Which Way, Wisconsin? How to Compete with Walker?

What happens now, while the million-plus signatures to recall Governor Walker are counted, and state Democrats talk about a possible candidate to run, likely in a spring primary and then in a summer general election to replace the Governor?

Talk has turned from thousands of volunteers standing on street corners and going door to door with their petitions to the big issue in politics: money.

Of the $4.1 million Walker raised over a five week period to fight the recall, 61 percent came from out of state. Just four donors gave a total of $1 million in one week. And Walker can keep hitting up out of state donors for big bucks right up until the recall election is authorized.

"The governor has raised more than any candidate for any state office in Wisconsin history," Mike McCabe, director of the Wisconsin Democracy campaign, points out. Walker's heavy reliance on out of state donors --including Bob Perry, father of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth--is also unprecedented, McCabe says.

"It's not like anything we've ever seen before in the state of Wisconsin."

So how do the million-plus citizens who want to recall Walker respond?

Ed Garvey, lawyer, activist, former head of the National Football Players union, and creator of Fighting Bob Fest, the Fighting Bob blog, and the People's Legislature, has an idea: "Citizens United makes it impossible to match the money Walker will raise," Garvey says.

Instead of trying to compete and raise tens of millions of dollars, whichever candidate emerges to take on Walker should try to "shoot the moon," Garvey says. That means rejecting money from PACs, super PACs, corporations, unions, and, especially, out of state donors.

Instead of turning over the energized, grassroots recall effort to the professionals to wage a TV ad war costing millions of dollars, Garvey wants to see a recall election that looks a lot like the campaign to gather the signatures to recall the governor in the first place.

This idea, which Garvey is putting out for public consumption at the People's Legislature in Madison on February 1, and in local forums around the state after that, will draw a lot of skepticism, to say the least.

After all, what kind of a winning strategy calls for unilateral disarmament? Letting Walker rule the airwaves might be the dumbest thing a candidate could do. Political suicide.

Or, it just might be a stroke of brilliance.

For one thing, the issue of corruption and campaign financing is becoming more and more of an issue as the recall election draws nearer, thanks to the secret John Doe investigation focusing on campaign violations by Walker's staff when he was Milwaukee County Exec.

By refusing to play on Walker's terms, Garvey argues, a candidate could run against the whole corrupt, big-money regime that has taken over what once was a clean and open government state.

Furthermore, the Democrat, whoever it is, can't hope to compete with the Walker money juggernaut. Why try? Why not, instead, take a trick from the swift-boat playbook and use Walker's greatest strength--out of state fundraising--against him?

And then, there's the simple issue of democracy.

Think of all those citizens, motivated to get out in the freezing weather and work their butts off to recall Walker. If we can't tap into that energy in the recall election, "We lose." Garvey says.

Garvey makes a compelling argument: The real question in the recall is not which heavily financed politician will run enough ads to win. It's whether our democracy has finally completely collapsed. This battle in Wisconsin is, finally, a battle over who will rule--millionaires and billionaires who want to buy our state government for their own nefarious purposes, or the people of the state.

"This is it!" Garvey says. "Either we try to do this, or we get out of the way and get ready for fascism."

If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Walker's Deceitful State of the State."

Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter