Opinion
Get Opinion in your inbox -- sign up for our weekly newsletter
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
  • Opinion: Why 'God's authority' can't keep Kim Davis out of jail

    Opinion: Why 'God's authority' can't keep Kim Davis out of jail

    Good morning. I'm Paul Thornton, The Times' letters editor, and it is Saturday, Sept. 5. Labor Day is in two days, so here's a pleasant reminder to those of you whose employers observe the holiday: Remember not to show up to work on Monday. Here's a look back at the week in Opinion. Subscribe to...

  • The NLRB closes a labor loophole

    The NLRB closes a labor loophole

    Labor advocates have long complained about companies evading their responsibilities as employers by outsourcing essential work to contractors, which they then require to hire and manage employees almost as if they worked for the company directly. The National Labor Relations Board pushed back against...

  • Would President Huckabee or Cruz put their faith above their duties?

    Would President Huckabee or Cruz put their faith above their duties?

    There are many objectionable elements to the drama playing out in Kentucky, where a four-time married county clerk, citing her faith, has gone to jail rather than do the job she was elected to and issue marriage certificates recognized as valid by the U.S. Supreme Court. But the most egregious...

  • Bush vs. Trump, en Español

    Bush vs. Trump, en Español

    It's tempting to treat Donald Trump's claim that Jeb Bush “should set the example by speaking English while in the United States” as just another bigoted remark from a presidential candidate who infamously referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” (though he added that “some, I assume, are good...

  • Iran nuclear deal is an opportunity the U.S. should seize wholeheartedly

    Iran nuclear deal is an opportunity the U.S. should seize wholeheartedly

    Arms control agreements are by their very nature controversial. They often fall short of achieving everything that was hoped for. Potential gaps in enforcement can make the threat worse, and even if the parties abide by the terms of the agreement, evasion is always suspected.

  • The county is awol in the fight for Malibu beaches

    The county is awol in the fight for Malibu beaches

    Everybody knows this beach story: The rich and powerful who own property along Malibu's 27-mile coastline battle to keep the public away from the sand, surf and sunshine that fronts their houses. (Think David Geffen and his endless lawsuits to keep the access way closed next to his Carbon Beach...

Comments
Loading
67°