BLET WISLB Information
Sometimes political corruption comes right up and slaps you on the face.
Such was the case with the recent revelation that a state lawmaker granted a wealthy divorced developer an unusual and significant opportunity to provide input into the writing of legislation allowing high-income parents to substantially reduce their child support payments. The businessman happens to be a major donor to the Republican legislator and other GOP officials.
The effort to craft the bill (since withdrawn) to the donor’s liking even left a legislative attorney helping to write the bill at a loss. “It’s hard to fashion a general principle that will apply to only one situation,” the drafting lawyer said.
Most people don’t get that kind of attention and personalized service from an elected representative. But then most people don’t make tens of thousands of dollars in political donations.
Most times, corruption is not that conspicuous. Most times, it presents itself much more subtly.
The corrupting influence of money in politics works its will at the Capitol every day in countless ways as it shapes the legislative agenda. It plays an insidious role in determining what lawmakers discuss and what they don’t talk about, which bills get debated and which ones don’t, what business is brought to a vote, and which bills become law.
Here’s an illustration: Try to think of the last time the Legislature did something to address a major challenge unique to rural communities in Wisconsin. Try to name the rural issues that are on the Legislature’s agenda for the upcoming session. Make a list of the rural issues on the Democrats’ agenda. Now make one for the Republicans.
Those are some mighty short lists.
Rural people and rural problems get neglected at the Capitol for a reason. Politicians don’t talk about rural issues and don’t solve rural problems because they don’t get many political donations from rural areas. As the Democracy Campaign’s recent analysis of the communities in Wisconsin that produce the most campaign contributions showed, less than a quarter of the state’s nearly 900 ZIP codes produce almost all of the political donations. On the color-coded map illustrating this finding, there are some red ZIPs that strongly favor Republicans and a few blue ones that support the Democrats. But most of the map is colorless. Most parts of the state — especially the rural parts — generate little or no money for the politicians.
Elected officials always say campaign contributions have nothing to do with the decisions they make. Indeed, the legislator who authored the child support bill insisted the donations he got played no role in his decision to do the divorced businessman’s bidding.
So again I ask: When is the last time Wisconsin lawmakers tackled a major problem plaguing rural communities?
I made this point in a recent interview, and at first the reporter asking the questions appeared stumped. Then he brought up the proposed legislation designed to clear the way for more mining of sand used in a process of natural gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
Think about that legislation. Local elected officials in western and northwestern Wisconsin, responding to concerns by the region’s mostly rural residents, have approved numerous resolutions and local ordinances aimed at asserting their communities’ right to oversee and regulate sand mining operations. Some have even voted to approve moratoriums stopping the activity altogether, at least for the time being.
State lawmakers marinated in money from a recent surge in political giving by sand mining interests from across the country fashioned a bill that seeks to pre-empt these local actions. The legislation strips away local control and puts the state in charge of oversight and regulation of sand mining. The hands of local officials would be tied. The ability of rural communities to determine their own fate when it comes to sand mining would be taken away.
Rural folks concerned that sand mining could harm air and water quality, lower their property values, create noise pollution and traffic congestion and damage their roads would be left with no say over these operations and no control over their own fate on the issue. They wouldn’t even have a say over the use of dynamite for blasting at the mining sites in their own backyards.
This is the one time that comes readily to mind when state lawmakers showed an interest in addressing an issue of great importance to rural Wisconsin, and this is how they respond. Sometimes political corruption comes right up and slaps you on the face.
Mike McCabe is executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. This column first appeared on the group’s Big Money Blog.
Recent word of surprise tax revenues and higher-than-expected state surpluses are setting off the predictable fiscal feeding frenzy in the state Capitol.
There is talk of further income or property tax cuts or, perhaps, updating of state income tax withholding tables.
The latter is long overdue. State government has been withholding about 20 percent more from our paychecks than it needs, returning it later as income tax refunds. With budget crises and cash-flow problems behind it, state government can and should trim withholding to normal levels, leaving taxpayers with more income.
One idea that is probably not on the radar screens of state politicians also deserves mention.
