Do Americans, even in anxious times, prefer an optimistic leader or an angry one?
The week after Governor Scott Walker's opponent Mary Burke pulled even with Walker in the polls, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity dumped $900,000 into a major TV ad buy in Wisconsin, aimed at persuading Wisconsinites that things are going better in the state than they may think.
The “It’s Working!” ad campaign features ordinary-looking people expressing their gratitude to Scott Walker for boosting the economy.
But the news has not been good for Walker on that front. The state still lags both the region and the nation as a whole in job creation.
And a new report from One Wisconsin Now shows that Walker's job creation agency--the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC)--has handed out $570 million, or 60 percent of its funds, to Walker's campaign donors, for job-creation results that are mixed at best.
Walker is way off pace to fulfill his promise to create 250,000 new jobs.
Along with the weak economy, Walker is enduring an ongoing, secret John Doe investigation into illegal coordination between his campaign and dark money groups, including the Wisconsin Club for Growth.
Last week, news broke that Walker’s attorney has been negotiating a settlement deal.
Making sure the governor is not on the hook for illegal campaign activity has got to be a top priority as he moves into the fall election season.
But Walker’s calculation of what is best for Walker put him at cross purposes with the big donors who buy the ads to help him get elected. And that’s where things got really interesting.
The Wall Street Journal published an amazing editorial last week, excoriating Walker for daring to consider a settlement with the prosecutors investigating illegal coordination between his campaign and dark money groups. The Journal editorial sent a loud message to Walker on behalf of a national network of big-time right-wing donors: Don’t forget who you’re working for.
Walker had better not throw his big-money supporters under the bus, the Journal warned. The money guys are used to getting their way. And they don’t put up with rebelliousness from their candidates.
When Walker issued a statement that appeared to avoid the issue, saying that he was not party to a federal lawsuit and therefore was not reaching a settlement deal in any federal suit, the Journal shot back: "Sorry, that's disingenuous." "Our editorial concerned Mr. Walker's willingness to settle with prosecutors over his role in the state John Doe probe."
And the Journal repeated its warning: Walker had better not "cut a deal that undermines his allies."
Since the best defense is a good offense, Wisconsin Club for Growth treasurer Eric O'Keefe filed a lawsuit against the Government Accountability Board last Thursday, claiming that the public agency should not be permitted to spend public funds investigating whether the millions of dollars Club for Growth and other dark money groups poured into Walker’s campaign were illegal.
The billionaire position got a boost from Judge Rudolph Randa, who, before he was overruled by the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, had ordered the John Doe prosecutors to destroy evidence they collected against the dark money groups and their coordination with Walker.
Randa, a member of the Federalist Society, has the distinction of being the only federal judge in Wisconsin to attend Koch brothers-funded judicial junkets that push conservative ideology at swanky resorts on all-expense-paid vacations. Randa is a frequent flyer to these affairs, according to groundbreaking reporting by my colleague Brendan Fischer from the Center for Media and Democracy, attending in 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2012.
This represents a clear conflict—or at least the unseemly appearance of a conflict—even according to fellow conservatives like former Waukesha district attorney Paul Bucher. But it may help account for Randa’s over-the-top language in his court decision, in which he compared Wisconsin campaign finance investigations to “the guillotine and the gulag.”
Free speech is in danger, according to the Wall Street Journal editorial board and its allies, if billionaires are prevented from spending uncapped amounts in our elections. (The Wall Street Journal editorial board, by the way, has received more than $250,000 in “journalism awards” from the Bradley Foundation, the Wisconsin-based conservative think tank.)
Like Walker’s jobs record, it’s a tough position to sell to the general public. But they are willing to go in big for a marketing campaign that, if it doesn’t push Walker above 46 percent, might at least succeed in muddying the waters enough to keep regular citizens from seeing where their interests lie and pulling together to defend them.
Ruth Conniff is the editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine.