On Valentine’s Day, 2011, no one was thinking that Scott Walker had much of a chance to be our next president. That’s when the protests started – Walker, just elected for his first term as governor of Wisconsin, had surprised everyone. He wasn’t the bland moderate conservative they thought he was, and the surprise was his new Budget Repair Bill. That bill required a big jump in contributions by state and local government workers to their healthcare plans and their pensions – they’d take an eight percent hit in their take home pay – and they’d lose their collective bargaining rights too, except when they sought pay increases, but if they wanted one penny above the rate of inflation that would have to be approved by a voter referendum. Working conditions, work hours, any benefits – that bill made it illegal for them to bring up any of that. Cops and firefighters were excluded. Walker needed the votes of those two unions – but he did say he wanted to make Wisconsin a right-to-work state, one where even private-sector unions would find it next to impossible to organize.
Walker had mentioned none of this in his campaign and the protests began on Valentine’s Day. But in announcing this bill, Walker also said the Wisconsin National Guard was prepared to prevent any trouble – because he knew there’d be trouble. There was, and during the sixth day of the massive protests, leaders of the two largest unions said publicly they were prepared to accept the financial concessions in the bill, but not the limitations on their collective bargaining rights – go ahead, take our workers’ money, but let them have at least a few rights.
No dice – and then all fourteen Democratic state senators fled the state, to Illinois. That prevented the passage of the bill by the Republican-controlled legislature – without a quorum there could be no vote. The missing legislators said they would not return to Madison unless Walker agreed to remove the limitations on collective bargaining from the bill, and he told them that if the bill was not passed, as is, by March 1, there were going to be a hell of a lot more budget cuts. Of course neither side budged. The Republican Senate legislators finally removed certain fiscal provisions from the bill, making it one that could be passed by a simple senate majority – a parliamentary trick, but that did the trick. There were court challenges to how they passed the thing, but by late May this was the law in Wisconsin.
When the dust settled Walker said that all he had been trying to do was “save jobs, protect taxpayers, reform government and help balance the budget” – and he said he liked those people who somehow had to work for others, those workers, as they’re called – really he did – and he had no problem with labor unions, presumably if they never asked for anything and never went on strike, messing things up for everyone else. Those weren’t his exact words – the man is more careful than that – but that was the general idea. Then he faced a recall. More than half the state hated his guts, but he somehow survived that. It was close.
The state is still seething, but the question in February, 2011, was where did THIS Scott Walker come from? This wasn’t the mild-mannered pleasant young fellow the voters of Wisconsin had thought they’d elected. Something else was going on. The New York Times and Washington Post figured it out, but Mother Jones was there first:
Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker, whose bill to kill collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions has caused an uproar among state employees, might not be where he is today without the Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are conservative titans of industry who have infamously used their vast wealth to undermine President Obama and fight legislation they detest, such as the cap-and-trade climate bill, the healthcare reform act, and the economic stimulus package. For years, the billionaires have made extensive political donations to Republican candidates across the country and have provided millions of dollars to Astroturf right-wing organizations. Koch Industries’ political action committee has doled out more than $2.6 million to candidates. And one prominent beneficiary of the Koch brothers’ largess is Scott Walker.
It was those two:
According to Wisconsin campaign finance filings, Walker’s gubernatorial campaign received $43,000 from the Koch Industries PAC during the 2010 election. That donation was his campaign’s second-highest donation, 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.
The Kochs also assisted Walker’s current GOP allies in the fight against the public-sector unions. Last year, Republicans took control of the both houses of the Wisconsin state legislature, which has made Walker’s assault on these unions possible. And according to data from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, the Koch Industries PAC spent $6,500 in support of 16 Wisconsin Republican state legislative candidates, who each won his or her election.
They had their man:
Walker’s plan to eviscerate collective bargaining rights for public employees is right out of the Koch brothers’ playbook. Koch-backed groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the Reason Foundation have long taken a very antagonistic view toward public-sector unions. Several of these groups have urged the eradication of these unions. The Kochs also invited Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, an anti-union outfit, to a June 2010 confab in Aspen, Colorado; Mix said in a recent interview that he supports Governor Walker’s collective-bargaining bill. In Wisconsin, this conservative, anti-union view is being placed into action by lawmakers in sync with the deep-pocketed donors who helped them obtain power. (Walker also opposes the state’s Clean Energy Job Act, which would compel the state to increase its use of alternative energy.) At this moment – even with the Wisconsin uprising unresolved – the Koch brothers’ investment in Walker appears to be paying off.
