Opinion
Reading Los Angeles: Join The Times' new book club
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
  • Carolyn Ramsay for L.A. Council District 4
    Carolyn Ramsay for L.A. Council District 4

    The race to replace longtime City Councilman Tom LaBonge started out promisingly — there were 14 candidates from inside politics and out, some more serious than others, but enough who were smart, enterprising and scrappy. Now, after an appallingly low turnout primary in a district known for its...

  • Bill on drug pricing would help state in figuring healthcare costs
    Bill on drug pricing would help state in figuring healthcare costs

    A new crop of specialty drugs holds great promise for treating or even curing some devastating diseases, but their high cost challenges health insurers and taxpayer-funded health programs. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has asked for $300 million in the coming fiscal year's budget just for specialty...

  • Should L.A. really manage the Greek Theatre?
    Should L.A. really manage the Greek Theatre?

    The city of Los Angeles, which has enough problems getting the streets paved and the trash picked up, may now be getting into the concert business. Earlier this month, after a nasty, political fight over which of two entertainment giants should be awarded the multimillion-dollar contract to operate...

  • Shorter showers? Nine more ways the state has to change its water ways
    Shorter showers? Nine more ways the state has to change its water ways

    Heading into the fourth summer of drought, water agencies are looking for ways to get Californians to conserve at home. Tear out lawns. Install low-flow toilets. Irrigate with gray water. But what should the whole state be doing? Opinion asked nine water experts what needs to change about how California...

  • Evolving awareness is cause for same-sex-marriage optimism in court
    Evolving awareness is cause for same-sex-marriage optimism in court

    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Ohio case of Obergefell vs. Hodges, as well as three related cases from Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. The court is then expected to decide whether the Constitution requires states to grant gay people the same rights in marriage as...

  • The deepest war wound may be the anguish of moral injury
    The deepest war wound may be the anguish of moral injury

    When the Greek playwright Sophocles came home from war, in the 5th century BC, trust and betrayal must have been on his mind. He wrote “Philoctetes,” about a wounded Greek warrior abandoned by Odysseus on the way to Troy.

Comments
Loading