By Harvey Wasserman
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As he travels the country making his pitch to rightwing businessmen that he must crush the unions and stay in office, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has raised more money than any statewide candidate in Wisconsin history.
His record-breaking $13.2 million for the last three months brings his fundraising total up to $25 million since January 2011.
That puts Walker in Presidential candidate territory, as Jason Stein and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel point out:
"Walker's fundraising is on par with that of second-tier presidential candidates. For instance, Rick Santorum raised $18.5 million between Jan. 1 and March 31, and Newt Gingrich raised a little less than $10 million during that period," the Journal-Sentinel reports.
And, of course, Walker is going to many of the same donors who fueled the Gingrich and Santorum campaigns, including Swift Boat Veterans For Truth founder Bob Perry, The Sands' Sheldon Adelson, "hold-an-aspirin-between-your-knees" Foster Friess.
The whole national rightwing cabal is behind Walker's effort to fight the recall.
That's why Walker has been crisscrossing the nation, visiting every other state except Wisconsin lately--to raise money to fight the recall led by citizens back home.
Wisconsinites have good reason to be angry with Walker. For starters, he came into office promising to create 250,000 new jobs, and instead led the state into last place in the nation for job creation. His rewards for "job creators"--tax breaks for corporations that so far have not lifted Wisconsin out of last place--put a $117 million hole in the state budget. He made the biggest cuts to a once-great public school system in state history, rolled back environmental protections and equal pay, and left local economies strapped with deep cuts to programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, Planned Parenthood clinics, and health care programs for the poor.
No wonder he likes to spend so much time out of town. Fully 64% of the $13.2 million Walker just raised comes from donors in other states.
The entire Democratic field--four candidates who are vying to run against Walker in next Tuesday's primary--together raised $2 million in the last three months: less than one-sixth of Walker's money.
Walker spent 42% of the money in his last reporting period on direct mail appeals mainly to out of state donors--making it his largest campaign expense. In these mailings, the governor likes to characterize the recall battle as a fight between "big labor bosses" and one brave conservative. If his allies in other states don't help him, labor will be "unstoppable" around the country, he warns.
This narrative got a boost on Sunday in a New York Times story that portrayed the recall election as almost entirely centered on collective bargaining rights in Wisconsin. Forgetting the citizen-led petition drive that launched the recall—forgetting the outpouring of citizens who objected to Walker's plans to slash funding for public schools, bend environmental regulations to build a mine on sensitive wetlands near Lake Superior, and the outrage over the way he and his cronies in the legislature disregarded basic democratic process and Wisconsin's tradition of open meetings and transparent government—the Times painted the election as all about a handful of unions versus Walker and his supporters.
But Walker's fundraising makes clear that this election is about a very well financed national rightwing machine that hopes to hang on to the governorship in the face of broad-based citizen opposition inside Wisconsin.
The candidate who wins the primary, and the grassroots, citizens groups that launched the recall, will be up against the overwhelming power of money.
What will this mean for the general recall election on June 5?
We will likely see an onslaught of pro-Walker ads, and ads designed to slime his opponent, over the next four weeks.
On the other side, we'll see an uptick in spending as the Democrats, labor unions and outside groups that support them unite behind one candidate.
But the latest fundraising report make clear that this is going to be a very lopsided fight.
In the next month we'll find out how much of the electorate can be swayed in a four-week period with an unprecedented bombardment of TV ads, and how much the grassroots movement can carry its message--not just through the rain and snow, but through the blizzard of advertising that is on the horizon.
It will be a nationally significant test of the possibility of democracy in the Citizens United era.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "An Interview with Tom Barrett."
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter