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Wisconsin Recall: Walker Rakes in Millions While Koch Brothers Pump Secret Cash

(Photo: Sue Peacock / Flickr)

The June 5 Wisconsin recall vote is just days away, and Republican Gov. Scott Walker has raised more campaign cash than any candidate in Wisconsin history, with more than $31 million raised since he took office in January 2011. Walker’s war chest, which grew by a whopping $5.9 million in the past five weeks, dwarfs that of his Democratic opponent, former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who’s fundraising total of $4.2 million in comparison had Wisconsin Democrats scolding their party’s national leadership.

Walker has spent more than $20 million campaigning to stay in office and has raised nearly that much since January, but hefty donations to Walker’s campaign coffers aren’t the only source of big money support for the governor who stripped most of Wisconsin’s public employees of their collective bargaining rights. Political Action Committees (PACs) and nonprofit front groups have allowed the Koch brothers and other corporate sources of out-of-state cash to funnel millions of dollars into Wisconsin for campaign initiatives and television ads promoting Walker and his pro-business, union-busting agenda.

Koch Brothers and the RGA

The Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) has spent more than $8 million in Wisconsin on television ads attacking Barrett and supporting Walker through its Right Direction Wisconsin PAC, according to the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Earlier this year, David Koch of Koch brothers fame gave the RGA $1 million and Koch Industries, the massive petrochemical and commodities conglomerate owned by David and his brother Charles, has pumped more than $2 million into the RGA so far this year, according to the Campaign for Responsive Politics.

The RGA is running so-called “issue ads” and is not required to reveal its donors. The group has said that donations are not necessarily earmarked for specific purposes, but the Koch brothers have not been shy about their support for Walker and the RGA. Earlier this year, David Koch told a Florida newspaper, “We’re helping him, as we should. We’ve gotten pretty good at this over the years. We’ve spent a lot of money in Wisconsin. We’re going to spend more.”

Group Demands IRS Investigate Koch-Linked Groups

Two other Koch-funded groups, Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and its partner think tank the MacIver Institute, are also campaigning in support of Walker’s policies with the “It’s Working Wisconsin” campaign, which spent $1.2 million on television ads last year urging voters not to sign petitions to put Walker up for a recall. AFP also spent at least $1.5 million earlier this year on television ads in several Wisconsin cities, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC).

The WDC, a nonpartisan group tracking political spending in Wisconsin, recently filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in March requesting an investigation of the MacIver Institute and the AFP Foundation to determine if the two groups violated their 501(c)3 tax-exempt status by actively supporting Walker and his union-busting legislation through advertisements, public meetings, and other activities.

Tax exempt 501(c)3 groups are supposed to be “social welfare” organizations that are prohibited from intervening in campaigns and using substantial resources for political advocacy. In its ads, the AFP Foundation is careful not to specifically mention Walker’s name and instead promote his policies, but the WDC argues the foundation’s activity clearly meshes with the political activities of AFP’s 501(c)4 advocacy wing that openly supports Walker.

“They are doing it to avoid having to disclose the donations that are paying for their electioneering,” said WDC Director Mike McCabe. “The real kick in the teeth is that ordinary taxpayers end up subsidizing the political donations of the millionaires and billionaires who are funding these operations. We all pay for the tax breaks they get for using their vast fortunes to influence elections.”

The WDC also filed a similar complaint against the Koch-funded, climate change-denying think tank The Heartland Institute, which allegedly violated in tax-exempt status by planning a pro-Walker publicity effort.

A spokesperson for WDC told Truthout that the IRS has yet to respond to the request for an investigation into the three right-wing groups. AFP Wisconsin did not respond to a request for comment from Truthout.

AFP has also come under fire for organizing phone banks and busing in- and out-of-state Tea Party activists around Wisconsin on bus tours to rally support for Walker’s policies. AFP has said the efforts are about policy, not electoral politics, but critics disagree.

One Big Anti-Union Movement

The RGA and the AFP Walker also swooped into Ohio last year in support of Gov. John Kasich’s Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), a union-busting bill similar to Walker’s Act 10 that sparked Wisconsin’s recall.

Last October, Truthout revealed that the RGA used a front group to funnel corporate cash from several American Legislative Exchange Council corporations to help elect Kasich in 2010 before returning to Ohio in a failed, multimillion dollar attempt to save SB 5.

AFP was also on the ground in Ohio, holding “town hall meetings” and organizing conservative activists to rally in support of SB 5.

Ohio voters dealt a hefty blow to Kasich and repealed SB 5 in November 2011 after an expensive showdown between union and pro-business groups, and now a similar scene is unfolding in Wisconsin as right-wing groups pump in out-of-state cash to save a governor famous for crushing public unions.

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