Why Wisconsin is ground zero of the billionaires’ assault on America

Wisconsin Republican Scott Walker was elected governor, and long time Democratic senator Russ Feingold was defeated, because conservative billionaires, David and Charles Koch, flooded the state with their money in order to influence the elections. Thanks to the Citizen’s United Supreme Court decision, they were able to fund, through various venues, an unprecedented number of non-stop, 24/7, conservative TV and radio ads. Most were negative, and the ones that weren’t, were not forthcoming about the extremist agenda they wished to enact. As George Lakoff notes, this massive amount of political advertising mattered, because “. . .language heard over and over changes brains.” Feingold, and Walker’s Democratic opponent, who had significantly less money, were simply not able to compete against the Koch brothers largesse. From Mother Jones on the Walker race for governor:

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, 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 politicial 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.

So far, the attention on Scott Walker’s legislative proposal has focused on his effort to revoke Wisconsin public employees’ collective bargaining rights. His major donors, the Kochs, have long backed groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Cato Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, and the Reason Foundation, which have called for the eradication of public-sector unions. They personally vehemently oppose them. But the Koch’s interest in Wisconsin politics goes beyond the issue of unions. They are counting on Walker to enact a core conservative principle by selling off the state’s assets to private interests. And if his bill passes, they will be first in line. Consider these items buried in Walker’s 144-page bill:

16.896 Sale or contractual operation of state-owned heating, cooling, and power plants. (1) Notwithstanding ss. 13.48 (14) (am) and 16.705 (1), the department may sell any state-owned heating, cooling, and power plant or may contract with a private entity for the operation of any such plant, with or without solicitation of bids, for any amount that the department determines to be in the best interest of the state. Notwithstanding ss. 196.49 and 196.80, no approval or certification of the public service commission is necessary for a public utility to purchase, or contract for the operation of, such a plant, and any such purchase is considered to be in the public interest and to comply with the criteria for certification of a project under s. 196.49 (3) (b).

So, to translate, the Koch brother’s reward for drowning Scott Walker in money may be a chance to buy a bunch of publicly owned power plants for a song. The “best interest of the state” phrase in the bill would mean whatever Walker wants it to mean. This is textbook Republican corporatism: privatization, no-bid contracts, deregulation, and naked cronyism.

Scott Walker, Republican Governor of Wisconsin

It comes at no surprise that the Koch brothers already have considerable business interests in Wisconsin. They own Flint Hills Recources, LLC, a leading refining and chemicals company; Koch Pipeline Company, L.P. which operates a pipeline that crosses the state; the C. Reiss Coal Company that supplies coal to power companies; and the Georgia Pacific companies, which has six facilities in the state. And with Walker in the Governor’s mansion, other lucrative business opportunities await them. To underscore their keen interest and ongoing meddling in the state of Wisconsin, they recently bussed in Tea Party members at their expense to have a “rally” for Walker, to counter the teachers who are demonstrating.

The need to understand the many anti-democratic aspects of the Walker bill

There are other time bombs in this bill such as Walker being able to slash Badger Care and other programs for the poor at his discretion outside of the legislative process.

Walker’s “Budget Repair Bill” presents an important political moment for both the state of Wisconsin, and the country. It is a moment when anti-American, anti-democratic conservative forces, which are trying to usher in a new Gilded Age, can be named and stopped in their tracks. To be most effective, the teachers and their supporters demonstrating for the right to collective bargaining need to demonstrate against these other negative implications of the bill as well.

The Democratic legislators fled the state to avoid having this bill shoved through the senate without deliberation, and to allow for better public scrutiny of what it proposes. Hopefully the people of Wisconsin will soon understand just how extreme their governor’s agenda is, and publicly expose and stand against all of the draconian aspects of his bill. If they do, they will provide much needed inspiration and guidance for the rest of the country, especially in those Republican controlled states, whose politicians are well funded by people like the Koch’s, and that are also undergoing similar anti-union and anti-democratic attacks.