Over the past two decades, state budget problems prompted governors and lawmakers to use repeated accounting tricks to “balance” what would otherwise have been unbalanced state budgets. Some of these tricks involved changing the timing of state aid and property tax credit payments to local units of government. This shifts costs from one fiscal year to the next.
One good-government alternative for using new-found cash is to “buy back” or undo some of these past accounting tricks. These gimmicks permanently increased by hundreds of millions of dollars deficits reported in official state financial statements prepared using general accepted accounting principles (or GAAP).
Paying for some state spending items in the current fiscal year rather than delaying payment until the following year would reverse poor budgetary decisions of past years while permanently lowering the GAAP deficit, which has ranged from $1.7 billion to $3 billion in recent years. It would also strengthen budget balances going forward, improving chances for a hike in Wisconsin’s relatively low bond rating, and increase the ability of state officials to undertake needed and major reforms in taxes, education or local government finance.
Berry is president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a state budget watchdog group: wistax.org.
The Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature are making continuous efforts to impede voting rights and suppress voter turnout.
The system is being rigged — from changing voting and registration hours and dates in order to make voting more inconvenient and lengthen voter lines, to carving voter district boundary lines to favor Republican candidates, to passing repressive voter ID and registration requirements.
Some of the most insidious measures to keep people from voting are the new registration and voter ID proposals.
For 150 years, most of Wisconsin’s 1,851 cities, towns and villages did not have voter registration. If you lived in a municipality that had fewer than 5,000 residents, you didn’t need to register unless the community opted for registration. That changed a decade ago when the federal government required states to adopt statewide registration.
This offered a perfect opportunity for states to start rigging the voting laws. Despite several investigations that found no widespread or methodical fraud, a voter fraud problem was invented by partisans to justify voter suppression — read that to mean “keep down voting in Democratic-leaning areas and deter likely Democratic voters from voting.”
Following the national Republican program to make voting more difficult for the young, the elderly, the poor, minorities, and disabled, our Legislature and governor are in a mad dash to target specific groups of potential voters.
For instance young people. How many young people have photo IDs with their current address? Kids bounce around from apartment to apartment, job to job. A recent study showed fully a quarter of people in their early 20s moved in the last year. Yes, they’re supposed to change the license address, but most probably just leave mom and dad’s address on the license. The majority of Wisconsin colleges and tech schools don’t issue student IDs with current addresses.
Close to half of young minority people do not have a driver’s license — nor do many disabled people. Likewise, many elderly folks don’t hold a driver’s license. Many seniors do not have readily available birth certificates, and tracking down a birth certificate, particularly from another state, is no simple task. And finding transportation to a DMV office to get a state ID can be difficult.
Under the Republican voter ID law, now stalled in the courts, an elderly voter who grew up next door to the poll worker would have to produce a piece of paper to prove who they are!
Then there’s the casual voter. About 70 percent of eligible Wisconsin voters cast ballots in presidential elections, but that falls to around 50 percent in gubernatorial elections, and the percentages plunge in non-high-profile races. A distinct minority of us religiously vote in every election. Non-regular voters tend to get motivated by candidates or issues late in the election cycle. Late deciders should not be burdened with requirements to chase down birth certificates, state IDs, or passports in the last weeks before the election.
The respected federal judge who wrote the Indiana decision opening the floodgates to voter ID laws, Richard Posner, recently said the Indiana decision was wrong. Now that more information is available, he says the Indiana law “is a type of law now regarded as a means of voter suppression.”
The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision on the legitimacy of ID laws in 2008 with Justice David Souter writing in dissent: “The law would have a disproportionate impact on poor and elderly voters.” Just last year Justice John Paul Stevens, who voted with the majority, admitted that Souter had been proven “dead right” in the years since the decision was handed down.
Federal judges are now figuring out the consequences of ID laws.
Wisconsin should too.
Former Rep. Dave Travis served in the Wisconsin Assembly for 30 years and was a member of the Assembly Elections Committee for 20 years.
In the week preceding Gov. Scott Walker’s 2012 recall election, amid a flurry of attack ads from all sides, one commercial treated Wisconsin television viewers to 30 seconds of supposedly home-spun Wisconsin wisdom.
“I didn’t vote for Scott Walker,” said a man leaning over a dock, fishing. “But I’m against the recall.”
“Recall isn’t the Wisconsin way,” said another guy.
It concluded: “End the recall madness. Vote for Scott Walker.”
The ad was sponsored by the Coalition for American Values, a mysterious Virginia-based group whose rather primitive website offered interested parties little more than a series of patriotic-themed photos — a solider greeting his son, a girl holding a flag — and an address for mailing donations. There were no names of those responsible for running the organization listed on the site.
Since the ads explicitly advocated for the election of a candidate, the group was required to report the spending to the state Government Accountability Board. But the report submitted by the Coalition for American Values didn’t offer any insight into where its money was coming from. The only donor it listed was itself.
It wasn’t until a year-and-a-half after the election that the source of the group’s money was finally revealed by the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group based in Madison. By looking at tax documents for various political groups, the CMD discovered that the Center to Protect Patient Rights (CPPR), one of the many political nonprofits linked to billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, had been the group’s sole donor.
The Center for Media and Democracy filed a complaint with the accountability board, accusing the Coalition for American Values of failing to disclose its donors, as all “express advocacy” groups are required to do. The complaint has precedent — late last year, CPPR paid a $1 million fine in California for campaign finance violations.
While it will be heralded as a victory for transparency if the Coalition for American Values is reprimanded for its activities, it’s easy for such groups to avoid legal snafus and still spend unlimited amounts of money influencing voters.
Many of the most important political groups in Wisconsin are not required to report any of the money they spend on political ads. Why? Because the ads they run are technically classified as “issue ads,” meaning they avoid using specific words, such as “vote for” or “vote against.” Instead, they often bash or praise a candidate without specifically telling voters what to do at the polls.
It is this distinction between “express advocacy” and “issue advocacy” that a judge reportedly cited last week in rejecting the subpoenas that prosecutors sought for conservative groups in an ongoing John Doe investigation into illegal coordination between the Scott Walker campaign and independent political groups during the 2012 recall campaign. According to anonymous sources cited by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Appeals Judge Gregory Peterson said there was no probable cause of illegal coordination since the groups cited in the case were not engaging in “express advocacy.”
Essentially, the distinction allows these groups to do much of what political campaigns dream of doing: Raising and spending unlimited money without having to tell people where it is coming from.
Indeed, finding out who is funding these groups is difficult, if not virtually impossible. The only method for discovery is the IRS 990 form that all nonprofits are required to file annually. Although nonprofits are not required to list their contributors, they do have to list any large contributions they made to other groups.
Those willing to pore over documents for hours, if not days, might get a glimpse of where some of the money is coming from. Here’s what the Cap Times found out about some of the biggest players in Wisconsin politics.
In addition to a cadre of lobbyists, most of whom are plucked from the staffs of Republican legislative leaders, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce has an affiliate organization, the WMC Issues Mobilization Council, which regularly dumps millions of dollars into “issue ads” attacking Democrats and boosting Republicans.
Last summer, more than a year before the 2014 governor’s election, the group produced ads thanking Walker for improving Wisconsin’s business climate and creating jobs. That one ad blitz, which cost an estimated $1 million, amounted to more than half of the $1.8 million that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke reported raising during the first four months of her campaign.
While most of the money for WMC’s main organization comes from dues that member businesses pay, the money for its political arm comes exclusively from voluntary contributions, either from member businesses, individuals or outside organizations. Any contributions coming directly from companies or individuals is nearly impossible to track, however, since that information is not public.
What is clear from the tax records of other large political organizations in the state, however, is that one of WMC’s largest donors is the Wisconsin Club for Growth, the state affiliate of the national anti-tax group founded by New York City money managers in the 1980s.
In 2012 alone, the Club gave nearly $3 million to the WMC Issues Mobilization Council, about 45 percent of the $6.7 million that the group raised that year. Another big donor is the Wisconsin Bankers Association, which WMC executive director Kurt Bauer ran before taking his current position. The bankers group contributed $213,000 over the two years prior to the 2012 recall election.
“The vast majority of our donations come from WMC members, and that was true in 2012 as well,” Bauer wrote in an email in response to questions. “The Club stood out in 2012 in terms of overall dollar amounts, but they were still just one donor of many. We have many donors, and some give more than others.”
