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Out-of-state groups send in cash to deliver recall message

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Lisa Wolfe
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« on: August 03, 2011, 04:55:10 pm »

Out-of-state groups send in cash to deliver recall message
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Out-of-state groups send in cash to deliver recall message
JESSICA VANEGEREN | The Capital times | | (26) Comments | Posted: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 5:30 am Cover Recall Money 8_11&t_url= Cover Recall Money 8_11&t_url=
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Sandwiched between Klinke Cleaners and Check ‘n Go in a strip mall in Sun Prairie is one of the biggest financial players in Wisconsin’s historic round of recall elections.
But don’t be fooled by the 1223 W. Main St., #304 address. The conservative, pro-business Wisconsin Club for Growth boasts no posh suite, just a simple mailbox at a UPS store. While its office presence may be lacking, its political influence is not.
To date, Wisconsin Club for Growth has spent an estimated $3 million to $4 million on “issue” ads for and against candidates in the state’s recall elections. That’s far more than the $1 million it spent cumulatively on elections in the state over the past four years.
The power of that money is being seen in select markets across the state by television viewers who are being assailed by hard-hitting, 30-second attack ads. And, keep in mind that as an issue ad organization, Wisconsin Club for Growth does not have to report who its donors are or what it spends.
Wisconsin Club for Growth is just one of 56 groups that have simultaneously cranked open the campaign spending spigot, releasing a record stream of cash into Wisconsin to influence the state’s nine recall elections. Most of the groups have ties to outside interests: labor unions, national political parties, business advocates, the tea party, school choice or President Obama’s re-election campaign, among others.
The result is an estimated $10 million to $12 million spent by outside groups on advertising in various forms since statewide protests erupted in February over Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal, since enacted, to curb the collective bargaining rights of most public workers.
Total spending could hit $20 million to $25 million, estimates Mike McCabe, the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which has been tracking special-interest spending. Common Cause of Wisconsin predicts as much as $30 million will be spent.
Both conservative and liberal groups cite the historic effort to unseat nine state senators – three Democrats and six Republicans – as a test of how far a GOP governor and Republican-led Legislature can push a pro-business, anti-union agenda and budget strategy that cuts state spending at the expense of public education, public workers and health care programs, among others, before feeling repercussions at the polls.
But the groups are not just focused on maintaining or overturning Republican control of the state Capitol. Officials with a number of the special-interest groups say they are also looking to send a message and lay the groundwork for the 2012 presidential race.
“The behavior by these groups is proof they see these elections as having broad national consequences,” says Charles Franklin, a political science professor with UW-Madison. “Otherwise, they wouldn’t be pouring money into the state.”
Indeed, Wisconsin has become ground zero in a national showdown over opposing political philosophies about the role of government. If the Democrats take control of the state Senate through the recall elections, observers say it will signal a resurgence of the Democratic Party after its crippling losses in the 2010 elections.
Democrats in Wisconsin have scored one win already, with Sen. Dave Hansen, D-Green Bay, easily retaining his Senate seat in a recall election last month. The contest continues Aug. 9, with recall elections for six incumbent Republicans, followed by the final recall elections for two incumbent Democrats Aug. 16. Democrats must win five of the remaining eight elections to take control of the state Senate.
To date, 42 political action committees and 14 “issue ad” groups have contributed to the $10 million to $12 million that has been spent on advertising for the nine recall elections. McCabe says these special-interest groups could “easily” break the $15 million mark by the time the elections are over.
Broadcasters are not required by law to report what the issue ad groups spend on ads. But many are cooperating with Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s project to report on outside spending in Wisconsin races. A final tally on how much is spent will not be known until after the Aug. 16 elections.
Political action committees, or PACs, are private groups that can be created by unions, special-interest groups and corporations to support candidates or issues in an election. PACs must register with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and report where their money comes from and how it’s spent.
In contrast, an issue ad group, does not have to register with the state board or report its spending. It’s parent organization often has an innocuous name, like Citizens for a Strong America.
By avoiding so-called “magic words” in their ads – “vote for,” “support,” “elect,” “vote against,” “defeat,” “reject” – the issue ad groups bypass reporting requirements. Still, an ad without the magic words gets its message across to voters.
“Coca-Cola never says ‘Buy Coca-Cola.’ Walmart never says ‘Shop at Walmart,’” McCabe says. “But you know from watching the commercial they want you to buy Coca-Cola and they want you to shop at Walmart.”
To date, the top issue ad spender in the recall elections is Wisconsin Club for Growth. We Are Wisconsin, a coalition of labor groups including the AFL-CIO and AFSCME that was created in March to back Democrats in the Senate recalls, has spent about $4 million, the bulk of the $6.1 million spent by the 42 PACs.
