Wisconsin voters will go to polls on Tuesday for a special recall election after enduring one of the most grandiose campaign seasons in the state’s history. What started in early 2011 as a popular uprising of students and workers against Republican Gov. Scott Walker and his anti-union “reforms” has morphed into big-money campaigns that have spent a record-setting total of more than $100 million in pursuit of the governor’s mansion and four state Senate seats.
Last year, campaign spending on a state Senate recall election topped $44 million, bringing the total for Wisconsin’s 2011 and 2012 recall votes to well over $100 million, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC).
In 2012 alone, interest groups and political action committees (PACs) reported spending $25 million, with much of the campaign cash came from out-of-state and undisclosed sources, according to WDC. Now, the WDC and a nonpartisan coalition want whoever wins the Tuesday recall vote to call a special legislative session on campaign finance reform.
“Our elections are being poisoned and the public is being kept in the dark about who’s paying for most of the poison,” said WDC Executive Director Mike McCabe.
Walker Rakes in Cash and Koch Support
Walker’s wealthy campaign is responsible for about half of the amount raised in the 2012 governor’s race, according to the WDC. Walker’s $31 million war chest dwarfs that of his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor and Democrat Tom Barrett, who raised nearly $4 million.
In comparison, the total raised by seven candidates in the 2010 Wisconsin gubernatorial race, which featured Walker and Barrett, came to $37.4 million and was the most expensive race in the state on record. Barrett and his running mate raised $7.2 million, and Walker’s campaign raised $11.3 million.
For the recall campaign, Walker took advantage of a loophole in Wisconsin law that allows public officials targeted for a recall to raise unlimited amounts of campaign cash. The WDC and other groups are calling on lawmakers to close the loophole.
Walker has also benefited from millions of dollars in independent spending from out-of-state conservative groups such as the Republican Governors Association and Americans for Prosperity. Both groups do not have to reveal their donors, but it’s now known that billionaire right-wing financiers the Koch brothers have given both the groups millions of dollars.
Barrett benefited from an estimated $4.8 million spent by the Greater Wisconsin Committee, mostly on TV ads attacking Walker, according to the WDC.
Barrett and Walker have remained close in the polls despite their fundraising disparities. The latest polling numbers from Public Policy Polling show Barrett trailing Walker at 47 to 50 percent. Polls taken last week ranged from a 49 percent tie between the two candidates and Barrett trailing by as much as 7 points.
Last year, activists gathered nearly one million signatures to put Walker up for a recall vote.
Coalition Demands Campaign Finance Reform
Last week, the WDC and a coalition of Wisconsin community leaders and groups demanded that Walker and Barrett commit to calling for a special legislative session to introduce campaign finance reforms for Wisconsin.
The coalition recommends enacting new disclosure laws so the public can see who is paying for campaigns and political advertising. They also want to close the loophole that allows recall targets like Walker to raise unlimited amounts of campaign cash. The groups also want corporations to notify shareholders about political expenditures and broadcasters to post political advertising records online.
The Federal Election Commission recently approved rules asking major TV stations to post political advertising records online, but the rule only covers major broadcasters in large markets and many Wisconsin stations will be exempt.
“Providing disclosure and closing loopholes in election fundraising should provide both Democrats and Republicans an opportunity to come together and do something good for democracy in Wisconsin,” said Nino Amato, president of the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups.
Truthout was unable to reach a spokesperson for the Walker campaign and the Barrett campaign did not respond to an inquiry from Truthout. Last week, the Walker campaign told Wisconsin Public Radio that Barrett would support meaningful campaign finance laws if elected. A spokesperson for the Walker campaign dodged the question.