That’s what was going on, but that led to this:
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker fell prey to a prank phone call from a New York blogger impersonating David Koch, one of the two wealthy brothers who were big donors to his political campaign and GOP efforts generally. …
Walker’s office confirms it’s the governor on the phone call in what has to be, if nothing else, an embarrassment for Walker and his top aides.
While Walker doesn’t say anything that appears immediately career-ending, when the fake Koch suggests putting “troublemakers” in the crowd of protesters who’ve been at the Wisconsin state capitol for eight consecutive days, presumably to discredit them, Walker says: “We thought about that.”
But the governor quickly pivoted, saying he and others concluded that real unrest might swing public opinion against him and that it was better to let the protests play out, that the media would eventually lose interest. His critics will likely jump on the fact that he didn’t say it would be wrong.
Actually, no one much cared, but the fellow who made the call, Ian Murphy, did have fun:
I never thought Scott Walker’s people would be dumb enough to put me through. It was February 2011 – the height of the Wisconsin governor’s battle with the public unions, with thousands of protesters filling the streets of downtown Madison – when I called his office posing as Tea Party sugar daddy David Koch.
I told Keith Gilkes, who was then Walker’s chief of staff, that the governor couldn’t return my call because “my goddamn maid, Maria, put my phone in the washer. I’d have her deported, but she works for next to nothing.” (In reality, I was calling with a free Skype number and couldn’t receive calls from a land line at the time.)
In my business, that’s called tipping your hand. All ethical liars do it. It’s the ridiculous, implausible hints that separate the ethical prankster from the confidence man, the satirist from the unrepentant political hack. But they didn’t get the joke, and soon Walker and I were comparing notes on how he could break the backs of those pro-union demonstrators.
Murphy was amazed, but not surprised:
I had no idea whether Koch and Walker had spoken before, but it was plausible that Koch would call the governor. Americans for Prosperity – the conservative advocacy group Koch founded with his brother Charles – had thrown millions of hard-to-track dollars into pro-Walker advertising and was presently “standing with Walker” via an expensive PR blitz.
I expected Gilkes to question why Koch would personally call the number on their website, suffering through busy signals and endless ringing like a common plebe, and then cavalierly trashing his undocumented maid. “I’m calling from the VOID – with the VOID, or whatever it’s called,” I said, thinking I’d strained credulity too far. “You know, the Snype!” But Gilkes just laughed and told me to call back at 2.
At the appointed hour, Walker and I enjoyed a friendly chat during which I suggested that he physically intimidate his Democratic opposition with a baseball bat, whip up a good counter-protest by dressing hobos in suits, and most disturbing, that he ought to plant troublemakers to discredit the pro-union demonstrators.
“We thought about that,” Walker replied, and eventually added, “My only fear would be if there’s a ruckus caused is that would scare the public into thinking maybe the governor has to settle to avoid all these problems.” So it wasn’t morality, but a cynical calculation, that saved the public from that.
My most successful gag before the call to Walker had been covering the grand opening of Ken Ham’s Creation “Museum” as a reporter afflicted with “Asperger’s Syndrome by Proxy.”
Cool. The audio of that Walker-Koch (Murphy) conversation made the rounds – the recording was legal, as the call originated in New York, because both that state and Wisconsin are “one-party consent” states in which only one person on the call, the recording person in this case, needs to consent to the recording – but then it was forgotten.
That call shouldn’t have been forgotten. The New York Time’s Nick Confessore had this scoop from a private Republican meeting in New York just yesterday:
On Monday, at a fund-raising event in Manhattan for the New York State Republican Party, David Koch told donors that he and his brother, who oversee one of the biggest private political organizations in the country, believed that Mr. Walker would be the Republican nominee.
