Opinion
Grading City Hall: See our report card for L.A. City Council President Herb Wesson
Top of the Ticket
Opinion Top of the Ticket

Billionaires buy Wisconsin recall election for Scott Walker

Surrounded by dozens of supporters at an evening campaign rally in Madison on May 30, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin’s tumultuous recall election, had something encouraging to tell the crowd: The fact that his opponent, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, was outspending him by more than 7 to 1 was no big deal.

“He’s got the mountains of money,” Barrett declared. “I’ve got you.”

Now, Barrett probably wishes he’d had the mountains of money. On Tuesday night, Walker turned back the union-driven effort to toss him out of office, beating Barrett by a comfortable seven percentage points.

Less than two years into his first term in office, Walker became a recall target after stripping Wisconsin’s state employees of their collective bargaining rights. Thousands of teachers, firefighters and other public employees marched on the capitol building. It looked as if Walker had a mighty army arrayed against him.

But Walker had something more potent than an army: billionaires.

The governor put together a nationwide fundraising effort and was richly rewarded. Two-thirds of the $31 million Walker raised to fight the recall came from out-of-state donors, mostly rich guys who hate unions. The gush of cash going to Walker overwhelmed Barrett’s boots-on-the-ground effort and provided more proof, if any more were needed, that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling -- eliminating limits on campaign donations -- has dramatically altered the balance of power in American politics.

The Citizens United decision does not apply to big corporations alone; it also frees unions to give as much as they want. But the fact is unions do not have ready access to money on the scale of the billionaire boys club. When just one man, casino king Sheldon Adelson, can write a couple of checks and fund Newt Gingrich’s entire presidential campaign, you know the craps table of electioneering has been tilted in favor of candidates who look after the concerns of the mega-rich.

And guess what? Most of those candidates, just like most billionaires, are Republicans.

Occupy Wall Street enthusiasts can camp out on the sidewalk and conduct their exquisitely egalitarian group discussions. Anarchists can gleefully smash windows at Bank of America and Starbucks. Union members can set up phone banks and carry picket signs. But as long as elections are there to be bought, a handful of billionaires will have a far louder voice in who runs the country than all the activists on the left combined.

As evidence, I offer exhibits one and two: David and Charles Koch, the billionaires Democrats love to hate. These oil magnates are generous sugar daddies for the "tea party" and conservative candidates all over America. According to the Obama campaign, the Koch brothers have pledged $200 million to defeat the president in November. Others say the Kochs are only putting up $60 million. Either way, that is a big chunk of change from just two voters.

The vanity of rich men used to be stoked by buying yachts and racehorses and baseball teams. Now, the indulgence of choice seems to be the purchase of governors and congressmen and -- who knows? -- maybe even a president.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Treatment, not just jail, for the mentally ill

    Treatment, not just jail, for the mentally ill

    The U.S. Department of Justice and Los Angeles County officials are negotiating the details of a consent decree to govern the treatment of mentally ill inmates in the troubled county jails, following more than a decade of reported abuse and excessive force by sheriff's deputies. The final terms...

  • Does owning a gun make you safer?

    Does owning a gun make you safer?

    The United States has the most heavily armed civilian population in the First World; our homes contain enough firearms for every man, woman and child.

  • Why let ex-presidents cash in?

    Why let ex-presidents cash in?

    President Harry Truman once said that he would never lend himself "to any transaction, however respectable, that would commercialize on the prestige and dignity of the office of the presidency." His successors have not held themselves to the same standard.

  • Defunding Planned Parenthood is not the same as repealing the right to abortion

    Defunding Planned Parenthood is not the same as repealing the right to abortion

    The GOP-controlled Congress is taking up the cause, once again, of defunding Planned Parenthood. This latest effort comes in response to macabre hidden-camera videos shot by the Center for Medical Progress of staff at Planned Parenthood talking about the grisly practice of chopping up fetuses for...

  • Obama's Clean Energy Plan doesn't go far enough

    Obama's Clean Energy Plan doesn't go far enough

    The coal industry already has its legal claws honed for a court battle over President Obama's Clean Energy Plan, which was unveiled Monday, claiming that it will cost too much and render people jobless. Certainly, in the short term at least, slowing climate change by reducing carbon emissions won't...

  • Political grandstanding on Planned Parenthood

    Political grandstanding on Planned Parenthood

    An effort by Senate Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood failed Monday evening when a procedural measure fell short of the 60 votes needed to proceed. Good. The bill, introduced in the wake of several undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing what the organization does...

Comments
Loading
72°