Eaerlier today The Guardian posted a comprehensive article outlining the depths of the efforts by conservatives to help reelect Gov. Scott Walker after it became clear Gov. Walker would face a recall election after he “dropped the bomb” on public employees via the infamous Act 10. While I encourage you all to take the time to read The Guardian article for yourselves, here are just a few snippets.
Scott Walker was under pressure. It was September 2011, and earlier that year the first-term governor had turned himself into the poster boy of hardline Republican politics by passing the notorious anti-union measure Act 10, stripping public sector unions of collective bargaining rights.
Now he was under attack himself, pursued by progressive groups who planned revenge by forcing him into a recall election. His job was on the line.
He asked his main fundraiser, Kate Doner, to write him a briefing note on how they could raise enough money to win the election. At 6.39am on a Wednesday, she fired off an email to Walker and his top advisers flagged “red”.
“Gentlemen,” she began. “Here are my quick thoughts on raising money for Walker’s possible recall efforts.”
Her advice was bold and to the point. “Corporations,” she said. “Go heavy after them to give.” She continued: “Take Koch’s money. Get on a plane to Vegas and sit down with Sheldon Adelson. Ask for $1m now.”
Her advice must have hit a sweet spot, because money was soon pouring in from big corporations and mega-wealthy individuals from across the nation. A few months after the memo, Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate who Forbes estimates has a personal fortune of $26bn, was to wire a donation of $200,000 for the cause.
Adelson’s generosity, like that of most of the other major donors solicited by Walker and crew, was made out not to the governor’s own personal campaign committee but to a third-party group that did not have to disclose its donors. In the world of campaign finance, the group was known as a “dark money” organisation, as it was the recipient of a secret flow of funds that the public knew nothing about.
One of the checks made out to the group, for $10,000, came from a financier called G Frederick Kasten Jr. In the subject line of the check, Kasten had written in his own hand: “Because Scott Walker asked”.
Donations by conservatives to the Wisconsin Club for Growth following a visit to those conservatives by Gov. Walker is a common theme throughout The Guardian‘s report, which cites a meeting between Gov. Walker and John Menard followed shortly thereafter by a huge donation ($1 million) by Menard to the Wisconsin Club for Growth.
Another example of the pattern is the casual comment Walker dropped into an email to his fundraiser dated 14 June 2011: “Also, I got $1m from John Menard today”. Eight days later a check for $1m is cut on a corporate check of Menard Inc, the billionaire John Menard’s home improvement chain Menards, and made out not to the governor’s campaign committee but to Wisconsin Club for Growth. There the donation remained a secret until the publication of the Guardian’s leaked files.
And Gov. Walker seemed to understand exactly what he was doing when meeting with conservative donors.
The email trail shows a pattern of behavior developing: Walker meets up with big corporate donors and encourages them to contribute unlimited sums of money through WCfG in secret, then shortly after the checks start to flow. In June 2011, the emails show, the governor had dinner with the CEO of the largest privately owned trucking company in the US, Schneider National, in the hope of getting him and his peers to donate $250,000.
“Stress the donations to WiCFG are not disclosed and can accept Corporate donations without limits,” Walker’s talking points said.
In what seems to me to be the most damning example of “pay to play” politics, Harold Simmons, the owner of NL Industries, one of America’s leading producers of lead used in paint until lead paint was banned, donated $750,000 in secret to the Wisconsin Club for Growth at the height of the recall elections against Gov. Walker and a number of Republican State Senators. As the report notes, the Republican controlled State Senate passed (and Gov. Walker signed into law) changes to Wisconsin state law that attempted to grant retroactive legal immunity to lead manufacturers from any compensation claims for lead paint poisoning. NL stood to benefit financially from that immunity, likely to the tune of millions of dollars paid out to victims.
It’s worth noting that Harold Simmons was no stranger to campaign finance shenanigans, having been reprimanded by the Federal Election Commision for exceeding legal limits on campaign contributions, which is behavior Walker supporters here in Wisconsin have been convicted criminally of engaging in.
Simmons, who died a year after Walker won his recall election, was a prominent funder of rightwing causes who, along with Donald Trump, was reprimanded by the Federal Election Commission in the 1990s for exceeding legal limits of political campaign contributions. He bankrolled with $3m the notorious Swift Boat smear campaign against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election that erroneously questioned the current secretary of state’s Vietnam war record.
While the bought and paid for conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court may have ruled that Gov. Walker and groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth broke no campaign finance laws here in Wisconsin, the coordination that conservatives engaged in for the benefit of Gov. Walker and Republicans in the State Senate and Supreme Court certainly doesn’t pass the smell test.