“When the primaries are over and Scott Walker gets the nomination,” Mr. Koch told the crowd, the billionaire brothers would support him, according to a spokeswoman. The remark drew laughter and applause from the audience of fellow donors and Republican activists, who had come to hear Mr. Walker speak earlier at the event, held at the Union League Club.
But wait, there’s more, or less:
Two people who attended the event said they heard Mr. Koch go even further, indicating that Mr. Walker should be the Republican nominee. A spokeswoman disputed that wording, saying that Mr. Koch had pledged to remain officially neutral during the primary campaign.
But Mr. Koch’s remark left little doubt among attendees of where his heart is, and could effectively end one of the most closely watched contests in the “invisible primary,” a period where candidates crisscross the country seeking not the support of voters but the blessing of their party’s biggest donors and fund-raisers…
Mr. Koch’s remarks suggested that the political organizations they oversee – which include Americans for Prosperity, a grass-roots organization, and Freedom Partners, a donor trade group with an affiliated “super PAC” – would not intervene in the Republican primary process on behalf of a single candidate.
But according to the two attendees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe the remarks, Mr. Koch suggested that the Koch family might personally offer financial support to Mr. Walker.
America will become Wisconsin and Ed Kilgore adds this:
It is a pretty clear vote of Kochian confidence in Walker, the man often described by Esquire’s Charles Pierce as “the goggle-eyed homunculus hired by Koch Industries to manage their Midwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Wisconsin.” There had been some earlier speculation that the Bros might smile upon Mike Pence, before the governor of Indiana imploded over a clumsy and unpopular “religious liberty” law, pretty much angering everybody in the process. And Marco Rubio supposedly wowed a Koch Donor Network get-together in Palm Springs back in January.
But looking at the big picture, Walker survived his first test with a boffo performance at the first cattle call of the cycle in Iowa, proving he’s not Tim Pawlenty and arising into the top tier in virtually every poll ever since. And now he’s been publicly blessed by the most powerful financial figures in Republican politics since Mark Hanna. Yes, his poll numbers back home are troubling, and he’s still more than a little rough around the edges on the campaign trail. It still looks like he and Jebbie are the early co-front-runners, particularly if the Kochs are extending what amounts to a bottomless line of credit to their little buddy from Wisconsin.
Politico’s Mike Allen reports otherwise:
In another surprise, a top Koch aide revealed to POLITICO that Jeb Bush will be given a chance to audition for the brothers’ support, despite initial skepticism about him at the top of the Kochs’ growing political behemoth.
Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Rand Paul and Sen. Ted Cruz debated at the Koch network’s winter seminar in January, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker made a separate appearance. Those were the candidates who appeared to have a chance at the Koch blessing, and attendees said Rubio seemed to win that round.
But those four – plus Jeb – will be invited to the Kochs’ summer conference, the aide said. Bush is getting a second look because so many Koch supporters think he looks like a winner.
So, don’t get too excited:
David Koch said in a statement to Politico’s Ken Vogel: “While I think Gov. Walker is terrific… I am not endorsing or supporting any candidate for President at this point.”
As part of the Kochs’ screening process favored candidates may also be invited to speak at a major gathering staged by the brothers’ network, such as an Americans for Prosperity summit. The brothers are likely to make a decision about whether to pick a horse many months from now, so that they have time to see how the candidates perform in debates, how they articulate issues the Kochs care about, and how strong a staff they have assembled.
The Kochs and their advisers will be looking for a candidate who is “solid on economic-freedom issues,” is “a passionate advocate for free markets,” and has “a positive, optimistic, pro-freedom message,” the aide said.
A candidate will get considerable extra credit for being on the brothers’ side of reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank, which Koch organizations are spending big to oppose.
And that candidate will enter the general election with enough money to bury Hillary Clinton – the Koch brothers have said they will spend almost a billion dollars this time. That buys a lot of attack ads and paid-for opinion pieces, and the cooperation of the reluctant, who don’t want the Koch folks after them. They bought Wisconsin. They can buy America.
That’s how things work now, and Salon’s Elias Isquith says we can blame the Citizens United ruling and the guy with the swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy:
Because Kennedy illogically and unnecessarily claimed in the Court’s Citizens United opinion that “independent expenditures… do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,” a cryptic remark from one wingnut billionaire can have major implications for a country of more than 300 million.
