Lamestream Journal Sentinel again hides from Citizens United, anti-union truths | Wis.Community

Lamestream Journal Sentinel again hides from Citizens United, anti-union truths

The editorial writers at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel need to check in with an optometrist, because their ideological myopia is getting quite out of hand. Case in point: Today's editorial once again flogging the state constitution's recall provision. It's warmed over yacking from the J-S editorialists, except for this installment's focus on recall campaign spending. In the editorial's very first sentence, the Journal Sentinel makes a horribly wrong correlation, then compounds its foolishness:

"More than $125 million was spent on the recall campaigns of the past year -- ample reason to change the way we do recall elections in Wisconsin... And all for what? The status quo. Yes, the Democrats did claim control of the state Senate, but that control likely will be fleeting when they have to defend Republican-drawn districts in the fall."

First, it's sheer wordplay to assert that 1.7 million petitioners mandating six recall elections resulted not in a fundamental, 99-percent-style transformation in state politics but rather more of the "status quo." Because of the mass protests last year and the recalls both years, Wisconsin will not be the same as before, even with Scott Walker still in power.

Indeed, Walker tacitly acknowledges that, lately trying to sound more open and conciliatory (hey, Democrats, how about a brat!?). We're not buying Walker's calculated change of heart, but his change in tactics speaks volumes.

Meanwhile, it's true that the Democratic control of the state Senate -- which ought to block any outrageous Walker initiatives for at least the next seven months -- is at best fleeting. But guess what? So are elections in general. Since winning an Assembly majority only gives your party two years of assured control, Democrats shouldn't ever try. After all, that control is so, so fleeting!  Is that about the size of it, Journal Sentinel dudes?

Secondly, and far more important, anyone who believes that recall elections are a cause of outrageously high campaign spending is completely (if willingly) out of touch. That's so even though it's true that a provision in the recall law allowed Gov. Scott Walker to raise unlimited campaign funds between the time the recall petition drive began and the petitions successfully filed.

After all, a great deal of the money spent in the recall campaigns last year and this year  -- overwhelmingly on behalf of Republicans -- came from out-of-state, largely anonymous third parties taking advantage of the Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling, which basically lets corporations spend as much as they want to support candidates they like.

Unlicensed bribery, in other words. Which in turn is to say: If we had sane campaign finance laws, recalls would not have to be expensive. Yet the J-S does not mention this.

The J-S editorial thus amounts mostly to a bait and switch campaign: Ignoring the awful Citizens United provision as if it has nothing to do with high spending in the recall campaign. Nope, in the J-S edit of reality, all that spending was the result of the recall law itself. Of course, that doesn't explain other high spending in recent contests here and in other states, nor will doing away with recalls prevent high spending in future campaigns. Heck, just wait and see how much money gets poured into swing states like Wisconsin in the fall presidential contest.

Recalls may be distasteful but they allow aggrieved citizens another path towards political expression that doesn't require waiting around three or four years for  possible redress in a regular election.

Moreover, winning is the most important but not the only purpose of an election; another is to present alternative views and to build momentum for your cause. For many decades, Republicans across much of the nation were consigned to the back benches, but they kept campaigning and losing until they finally began to win again. Sitting out the process is no way to stay in the game. At the very least, the recall elections were a useful shock to the system, advancing our knowledge of what ugly GOP tactics we will see going forward. Also, they helped build a grass-roots progressive movement that is now in place for fall and beyond.

Indeed, J-S posturing aside, the very fact that Republicans are chomping at the bit to kill off recalls is a sign of their value. But mostly, the GOP outrage over citizens actually employing their legal, political right to seek recalls is just a smokescreen to divert attention from the truly pernicious problem: The money-as-free-speech ruling of the US Supreme Court that has badly distorted American democracy.

The Journal Sentinel would do well to spend more time writing about all that outrageous spending and its root causes. And, by the way, the newspaper should in that context stop playing the "they all do it" card.

It's true that Democrats from Obama on down are relying on campaign support made possible by Citizens United. They have to, because the alternative is in essence unilateral surrender. The (let's call it what it is) Republican Corporate Industrial Complex was not only the chief beneficiary of the Supreme Court's decision, theirs was the grouping that far and away has been spending like drunken sailors to turn local and state campaigns into national campaigns funded from afar.

Now, it's true that the Citizens United case gave labor unions along with corporations free license to spend unlimited sums (but in reality far less money than corporations) on campaigns. As the accompanying chart shows, three national labor unions were among the top ten outsider funders of political campaigns in 2010. The other seven: Corporate business interests. [CLICK ON THE CHART, ABOVE, TO ENLARGE IT]

By getting rid of collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin and other states, Republicans moved down a deliberate path designed to remove all non-business campaign spending from that top ten list. The GOP logic is sound, if evil: Since, under Citizens United, labor unions can now spend as freely (though with far fewer resources) as corporations on political campaigning, the next logical step is to destroy the unions. Result: Corporate hegemony in mass political campaign spending, and a political system that is captured by wealthy corporate elites.

Some Republicans (including Walker, in a couple of unguarded moments), even have confessed this is their strategy: "Divide and conquer," "drop the bomb," et. al.

The Citizens United case allowed Walker and his anonymous benefactors to outspend Democrats significantly in his recall. If the state recall provision allowing Walker to collect unlimited donations for his campaign had not existed, third party groups using Citizens United likely would have poured tens of millions of compensating dollars into campaigning on his behalf.

The Journal Sentinel won't say so, but Citizens United allowed outrageous, sky-is-the-limit spending in the recalls, and that threatens to be the norm going forward, even in regular elections. If the GOP succeeds in its drive to break public and private labor unions, then it will be Democratic Party bake sales versus corporations and conservative billionaires.

If anyone in the lower or middle classes thinks that killing off labor unions will lead to better salaries,  health coverage or retirement benefits for themselves, they'd better take a second hard look. Walker has been and is likely to remain busy dividing and conquering Wisconsin laborers for the profit of his own political party and its high-faluting pals.

MEANWHILE : Wisconsin Repubs were for recalls before they were against them, but they'll soon be for them again. See:


Lots of shadowy, Citizens United-enabled campaign money aimed at supporting Walker was spent on commercials aired by Wisconsin TV and radio stations -- all of which use public broadcast spectrum at no charge. Did these stations uphold their obligation to present a diversity of viewpoints in their programming? Learn about the Zapple Doctrine, and how citizens can explore private broadcaster files to illuminate some of that shadowy spending. Explore the issue at the Brad Blog:


June 9, 2012 - 11:08am