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Money in Politics for Wisconsin, State Budget Fights

To: Interested Parties
From: David Donnelly, Public Campaign Action Fund
Date: February 22, 2011

As protesters enter their second week fighting the anti-worker and anti-union budget bill in Wisconsin, and as protests spread to state capitals in Ohio, Indiana, and dozens of other states, it is clear that these battles are taking place in the broader context of the role of corporate money in our elections and public policy arenas. What is happening in Wisconsin is not just about unions, and it’s not just about Wisconsin. It’s about whether corporate special interests and conservative politicians will succeed, in state after state, in their efforts to dismantle, damage, and defund their political opponents.

Overarching frame

Big Oil executives Charles and David Koch and the Chamber of Commerce spent millions to elect Governor Scott Walker and Republicans in Wisconsin, just like they did in other states around the country. Now Walker is paying them back by targeting teachers, nurses, and other public employees in a radical attack on working people in his budget. We won’t have government of, by, and for the people if elections are bought and paid for by corporate special interest money.



Billionaires Charles and David Koch and Koch Industries were big financial players in electing Governor Scott Walker (R-Wisc.) and Republicans in Wisconsin.

  • “State records also show that Koch Industries, their energy and consumer products conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., was one of the biggest contributors to the election campaign of Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican who has championed the proposed cuts.” [New York Times, 2/22/11]
  • “Walker's gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign's second-highest, behind $43,125 in contributions from housing and realtor groups in Wisconsin. The Koch's PAC also helped Walker via a familiar and much-used political maneuver designed to allow donors to skirt campaign finance limits. The PAC gave $1 million to the Republican Governors Association, which in turn spent $65,000 on independent expenditures to support Walker. The RGA also spent a whopping $3.4 million on TV ads and mailers attacking Walker's opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. Walker ended up beating Barrett by 5 points. The Koch money, no doubt, helped greatly.” [Mother Jones, 2/17/11]
  • Koch Industries contributed $60,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), a 527 committee whose mission is to elect Republican state lawmakers. According to state campaign finance filings, RSLC spent approximately $1 million to influence elections in Wisconsin in 2010. [Center for Responsive Politics, accessed 2/22/11; Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, press release, 11/15/10]
  • Gov. Walker’s budget also includes a provision that would allow for no-bid sales of state-owned power plants, a lucrative giveaway to energy lobbyists and corporations like Koch Industries. [Senate Bill 11, Section 40, 16.896]
  • Far from being concerned about workers, Koch Industries’ subsidiaries have been cutting jobs in Wisconsin, while rewarding themselves with huge compensation packages. “At a time when Koch Industries owners David and Charles Koch awarded themselves an extra $11 billion of income from the company, Koch slashed jobs at their Green Bay plant.” [Think Progress, 2/18/11]

The national, state, and some local Chambers spent millions to elect Gov. Walker and Republicans in Wisconsin.

  • Research by Public Campaign Action Fund found that the Republican Governor’s Association (RGA) received $395,000 from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and $1.7 million from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The RGA claimed it spent $5 million to elect Gov. Walker. [Public Campaign Action Fund press release, 2/15/11]
  • The statewide chamber, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, spent at least $2 million to elect Gov. Walker and other Republicans. [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 10/20/10]
  • The budget shortfall is the result of corporate tax breaks, giveaways to big business, and Republican pet spending priorities like privatized health savings accounts. [Talking Points Memo, 2/14/2011]

It’s not just Wisconsin: Nationally, business interests outspent labor by a factor of more than four to one in state elections, and the same interests poured millions into electing other conservative politicians, while breaking disclosure laws.

  • In addition to Wisconsin, the RGA spent $128.9 million to elect governors in states around the country, including $9.8 million in Florida to elect Rick Scott and $11 million in Ohio to elect John Kasich. [Republican Governor’s Association press releases, accessed 2/22/11; Center for Responsive Politics, accessed 2/22/11]
  • A well-connected Virginia lobbyist will head the RSLC. “Chris Jankowski, currently a state Capitol lobbyist for automakers, cigarette manufacturers and car-title lenders, is becoming the president of the Republican State Leadership Committee.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/13/11]
  • The Maine Ethics Commission handed down the largest fine in its history against the RSLC after it spent $400,000 attacking state Democrats while breaking state campaign finance disclosure laws. [Bangor Daily News, 2/17/11]


  • “I grew up quite poor in western Maine. The only reason I have the chance to serve the people of this great state is because of public financing. The great thing about public financing is that I am entirely beholden to the best interests of my people, not to the Corporatocracy that has taken over our democratic Republic. I am leaving today to drive to Madison. I am not coming to challenge lawmakers in Wisconsin or tell folks how to run their state. I am coming because if the levee breaks in Madison, we are all going to be flooded.” – Maine State Rep. Diane Russell [AFL-CIO Blog, 2/21/11]
  • “What Mr. Walker and his backers are trying to do is to make Wisconsin — and eventually, America — less of a functioning democracy and more of a third-world-style oligarchy. And that’s why anyone who believes that we need some counterweight to the political power of big money should be on the demonstrators’ side.” – Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner and New York Times columnist [New York Times, 2/20/11]
  • “The Koch brothers are the poster children of the effort by multinational corporate America to try to redefine the rights and values of American citizens.” – Rep. Gwen Moore (D-Wisc.) [New York Times, 2/21/11]
  • “It's exactly the type of politics that makes everyday citizens think that government works for the few at the expense of the many.” – David Donnelly, Public Campaign Action Fund [Gannett, 2/18/11]