- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Wisconsin State Journal, July 19

State needs clear campaign laws, disclosure

Gov. Scott Walker understands the danger of anonymous electioneering.

Or at least he did nearly two decades ago, when he was a state lawmaker. Walker proposed legislation in 1997 to require out-of-state political committees to file reports with the state showing the source of all money spent in Wisconsin.

“Wisconsin voters have a right to know the source of all the money being poured into the state from Washington, D.C., and beyond,” Walker said at the time.

“For all we know, some of this money could be coming from foreign sources,” he said.

He was right.

But his concern has faded since he survived an incredibly expensive recall election, fueled by millions of dollars in campaign spending by outside groups.

And now he’s running for president, which requires even more money.

Walker was the big winner last week when the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled 4-2 to end a special prosecutor’s investigation of his 2012 recall campaign. The state’s high court ruled that politicians can coordinate their campaigns with outside groups that don’t specifically urge the public to vote for or against a candidate before an election.

Assuming the ruling stands, Wisconsin’s campaign finance laws are now weak and unclear. Just about anything goes.

That’s because money can now be given to outside groups without the donor being identified. And the group that gets the money can coordinate advertising with its favored candidate.

So it will be easy for the fat cats to dodge public scrutiny of their spending. Instead of giving directly to a candidate, which still requires disclosure of a donor’s name, amount and employer, the brave new world of campaign financing in Wisconsin lets secret money flow to outside groups to be spent as candidates wish.

It makes no sense, as the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation into Walker’s recall campaign explained last week.

“It defies common sense that a Wisconsin resident of average means who gives $25 to a campaign has his or her name publicly reported under the law but, according to this decision, someone who gives, for example, $100,000 to a group which closely coordinates with the same campaign can remain anonymous,” said Francis Schmitz, the special prosecutor who is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, based on millions of dollars in campaign contributions spent on behalf of some of the justices who decided last week’s case.

Schmitz, by the way, is a Republican who voted for Walker. So don’t believe the conservative conspiracy theory about a “partisan witch hunt.”

If a mining company seeking a mine in Wisconsin gives a huge sum to help the governor stay in power, the public deserves to know. And the same goes for a Democratic governor benefiting from big bucks that an American Indian tribe spends on his behalf while seeking a sweetheart gambling contract from the state.

Both of those scenarios have played out in the past.

In the wake of last week’s ruling opening the flood gates to anonymous campaign spending, the Legislature needs to write a clear elections law with strict transparency rules respecting the public’s right to know who is trying to influence their leaders.

Gov. Walker was right to seek such a rule nearly two decades ago. Now he should repeat that call for action when it really counts.


Leader-Telegram, July 20

Walker needs to get specific

It’s important that we listen to Gov. Scott Walker as he traverses the nation seeking the Republican presidential nomination, just so no one can say they got caught off guard should he become our 45th president.

Walker’s opponents say he misled the state by not mentioning the specifics of Act 10 while running for governor in 2010, then springing the public union-busting measure weeks after being sworn in. Walker counters that he clearly said he would give local governments the necessary tools to reign in employee wages and fringe benefits, and so what followed shouldn’t have been a surprise.

This time, however, Walker is entering an arena where if successful the decisions he makes will literally have life and death implications.

For example, in launching his campaign last week, The New York Times reported that Walker said there would be “absolutely no daylight” between the United States and Israel if he was president, and that he would “stop the aggression of Russia into sovereign nations.” As for Iran, he said, “we need to terminate the bad deal with Iran on Day 1, put in place crippling economic sanctions and convince our allies to do the same.”

That’s tough talk. Does that mean hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would in effect become a key framer of Walker’s foreign policy? Is Walker willing to attack Iran? Russia? If elected, Walker may want to consult the last Republican president about the ramifications of launching an invasion.

We also know that Walker wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He hasn’t clearly laid out his alternative, but he did say, “healthy or sick … I will fight for you.” That apparently means he wouldn’t revert to the pre-Obamacare days when insurance companies strived to cover the healthiest people and dropped the less profitable.

Walker deserves points for cutting taxes in Wisconsin, but he would face a much greater task trying to do the same in Washington. Consider that in fiscal year 2014, the federal government spent $3.5 trillion, which included $485 billion in borrowing.

Of that $3.5 trillion, Social Security cost $851 billion. Medicare, Medicaid and related programs cost another $836 billion. Defense cost another $615 billion, other safety net programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit totaled about $370 billion, and interest on our (now) $18.3 trillion national debt totaled $229 billion.

That totals about $2.9 trillion, and that doesn’t even touch spending for transportation, schools, agriculture, etc. Voters are thirsting for details and answers, not cliches and negative campaigning.

The two-year state budget Walker just signed failed to address the fact transportation spending is exceeding revenues, a problem that left unaddressed will only get worse and require more borrowing.

If Gov. Walker left the state before addressing this matter, why should we expect President Walker would confront the same problem at the national level?


Press-Gazette Media, July 18

Presidential run shines spotlight on Walker, state

Gov. Scott Walker confirmed this past week what some have been wondering for a year and what many expected him to do after seeing his travels this year: He’s seeking the Republican nomination for president in the 2016 election.

He may not be the first Wisconsinite to run for president (former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s run during the 2012 election was the most recent), but he may be the first with a shot at getting elected.

That, in turn, means our state will also be in the spotlight.

The attention can be nice. Wisconsin will be known for something other than our sports teams, our penchant for beer and cheese, and our “flyover” state status.

Walker will have to run on his record as governor if he wants to make his voice heard among the din of 14 other Republicans in a field that is expected to grow to a total of 17 GOP candidates.

When U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, was the vice presidential nominee on former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s ticket in the 2012 election, the media focused more on Ryan’s actions in the U.S. House than in Wisconsin.

The opposite will be the case for Walker, who plays up the aw-shucks Midwestern shtick with his Harley-Davidson rides and stump speeches that incorporate Average Joe experiences, such as shopping for clothes at Kohl’s.

That’s all window dressing.

The national media will also examine what has happened in Wisconsin since Walker was elected governor (all three times).

What will they find?

Walker supporters will say lower property taxes, a state where unions don’t hold sway, smaller government and a business friendly environment. His critics, though, will cite the impact of Act 10, cuts in education, a budget that many in Walker’s own party poked so full of holes it couldn’t float without some help from a Republican-dominated Legislature.

What they will find is polarization.

Dave Wegge, professor emeritus of political science at St. Norbert College, said these political divisions started before Walker took office, and are similar to ones we’ve seen across the nation, but “I think during his administration they have intensified significantly.”

Polls show the percentage of people who strongly approve and strongly disapprove of Walker has increased dramatically, Wegge said.

The divide causes the hyper-partisanship we’ve witnessed in the state Legislature as well as in Congress. It leads to strong support and strong opposition from both sides, with very little middle ground.

The polarization will fit into the early “invisible primaries” that we’re in now, Wegge said, when Republican candidates appeal to a very conservative base in order to gain support for the GOP nomination before moderating somewhat for the general election.

We’re a little over six months away from the first primary - the Iowa caucus on Feb. 1 - so expect the attention paid to Walker to pick up as he could have more staying power in this race than some of the other candidates who will drop out before even getting to Iowa.

In the meantime, gird yourselves. There will be a lot of political talk about the governor, and to a lesser degree Wisconsin, in the next half year.

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