That also leads to things like this:
Despite how farcical such a state of affairs is already, it’s only going to get worse. One of the crucial assumptions Kennedy used to justify Citizens United, for example, was that a big-spending independent group could be barred from coordinating with a candidate. Kennedy reasoned that if a political nonprofit wants to pay for ads attacking Politician X, there won’t be corruption – or even its appearance – unless the nonprofit worked directly with X’s opponent. If the nonprofit were run by X’s allies, it would make no difference.
Opponents of the ruling thought the hypothetical was patently ridiculous. They figured that any wall built between a candidate and her allies would be highly permeable at best. But another recent development from the GOP primary, this time involving former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, suggests the pretense of non-coordination is falling apart even more rapidly than expected, and that we may be about to witness the birth of a whole new kind of presidential campaign.
Technically, Bush is not yet a candidate for president. But he’s fundraising indefatigably for his “Right to Rise” super PAC, which he can “coordinate” with so long as his campaign remains undeclared. That’ll be money well-saved, too, according to the Associated Press: Bush is planning to be the first serious candidate ever to “outsource” to the super PAC much of the work usually done by the official campaign. Thanks to Justice Kennedy, the super PAC won’t be constrained by fundraising limits.
If Bush carries through with the strategy reported by the AP, we’ll be expected to believe that the super PAC handling Bush’s television ads, direct mail duties, data collection and more is not coordinating with the candidate or his staff. As anti-regulation absolutist David Keating tells the AP, rather laughably, such non-coordination will require “a high level of discipline.” I’m sure Bush’s allies and partners are doing willpower exercises and attending self-help seminars already.
The original AP item is here – read it and weep, or cheer, depending on your politics.
This is how things are now. In fact, consider the case of Norman Braman:
Braman, a former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles football franchise, is poised to occupy the sugar-daddy role for Marco Rubio…
The Miami businessman, Braman’s friends say, is considering spending anywhere from $10 million to $25 million – and possibly even more – on Rubio’s behalf, a cash stake that could potentially alter the course of the Republican race by enabling the Florida senator to wage a protracted fight for the nomination.
Braman doesn’t like Jeb Bush because Bush, as governor, long ago, vetoed two million dollars in state funding for the Braman Breast Cancer Institute. How is one supposed to do charity work if the state won’t kick in a couple of million dollars, to ease the pain of spending all that money on charity? It just isn’t fair, so he chose the other guy:
Braman is both a benefactor and a friend to Rubio, and their close relationship dates back to when the now-presidential candidate was ascending the ranks of the state Legislature… He employs Rubio’s wife, Jeannette, part time through his charity, the Braman Family Foundation. After Rubio was elected to the Senate in 2010 – a race that Braman and his wife Irma poured nearly $10,000 into – the two families traveled together to Israel.
In his recently published memoir, Rubio dedicated an entire paragraph of the acknowledgments to Braman and suggested that he’d become a father-like figure to him.
He’s his sugar daddy, so to speak, but Ted Cruz has one of those too:
Robert Mercer, a Wall Street hedge-fund magnate … who started at IBM and made his fortune using computer patterns to outsmart the stock market, emerged this week as a key early bankroller of Mr. Cruz’s surprisingly fast campaign start. He is believed to be the main donor behind a network of four “super PACs” supporting Mr. Cruz that reported raising $31 million just a few weeks into his campaign.
That’s serious money, so we have to take Ted Cruz seriously. A very few very rich people will decide who we can vote for, at least on the Republican side.
Things on the Democratic side don’t work this way, yet. Democrats don’t like absurdly rich people who throw their weight, or cash, around, and those absurdly rich people don’t like Democrats much at all, what with their ideas about community and togetherness and everyone helping out everyone else for the common good of all. But that could change. Getting elected to anything takes a ton of money, and that money has to come from somewhere. Those absurdly wealthy few who underwrite Democrats, if any do, will want something in return.
That’s the system now – but at least no one will be blindsided like the good citizens of Wisconsin four years ago. Now we know better. We know what’s what, and that Ian Murphy prank call just won’t work now. The call would be real enough.