Sometimes the money moves in the opposite direction. In 2011, WMC gave nearly $1 million to the Club.
In recent years, some state-based business groups that have previously donated to WMC are giving to Wisconsin Club for Growth instead. For instance, the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance, the political arm of the Wisconsin Realtors Association, has given no money to WMC in recent years, but directed more than $1.1 million to the Club for Growth between 2010 and 2012. Similarly, the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance gave more than $400,000 to the Club in those three years, but only $5,000 to WMC.
As a result, the Club’s revenue ballooned from just more than $1 million in 2010 to over $12 million in 2011. In 2012, its revenue dropped to $8 million, still greater than WMC’s total of $6.7 million.
Both groups finance ads to boost Republican candidates or funnel the money to other conservative groups. Both have contributed substantially to the American Federation for Children, a Washington D.C.-based group that campaigns for private school vouchers.
Although both groups claim to be devoted to promoting free-market or business-friendly economic policy, they have both strayed from that focus to help elect conservative candidates.
For instance, in 2011, the Club donated $4.6 million — more than a third of its budget — to Citizens for a Strong America, a group that received no other donations that year, had no paid employees and listed a post office box in Columbus, Wis., as its address.
Citizens for a Strong America then directed a large portion of that money to socially conservative organizations. Most notably, it gave $916,000 to Wisconsin Family Action, a group that stridently opposes gay marriage and abortion, and $347,582 to the anti-abortion Wisconsin Right to Life. Those contributions accounted for more than 90 percent of Family Action’s revenue that year and roughly 14 percent of the revenue for Wisconsin Right to Life.
The director of the state Club for Growth, Eric O’Keefe, who has complained to the Wall Street Journal editorial board about the targeting of his organization by an ongoing John Doe investigation, did not respond to requests for comment.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision, which allowed corporations and unions to campaign independently for candidates, Greater Wisconsin Committee was pitted against WMC and other conservative groups in the issue ad game. In the post-Citizens United era, GWC runs express advocacy ads that explicitly support Democrats or oppose Republicans.
As a result, GWC, run by a single employee with a post office box for an address, is required to disclose any money that it spends on ads to the Government Accountability Board. The money received by its spending arm, the Greater Wisconsin Independent Political Expenditure Fund, is disclosed as well. Almost all of the contributions come either directly from a handful of large unions, such as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), or through a union front group, We Are Wisconsin, founded during the first round of recall elections to raise money from state and national unions.
However, there appears to be some significant contributions that GWC manages to avoid disclosing. For instance, the $100,000 it received in 2012 from the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance. While that donation was listed on WHA’s tax documents, it was nowhere to be found on GWC’s campaign finance documents.
Why? Likely because WHA reported the donation was for “issues advocacy.” Therefore, GWC does not have to report the contribution.
GWC executive director Rich Judge declined to comment specifically on the WHA donation, but said that his group discloses all contributions it is legally obligated to disclose.
Backed largely by the billionaire DeVos family of Michigan, AFC is the one major conservative group in Wisconsin that engages in express advocacy for candidates. Although its Wisconsin chapter typically supports Republicans, it spent a significant sum of money in solidly Democratic districts to promote Democratic primary candidates who support private school vouchers.
Little is known about where the money AFC spends on Wisconsin elections comes from.
Although the group reported receiving $40,000 last year from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, AFC reports getting the rest of the money from its national organization, which is not required to disclose its finances to the state.
“Out-of-state groups are only required to report income they receive from sources within Wisconsin,” explained GAB spokesman Reid Magney last year. “Money they receive from sources outside Wisconsin does not need to be reported to the state of Wisconsin.”
Other Wisconsin groups give substantially to AFC, however. Its donors in recent years have included WMC ($185,000), Wisconsin Club for Growth ($250,000), the Wisconsin Bankers Association ($10,000), the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance ($10,000) and the Wisconsin Homeowners Alliance ($30,000).
One of its most significant donors in Wisconsin was a group based in Brookfield called the Jobs First Coalition, which gave AFC $245,000 in 2011. Not much is known about the coalition, which is run by Bob Reddin, a Brookfield alderman, according to the group’s 990 form.
