Wisconsin recall: How powerful super PACs could influence the battle
The campaign to recall Wisconsin's governor began Tuesday in earnest. A major supporter of the effort is a super PAC, a political entity that allows unlimited sums of money to flow into politics.
If hundreds of thousands of protesters camping for weeks on the front lawn of the statehouse in Madison early this year made you think the battle between union organizers and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) had reached an all-time high, think again.Skip to next paragraph
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“That was just the warm-up act, this is the real deal,” says Paul Maslin, a campaign strategist and pollster based in Madison.
“This” is the recall effort designed to remove Governor Walker from office, which officially began Tuesday and which may become a testing ground for the growing political clout of so-called “super PACs.”
For the recall election to take place next year, more than 500,000 signatures need to be collected. Recall supporters swarmed the state capital at midnight to galvanize the nearly 9,000 volunteers recruited to gather signatures. Democrats hosted over 100 petition drive events throughout the day Tuesday, including one in front of Walker’s home in nearby Wauwatosa.
If enough signatures are gathered, it would be the third recall election in Wisconsin in a single year, the first two being of Republican state senators also targeted by union supporters.
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, calls the proliferation of such recalls “extraordinary” but not unexpected, given the surge in popularity of the tea party these last two years and, on the other side, a resurgence in pro-union activism geared toward protecting union power.
That resurgence was evident in the resounding rejection last week by Ohio voters of legislation passed by Gov. John Kasich (R) that weakened union bargaining rights. We Are Ohio, a coalition of labor interest groups both in and outside the state, spent nearly $30 million on the campaign to reject the legislation.
“We seem to be living in the era of selective mobilization at either end of the political spectrum,” Mr. Jacobs says.
Facilitating the mobilization is a 2010 ruling by the US Supreme Court that allows corporations and unions to spend unlimited money in support of, or against, candidates for elected office. These “super PACs,” or political action committees, are not allowed to funnel money to candidates’ campaigns, but can galvanize votes around issues, such as collective bargaining rights. Unions in Wisconsin are urging voters to recall Walker because of legislation he signed into law early this year that limited collective bargaining rights for public employees in the state.
“One of the unanticipated consequences of the US Supreme Court decision is that it shifted power to political activists who are really driving the electoral process,” Jacobs says. “It’s really precipitated a fundamental and radical shift of money that used to go to the parties but now are going to the super PACs and the allied groups around them.”
The Walker recall is sponsored by United Wisconsin, a super PAC that is a coalition of smaller grass-roots organizations. The group currently has 40,587 Facebook supporters and describes itself as “nonunion and nonpartisan.”
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, chairman of the Democratic Governors Association, is also pledging the support of his organization.