Wisconsin Governor’s Actions Reflect Agenda of his Largest Donors

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  • Dale Eisman

Common Cause isn’t expert on the fiscal challenges facing Wisconsin or how the state should answer them. But it’s clear that the course chosen by Gov. Scott Walker, a bill to end long-held collective bargaining rights for government employees, reflects the political agenda of one his most generous campaign contributors.

“Gov. Walker had little or nothing to say about bargaining rights during his campaign last fall, yet he now depicts those rights as public enemy number one to the state’s fiscal health,” said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin. “It’s no coincidence that his second largest campaign contributor, Koch Industries, has a long history of support for political action groups and think tanks hostile to public employee unions.”

Through its political action committee, Koch Industries, the nation’s second largest privately-held company, dropped a $43,000 political action committee contribution into Walker’s campaign treasury last fall; only a group of realtors donated more. Koch Industries executives gave Walker thousands more. Koch also contributed $1 million to the Republican Governors Association which in turn spent $65,000 in independent expenditures for Walker and an additional $3.4 million attacking Walker’s opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. And Americans for Prosperity, one of several political action groups founded and largely funded by Charles and David Koch, has taken the lead in organizing demonstrations on behalf of the governor’s plan.

Even before Walker took office last month, executives from Americans for Prosperity were at work fomenting a showdown with Wisconsin’s public employee unions, Tim Phillips, the group’s president, told the New York Times. Phillips also spoke at an Americans for Prosperity – organized rally last Saturday in Madison, Wisconsin, and said that Wisconsin public employees are “pampered.” Phillips is reportedly paid $300,000 per year by Koch Industries.

“Gov. Walker began his term by pushing $117 million in future tax breaks for businesses through the state legislature,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause. “Now he’s loudly attacking collective bargaining for public workers and quietly pushing for authority to sell state-owned utilities to private investors, without notice or competitive bidding. His efforts look suspiciously like payback to his corporate benefactors. At the least, they are another reminder of the need for strict controls on corporate, union, and other special interest spending on our elections, nationally and in every state.

“Koch Industries and other corporate citizens have legitimate interests in Wisconsin, but their demonstrated willingness to push large amounts of money into state politics has given them a dangerously outsized voice, one now demanding a return on its investments.”