In response to requests for comment and its latest 990 form, somebody from the group responded via the group’s email account without identifying him or herself. The person agreed to send the 990 form via mail, as required by law, but did not respond to any further questions.
It is clear that the coalition’s money comes largely from the same sources that are funding the other big conservative groups in the state. Nearly half of the $927,000 it raised in 2011 came from the Club for Growth, which gave it $425,000. In 2011-2012 it also received $150,000 from the Homeowners Alliance and in 2010 it received $25,000 from the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance.
It is difficult to trace money directed to Americans for Prosperity, the national conservative behemoth founded by the Koch brothers a decade ago. Although the group boasted a budget of $125 million in 2012, considering the wealth of its backers, it did not need to solicit much money from other organizations.
Whereas most major political organizations in the state, which are registered under the IRS 501©(4) section, are allowed to engage in political communications and even openly support candidates, AFP is registered as a tax-deductible charitable organization, meaning it is barred from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
Thus, all of AFP’s activities are conducted under the guise of “voter education activities.” Much of AFP’s funding is directed toward events, such as rallies and conventions. But many millions also financed TV ads clearly intended to boost Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney and Scott Walker.
In 2011 and 2012, AFP teamed up with the MacIver Institute, a conservative think-tank, on an ad campaign promoting Walker’s policies. The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an election watchdog group, estimated that the ads cost $3.7 million. AFP President Tim Philips told CNN that his group spent $10 million in 2011 and 2012 promoting Walker’s policies.
While AFP’s funders are hard to identify, records indicate that MacIver receives a substantial portion of its budget from the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, a conservative foundation based in Milwaukee that doles out tens of millions of dollars annually to right-leaning think tanks and advocacy groups.
In response to the AFP-MacIver ad campaign, the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign filed a complaint with the IRS, arguing the groups had violated their charitable status.
“These groups are gaming the tax code to play electoral politics while masquerading as charitable organizations,” WDC director Mike McCabe said in a March 2012, statement. The IRS responded that it would consider the matter, but has not said anything further.
So far, no state has implemented meaningful regulations that require issue advocacy groups to disclose their donors.
In Wisconsin, the attempts to do so have been stymied by both political parties and political groups across the spectrum. For instance, in the wake of the Citizens United decision in 2010, the GAB put in place a rule that would have required disclosure from any group that runs an ad or mailing within 60 days of an election that is subject to “no reasonable interpretation other than as an appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate.”
The Club for Growth and One Wisconsin Now, a small, union-backed group that does not run TV ads but engages in online communications, sued to block implementation. The sides reached a settlement and GAB has not since enforced the rule.
In addition, when Democrats were in control of the Legislature in 2010, a bill that would have required disclosure of issue ad groups passed the Senate but was not taken up by the Assembly.
“The leadership in the Assembly and a couple Assembly Democrats didn’t want to bring it up,” recalls Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, one of the bill’s sponsors, who says that some in his party believed they could benefit from the secretive groups.
Mike Wittenwyler, an attorney who represents the Club for Growth and other political groups, says such a law would be unconstitutional. Specifically, it would run counter to a landmark 1976 Supreme Court ruling that recognized a fundamental difference between ads that expressly advocate for candidates by using specific words, such as “vote for” or “vote against,” and ads that avoid such terms.
That does not mean, he says, that the state can’t regulate issue ads. What it could do, he suggests, is set up a framework that mimics existing regulations for federal elections. Currently, the federal government requires that all ads that mention a candidate within 60 days before an election disclose the spending.
“If the state adopted a statute like that, it depends on what it looks like, but (it might pass constitutional muster),” he says.
While such a system would force groups like WMC and the Club for Growth to immediately disclose how much they have spent on TV ads and other communication, it might not force them to disclose their donors. As is the case in federal elections, many big groups report that none of the money they received was intended to specifically fund ads, and therefore does not have to be disclosed.
Others have suggested that raising contribution limits for candidates will take some of the money out of the independent sphere. It was that reasoning that led a bill to double the amount that state candidates could accept from contributors to pass the Assembly overwhelmingly last year, although it is now stalled in the Senate.