McCabe says the growth in both the number of groups pouring money into the recall elections and the large sums they’ve raised and spent on ads is a drastic change from what was happening in the state even a few years ago.
“Spending by registered groups (PACs) in the fall of 2010 was $3.75 million,” McCabe points out, for all legislative races statewide. “When this is done, their spending will have more than doubled, perhaps tripled, that amount, for just nine recall elections.”
The special interest money game has exploded in the past decade. In the fall 2000 legislative election season, 16 PACs and five issue ad groups bought ads in Wisconsin. Total spending was just under $3 million, with the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest teachers union, topping the list of spenders at $1.05 million.
Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, who pioneered the use of the issue ad in Wisconsin in 1996 and injected unregulated corporate money into election advertising for the first time, also was a major spender.
Those two groups, WEAC and WMC, used to be the dominant two spenders, McCabe says. Then what he calls “phony front groups” that represent outside interests began to proliferate, not to lobby for issues they support, as WEAC and WMC did, but simply to influence elections.
“They emerge during election seasons, and they spend boatloads of money,” McCabe says. “They’ve really taken over.”
On July 20, Denise Feriozzi, the executive director of Emily’s List, a national, Washington D.C.-based organization dedicated to electing pro-choice, Democratic women to office, landed in Wisconsin. Her visit was a first on many fronts.
While Emily’s List commonly endorses and contributes to female candidates for office at all levels, Feriozzi says there is more at stake in Wisconsin.
Walker and the Republicans “ignited a national firestorm of outrage by trying to take away the programs and services that matter most to American women and families,” says Feriozzi, citing cuts to education and reproductive health care as two examples.
Feriozzi described Emily’s List’s involvement in the Wisconsin recalls as “unprecedented.” In addition to endorsing all five of the women trying to unseat Republican senators (former Brown County Executive Nancy Nusbaum; Rep. Sandy Pasch of Whitefish Bay; educator Shelly Moore; former Oshkosh Deputy Mayor Jessica King, and Rep. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse), the organization is activating its national phone bank to allow its members to call Wisconsin voters and will be knocking on doors the weekend of Aug. 6-7 to talk to voters about what’s at stake.
Feriozzi says thousands of dollars will be spent through Wisconsin Women Vote!, an independent expenditure arm of Emily’s List, to run ads in the Twin Cities TV market against Moore’s competitor, incumbent Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, and against Sen. Dan Kapanke, R-La Crosse, who is being challenged by Shilling.
One ad, titled “Send Kapanke Packing” begins with a black Lincoln Town Car with tinted windows speeding down a country road on its way to pick up two businessmen. On its way, it passes a young girl sitting at a desk, an elderly couple sitting alongside the road on a park bench and a family of four eating dinner.
“Put middle-class families first. And send Kapanke packing,” says the narrator. The ad is being run in conjunction with We Are Wisconsin.
Feriozzi says Republicans in Wisconsin and in Washington are “overreaching because of some mandate they think they got from the voters during the last election. I expect what happens in Wisconsin to have significance up and down the ballot in 2012.”
So do many others.
To date, the Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Change Campaign Committee, (known as Bold Progressives), in conjunction with Democracy for America, has spent roughly $1 million on ads in Wisconsin, says co-founder Adam Green. The organization, normally focused on candidates for federal office, plans to spend another half a million before the recall elections conclude.
Green says the various outside groups are involved in Wisconsin’s recall elections to stop a larger pattern of what they see as an attack on middle-class families.
“A Democratic win sends a message that when Republicans flagrantly buck the will of the voters and attack workers, they will be punished,” Green says. “It is collective bargaining plus other issues. It’s cuts to schools, while tax cuts are being given to large corporations.”
Nationally, he sees a parallel track that Republicans are following, including Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan’s proposal to give tax cuts to the wealthy while cutting Medicare.
Bold Progressives has been one of the more prominent national voices criticizing President Obama for straying too far from the principles of the liberal base, says Green. It has told its members not to volunteer for Obama in 2012 if he makes any cuts to Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid.
“We’re in Wisconsin to send a message to Obama,” Green says. “When Democrats like the Wisconsin 14 stand strong for working families, they will be rewarded by our votes.”
Wisconsin’s recall elections aren’t just being used as a vehicle to send Obama a message from the left. Messages also are coming from the right.
The California-based Campaign to Defeat Barack Obama, a sister group to the national Tea Party Express PAC, is raising money and running ads in Wisconsin. One ad calls for supporters to help “tell Barack Obama and his liberal hacks” that they “reject their unhelpful intervention” in Wisconsin politics.
