The last year and a half has been a contentious one in the state of Wisconsin. In early 2011, the then newly-elected Governor Scott Walker (Republican) pledged to fix the state economy by forcing austerity on Wisconsin citizens and, most notoriously, by unilaterally removing public worker unions’ right to collectively bargain.
This triggered a firestorm of protests in Wisconsin’s winter months, which immediately inspired a Recall Scott Walker effort. The effort worked, and though Scott Walker said over and over again that a recall election was not good for the state’s budget (an honest argument, to be sure, though political all the same), he wasted no time raising money, much of it from wealthy out-of-state donors.
According to information released by Walker’s campaign, he raised $31 million since January of 2011, while his Democratic challenger Tom Barrett has raised a paltry $3.9 million. The majority of the war chest is, as noted, from out-of-state, whereas 70% of Barrett’s donations are from Wisconsin voters. As the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel notes, “That means Walker raised an average of more than $178,000 a day for the latest period.” And he’s spent nearly all of it.
Perhaps Walker can excuse the exorbitant amount of money he has amassed as a capital investment of sorts for the State of Wisconsin, which he now says “is open for business.” The numbers certainly call into question (as if his actions already had not) whether Walker cares more about Wisconsin citizens or out-of-state business interests, including the Koch brothers, who generously donated to Walker’s 2010 campaign.
Walker balanced the budget, but that is a legal requirement for every Wisconsin governor. And he didn’t eliminate Wisconsin’s debts, simply restructured them, as noted in a letter from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout.
If Walker was confident enough in the merits of his case—that his austerity eliminated debt and improved the state economy—then it would see that the $31 million was an outrageously unnecessary sum of money. If he was so sure of his efforts bearing fruit, then his achievements would stand on their own, no? That the donations have overwhelmingly come from out-of-state donors is telling: their wants are coming at the expense of Wisconsin citizens.
Wanting to improve the business climate, particularly for small businesses, is a smart move, but Walker could have adopted a much less ideologically stringent approach and attempted to actually work with Democrats. He could have used New York Governor Andrew Cuomo as a model, but instead he decided to “divide and conquer.”
And, in a bit of irony, it seems to me that the Democratically-led recall effort might have catalyzed a new dark era of political spending, in which wealth out of state donors and organizations literally buy elections. This is not good, whether it is coming from Republicans or Democrats.