“If we have artificially low limits, money is going to flow into the independent expenditures, which is not good for anybody,” said state Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend.
Erpenbach and other disclosure advocates dismiss that reasoning out of hand. First, the amount of money one can give to a candidate still pales in comparison to the six or seven figure sums that corporations and wealthy individuals can give to independent groups. Second, why would donors give to candidates and have their donations disclosed when they can give secretly to independent groups?
Said Erpenbach:”The people who give to Americans for Prosperity don’t want their names out there.” ￼
Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/writers/jack_craver/dark-money-how-wisconsin-s-most-politically-influential-organizations-avoid/article_8ddf078f-1112-5f44-9268-cb9e5f2d3fd2.html#ixzz2qsc3TMRc
Earlier this week The New York Times ran a front-page story comparing the neighboring cities of Duluth, Minn., and Superior, Wis., and telling how they epitomize the political divide we have in America today.
The story didn’t take any sides in the ongoing debate over whether the Republicans in Wisconsin or the Democrats in Minnesota are right, but contrasted how their very different philosophies are impacting their states.
It essentially boiled down to this: Working people are getting a much better deal in Minnesota, but business owners like Wisconsin much better.
The Times piece marvels at how the people in these two states, with similar ancestry, demographics and social history, took completely separate political paths in 2010. Wisconsin citizens, despite its long progressive history, turned complete control of their government over to Republicans while Minnesotans, also one of the country’s leading progressive states, elected to give Democrats full control of theirs.
Both states, consequently, went completely separate ways in solving their budget problems. Led by Scott Walker and his followers in the Legislature, Wisconsin decided to destroy public unions, force workers to pay more for health insurance and pensions, and make substantial cutbacks in public education.
Minnesota, on the other hand, elected to fix its budget by enacting higher taxes on those earning more than $150,000 a year and enacting some new business taxes, which allowed the state to increase aid to public education. It also permitted child care workers to unionize and sanctioned gay marriage.
The Times followed a Duluth couple who teach school in Superior and documented how they have had to supplement their income to make up for the $6,000 they lost under the Wisconsin cuts. And the reporters spent time with a Duluth foundry owner who says he would like to annex his factory to Wisconsin so he could escape his state’s high business taxes.
There are interviews with a gay Superior couple who have businesses in both Superior and Duluth and who now say that despite the higher taxes there, they plan on moving to Minnesota, where their lifestyle is welcome and not declared illegal as it is in Wisconsin. There’s a Wisconsin woman who has been cut off Medicaid in Wisconsin and is thinking of moving to Minnesota so she can be covered. And the Minnesota foundry owner expresses his worry that he’ll have trouble recruiting high-paid executives because of increased state income taxes on higher wages.
While the story didn’t go into it, the economic results in the two states have been starkly different too. While Minnesota’s economy has seen robust growth, Wisconsin’s has — generously — been called sluggish. Because of differences in how health care is viewed, Minnesotans pay far less in premiums than do Badgers. There are those who contend that the Gopher State is leaving Wisconsin in its dust.
Bottom line: The two citizenries made their choice. One has opted to make working people shoulder the burden of “fixing” state government, and the other has elected to make the wealthy and successful business interests pay a bigger share.
Problem is, we Badgers made the wrong choice.
Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. email@example.com and @DaveZweifel
Posted: January 12, 2014 by laborradio
By Doug Cunningham
The Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO has a message for U.S. Congressman Ron Kind – knock off the support for trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership, because they are no good for workers or for farmers. Bill Brockmiller is president of the Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO.
[Bill Brockmiller]: “We have no evidence and he’s presented none, nor has anyone else – that any of these trade agreements do any good for the workers. U.S. dairy farmers are going to lose over twenty billion dollars in ten years. I think everyone knows that Wisconsin is a pretty big dairy state.”
The Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO Central Labor Council has sent Congressman Ron Kind a copy of Democratic US Senator Sherrod Brown’s book “Myths of Free Trade: Why American Trade Policy Has Failed” to enlighten the congressman about trade policy.
Members of the Wisconsin Assembly swear an oath to “support the Constitution of the United States and the constitution of the state of Wisconsin, and faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of the office of state representative to the best of my ability.”
