court in Citizens United and other cases can use their money to dominate our politics” said Bob Edgar, president and CEO of the non-profit government watchdog group.

About $30 million of the nearly $65 million spent on the recall campaign came from “independent expenditures” by groups not directly affiliated with either Walker or Democratic nominee Tom Barrett. Citizens United allows corporations and unions to use funds drawn from their treasuries to make such donations.

Roughly half of the independent money came from undisclosed sources.

Walker’s campaign raised $30.5 million while Barrett took in just under $4 million.

“We can expect the people and companies that gave Gov. Walker’s campaign a 7-1 advantage in fundraising will be calling on him and his administration to look out for their interests. The governor will be under enormous pressure to deliver,” Edgar said.

Of the $34.5 million given directly to Walker and Barrett, more than $20 million came from out-of-state interests, according to figures compiled by the Center for Public Integrity. And all but about $1 million of that out-of-state money went to Walker.

Through April, the governor’s top three donors combined to give him more than the Barrett campaign’s total receipts. Four of Walker’s top seven donors are out-of-state billionaires, including AmWay founder and former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who each gave $250,000. Adelson gained national attention this spring as he spent like a runaway gambler on Newt Gingrich’s ill-fated presidential campaign, putting more than $16 behind the GOP hopeful.

Walker had a smaller but still significant advantage in “independent” spending. When spending from all sources is considered, pro-Walker/anti-Barrett forces spent about $48 million compared to $19 million for anti-Walker/pro-Barrett forces, according to the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Project.

“The public may not know who was behind much of the money spent on Gov. Walker’s behalf,” Edgar said, “but it’s a safe bet that Walker knows, or soon will, and that his supporter/investors will want something in return for their help. Wisconsin legislators, like their counterparts in Washington, should get to work on tougher disclosure requirements so that voters will know to whom their officials are beholden.”

Edgar noted that Walker benefitted from a loophole in Wisconsin’s election laws that allowed him – as the target of a recall attempt — to accepted unlimited donations. Barrett, in contrast, was bound by the state’s usual $10,000 limit on gifts.

“His financial advantages may not have been the decisive factor in Gov. Walker’s victory, but they surely played a role in his success,” Edgar noted. “The debts he now owes to a relative handful of big dollar supporters illustrate why we need to implement campaign finance reforms that allow candidates to run on a base of small donations from individuals, so that elected officials will be beholden to “we the people,” not “we the corporations.”