The ad states: “Gov. Walker and the Republicans are providing the adult leadership Wisconsin needs to restore fiscal responsibility to the Badger State. But Barack Obama’s political allies, including, are spending millions to block these important reforms. Now, they are even trying to recall the Republican senators who stayed in Madison and did their jobs well.”
The fight over collective bargaining rights, which began in February and led to the recall efforts, saw all 14 of Wisconsin’s Democratic senators leave the state for weeks to avoid voting on a bill that ultimately was passed by Republicans alone, using a controversial procedural move. Walker’s direct assault on union power is part of a similar effort in other GOP-led states. The recall elections will repudiate or endorse that effort.
“A number of governors across the country who have also moved to trim spending, leading to a reduction in employee benefits and employee rights, are watching and waiting,” says Franklin, the UW prof. “Wisconsin is an indicator of how far they can go.”
The list of powerful political players spending money on the recall efforts continues to grow.
Club for Growth; Citizens for a Strong America, a conservative group funded by the billionaire Koch brothers that has bought several hundred thousand dollars worth of ads; and the pro-school choice American Federation for Children, a relatively unheard-of group in Wisconsin until now, are among those supporting Walker and the GOP senators targeted for recall.
National Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller says Wisconsin represents a larger debate playing out nationally over how much economic freedom versus regulation should be allowed in America. In his organization’s view, stripping collective bargaining rights from workers is a positive step toward economic growth.
“Collective bargaining locks in the price of labor,” Keller says. “We think that is inefficient and anti-growth. People should be paid for what they’re worth.”
The American Federation for Children, a Washington D.C.-based group chaired by Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos, has begun running ads in Wisconsin in support of Walker and the Republicans’ effort to expand the school voucher program in Wisconsin. Former Republican Rep. Scott Jensen is the federation’s senior policy adviser.
In addition to running ads, the American Federation of Children also sponsored automated telephone calls to the Republican senators’ constituents during the petition drive for the recalls, urging them not to support a recall just because they might disagree with their senator over asking union members to pay more toward their pension and health care costs.
Among Wisconsin Club for Growth’s TV ads was one that aired in June and featured video clips of Democratic candidate Shelly Moore, who’s opposing Republican Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, loudly addressing crowds at several rallies.
The ad ends with a narrator saying, “Tell Shelly Moore we need solutions, not shouting.”
The average voter would likely not realize the ad is being paid for by a special-interest group, says McCabe. Instead, they would think it was paid for by Harsdorf.
“A lot of times, these groups do the dirty work,” McCabe says. “They get down in the gutter for the candidates.”
He says because the average voter doesn’t understand the sophisticated level on which the political game is now played, most voters don’t separate attack ads from the candidates themselves.
“Even though people say they tune the ads out, you’ll hear people talk about the issues and many of them will use sound bits they heard on the commercials,” McCabe says. “On some level these ads are working, which is unfortunate, because they are the worst places for people to get their information.”
While the state’s political fights, including the barrage of ads, have turned off some voters, they are what prompted one Wisconsin father and educator to agree to be featured in an issue ad.
Jay Jones, the father of three and resident of a small town north of Berlin in Waushara County, agreed to participate in an ad against Republican Sen. Luther Olsen. The ad, paid for by Bold Progressives and Democracy for America, criticizes Olsen for voting to cut state aid to public education.
As a result of that reduced funding, a small kindergarten through fourth grade school with about 75 kids will close this fall. Jones’ two younger children will be moved to a different school.
“I was not a huge political activist. In fact, I was kind of turned off by politics,” Jones says. “But I couldn’t just stand by and watch was happening to our schools.”
He says his appearance on the commercial prompted a few difficult discussions with some people, even a call from one person who shouted “You’re liars!” and then hung up after his wife answered the phone.
“I didn’t anticipate all the stuff that would happen when the commercial came out,” Jones says. “But it’s worth it. The changes to collective bargaining make me angry, but it’s really the cuts. The cuts aren’t good for anybody.”
Copyright 2011 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted in Govt-and-politics on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 5:30 am Updated: 5:42 am. Recall Election, Mike Mccabe, Wisconsin Club For Growth, Wisconsin Education Association Council, Scott Walker, Sheila Harsdorf, Charles Franklin, Citizens For A Strong America, Denise Feriozzi, Adam Green, Shelly Moore, Dave Hansen, Barney Keller, Nancy Nusbaum, Jennifer Shilling, Jessica King, Sandy Pasch, Dan Kapanke

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