No mention is made of using their positions to write legislation at the express request — and in the precise interest — of their wealthiest patrons.
Nor can any serious reading of the phrase “impartially discharge the duties” be read to suggest that legislators should put their staffs and their offices at the service of men who happen to write very large campaign contribution checks.
Unfortunately, few would accuse state Rep. Joel Kleefisch — the Oconomowoc Republican whose ability to generate embarrassing headlines is unrivaled in the current Legislature — of taking his job seriously.
Or of impartially discharging his duties.
Kleefisch has known more than his share of scandal. But it should now be evident even to his most partisan defenders that the state representative has violated his oath and shamed the Legislature.
News reports detail how, when millionaire businessman Michael Eisenga could not find a judge to reduce his child-support payments, Eisenga and his attorney instructed Kleefisch’s office on how to develop legislation designed to dramatically reduce the amount of money that rich fellows can be required to pay in child support.
Kleefisch’s bill would rewrite state law to cap the amount of income subject to child-support requirements at $150,000 a year. It would also bar assessments based on the assets of millionaires who aren’t feeling particularly generous toward their offspring.
Kleefisch says he was simply aiding a constituent.
But, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel review, “Records show Eisenga, president of American Lending Solutions in Columbus, has donated $3,500 to Kleefisch, an Oconomowoc Republican, and $7,500 to his wife, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch in 2010. He has chipped in another $15,000 to Gov. Scott Walker.”
Michael Collins, a lawyer for Eisenga’s ex-wife, told the Journal Sentinel: “This stinks. It’s buying justice — if you call it justice.”
We don’t expect Rep. Kleefisch to show much remorse.
But we do expect Walker and Republican legislative leaders to reject what looks to be a glaring example of pay-to-play politics — and to give serious consideration to how Joel Kleefisch should be held to account by his caucus and the Legislature.
If you thought Republican Gov. Scott Walker tearing his state apart by destroying bargaining rights for public employees was politically and economically devastating for Wisconsin, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Walker is openly suggesting another destructive upheaval of state government that could make the divisive neutering of public employee unions look like a day at the beach. This time the ultimate goal is the holy grail of all those right-wing millionaires and billionaires everywhere who see Walker as a mild-mannered public face for their fondest, greediest dreams.
They’re dreaming of the elimination of the progressive income tax.
Walker says he intends to take bold action on taxes in Wisconsin and that the discussion should definitely include the glorious possibility of eliminating state income taxes completely. To which, the overwhelming majority of all taxpayers in this state, Republican and Democrat alike, everyone who’s not a complete sap, should rise up and respond in unison: “Glorious for whom?”
Some important facts have gotten lost in recent years as Republicans and even many Democrats have been driven by tax-cut politics.
One is that taxes, though unpopular, are necessary for government to deliver needed services to all of us. The other is that not all taxes are created equal.
The wealthy have spent a lot of money and bought a lot of politicians to convince people the absolutely worst possible tax on the face of the earth is the progressive income tax. Why, the more money they make, the more money the government takes. How can anybody in America ever get ahead?
Well, we all know they’ve figured out how to do it in spades. The income gap between those at the top and all the rest of us is at historic levels. Most of us are just fly specks on the rear view mirrors of the limousines carrying the richest 1 percent farther and farther away from us faster than ever before.
All anyone in America who’s not a millionaire or billionaire really needs to know is that the progressive income tax is the fairest, most equitable form of taxation ever invented.
That’s because it’s based upon ability to pay. People at the bottom barely scraping by should pay less than Scrooge McDuck, Donald’s filthy rich uncle, who just shovels a few buckets of cash out of his swimming pool to pay his tax bill.
Working class families, struggling to stay out of poverty and acquire a few material benefits, can pay more than the very poorest, but they shouldn’t pay CEO rates.
Those at the top can pay more and they should. Their country and their communities have been very, very good to them.
That fair, graduated system of taxation would be wiped out if Walker succeeded in eliminating the state income tax or, an alternative he’s suggested, cuts top rates so everyone, regardless of income, pays the same rate.
The income tax is Wisconsin’s biggest source of government funding, raising about half the money the state spends. The other primary sources are corporate taxes, which Walker also wants to eliminate, and the state’s 5 percent sales tax.
So if Walker eliminated both corporate taxes and the income tax, he’d have to load all state revenue onto the sales tax. It would require a sales tax rate of at least 14.4 percent, about twice California’s 7.5 percent sales tax, now the highest in the nation.
Walker might shave a few points off that whopping percentage by expanding the sales tax to items now exempted because they’re necessary for life, including food and health care.
As absurd as such an excessive sales tax seems, it’s even worse than you think. That’s because, despite what some believe, sales taxes aren’t easier to pay just because you don’t fill out complicated tax forms and you pay them a few pennies or dollars at a time. Some people even foolishly believe sales taxes are fair because, you know, rich people buy a lot more stuff than poor people so they pay more, don’t they?
Actually, just the opposite is true. People with lower incomes spend almost everything from paycheck to paycheck, paying taxes on all of it, while the superwealthy just keep stacking their money into bigger and bigger piles. They can’t possibly spend it all.
An independent study by the Wisconsin Budget Project found moving all state income tax revenue onto the sales tax would mean the bottom four-fifths of Wisconsin taxpayers would pay hundreds of dollars more in taxes every year while the top 1 percent would save an average of $44,000 a year.
If Walker were looking out for the overwhelming majority of people instead of the richest one-fifth, he wouldn’t propose replacing the fairest possible system of taxation with one requiring those who have less to pay hundreds of dollars more in taxes so the wealthiest could pay tens of thousands of dollars less.
Joel McNally of Milwaukee writes a regular column for The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org
Super PACs, one of the popular mechanisms for raising cash from corporations and the wealthy in the post-Citizens United era of campaign financing, may have dominated the presidential election, but they so far have not played a big role in state elections.
That may one day change, however. Federal Election Commission records indicate that at least three groups have registered Super PACs with the intention of spending money to support candidates in Wisconsin.
The only group that has actually spent money is Empower Wisconsin, a group that raised $55,000 in 2012 to run web ads to support the reelection of U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wis., as well as former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s bid for U.S. Senate.
“This is the first and only Super PAC specifically created by Wisconsin Republicans to support Wisconsin Republicans,” says the group’s website. It claims the group is based in Wisconsin and that it is managed by “a group of the most experienced political professionals in the state.”
However, no names are actually listed on the website and the only person listed on its FEC filing is a Tampa-based accountant, Nancy Watkins. Reached for comment, she said she was only responsible for filing the FEC paperwork, but that she would contact her client to see if he or she would get in touch with me.
$25,000 of Empower Wisconsin’s money comes from the American Food Group, a meat processing company based in Alexandria, Minn. It owns brands such as the Sheboygan Sausage Company and Great American Steak Company. The PAC also received $10,000 from Fisher-Barton, Inc., a Florida metals company, as well as a $10,000 donation from company founder Richard Wilkey. The only other donor was Green Bay Packaging, Inc., which also gave $10,000.
“Empower Minnesota” and “Empower Nebraska” also exist, both of which are registered to Watkins.
Another group that has apparently considered getting involved in the Super PAC game is Wisconsin Family Action, the state’s leading voice for the religious right, which has received a substantial portion of its funds in recent years from the business-affiliated Club for Growth.
Records indicate that in September, 2012, Judith Brant, an employee of WFA, registered the group “Standing Up For Wisconsin Families” with the FEC. So far it has only received $250 in contributions. $200 came from Brant herself and $50 came from WFA president Julaine Appling, whose contribution in April 2013 was made for the purpose of restoring the account to “active status.”
It has not been active since. We will have to wait to see if it becomes an active player in state elections.
And of course there is the Abolish Recalls group founded by McFarland’s Spencer Zimmerman. It was founded shortly after the conclusion of the gubernatorial recall in 2012 and has $5 on hand.
Last but not least is the Wisconsin Horse Association, an affiliate of a national horse welfare group that has set up Super PACs in just about every state. So far the Wisconsin group has not received or spent any funds.
It is important to note that if a corporation or wealthy person wants to influence politics, he or she already has plenty of traditional giving options. Many would prefer to give to an “issues advocacy” group, such as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, which will spend the money on TV ads but not disclose its donors.