Business owners are replacing idealists in the pot-legalization movement as the nascent marijuana industry creates a broad base of new donors, many of them entrepreneurs willing to spend to change drug policy.
Unlike in the past, these supporters are not limited to a few wealthy people seeking change for personal reasons. They constitute a bigger coalition of business interests. And their support provides a significant financial advantage for pro-legalization campaigns.
“It’s mainly a social-justice movement. But undoubtedly there are business interests at work, which is new in this movement,” said Kayvan Khalatbari, a one-time pot-shop owner and now head of a Denver marijuana consulting firm.
The donors offer a wider foundation of support for the marijuana-related measures on the ballot next month in nine states. The campaigns are still largely funded by national advocacy organizations such as the Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project and the New Approach PAC. But those groups are less reliant on billionaire activists.
On the other side, legalization opponents are attracting new support from businesses as diverse as trucking, pharmaceuticals and even gambling.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to pass ballot initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana for adults. Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., followed in 2014. The result is a bigger pool of existing businesses that see expansion potential in more states authorizing use of the drug.
Take Darren Roberts of Boca Raton, Florida, co-founder of High There!, a social network for fans of pot. He donated $500 this year to a campaign to legalize marijuana for medical purposes in Florida. Roberts is also encouraging his customers to donate to legalization campaigns in their own states.
“I would say it’s a combination of both the philanthropic social interest and the potential financial interest,” Roberts said.
All five states considering recreational marijuana _ Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada _ have seen more money flowing to groups that favor legalization than to those fighting it. The same is true in the four states considering starting or reinstating medical marijuana _ Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota.
The donors who contribute to anti-legalization efforts have changed, too.
Some deep-pocket donors who drove opposition campaigns in years past are opening their pocketbooks again.
Casino owner Sheldon Adelson of Nevada, for example, gave some $5 million in 2014 to oppose a medical-pot measure in Florida. This year, as his home state considers recreational pot and Florida takes a second look at medical marijuana, Adelson has spent $2 million on opposition in Nevada and $1 million to oppose legalization in Massachusetts.
Other casinos are donating to Nevada opposition efforts, too, including MGM Resorts International and Atlantis Casino & Resort. Nevada gambling regulators have warned that marijuana violates federal law.
Some new opponents have also emerged, moving beyond the typical anti-pot base that includes law enforcement groups, alcohol companies and drug-treatment interests.
A pharmaceutical company that is working on a synthetic version of marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient, Insys Therapeutics Inc., has given at least $500,000 to oppose full marijuana legalization in its home state of Arizona.
The company did not return a message for comment on the donation. Company officials said in a statement last month that Insys opposes the Arizona ballot measure because marijuana’s safety has not been demonstrated through the federal regulatory process.
Other new names popping up in opposition disclosures include U-Haul, which gave $25,000 to oppose legalization in Arizona, and Julie Schauer, a Pennsylvania retiree who gave more than $1 million to a group opposing legalization. Neither returned messages seeking comment on their donations.
Smaller donors to opposition campaigns say they are hopelessly outgunned by the young pot industry, but are giving out of a sense of duty.
“Everyone’s talking about it like it’s a done deal, but I can’t sit by when I’ve seen firsthand the destruction that marijuana does to people,” said Howard Samuels, a drug-treatment therapist in Los Angeles who donated some $20,000 to oppose recreational legalization in California.
Samuels and other marijuana opponents insist that the pot industry cynically hopes to get more people addicted to the drug to line its own pockets, comparing pot providers to tobacco companies.
But marijuana-industry donors insist that they are simply carrying on a tradition started by the tie-dye wearing drug activists who pushed legalization long before there was any business model attached to it. They insist they would contribute financially even without any money-making potential.
“When a movement becomes an industry, of course the advocacy picture gets shuffled,” said Bob Hoban, a Denver attorney specializing in marijuana law and a $1,000 donor to the Marijuana Policy Project. “It shifts away from activists to more traditional business interests, because the skill sets don’t exactly transfer.”
President Barack Obama injected himself into Wisconsin’s heated U.S. Senate race, sending out a fundraising plea for Democrat Russ Feingold in which he touted Feingold’s record voting against the Patriot Act and for health care reform.
In an email sent to Feingold’s supporters, Obama referred to him as a “legendary progressive” in the race against Republican Sen. Ron Johnson.
Feingold served 18 years in the Senate before losing to Johnson in the 2010 race. Their rematch is one of the most closely watched Senate races this year, with Democrats hoping typically strong turnout in a presidential year will propel Feingold to victory.
Obama’s email referred to “Fighting” Bob La Follette and Sen. Gaylord Nelson, saying Feingold “embodies the proud tradition of Wisconsin progressives.” Obama noted Feingold cast the only vote against the Patriot Act, was one of the few who argued against the war in Iraq, “took an early and loud stance in support of marriage equality for gay Americans” and worked “side by side” with Obama on getting the health care overhaul law passed.
Johnson’s campaign spokesman Brian Reisinger said “It’s no surprise the liberal leaders of the dysfunction in Washington are pulling out all the stops for Senator Feingold – they need him to double down on their failed agenda.”
Reisinger said he was happy for the president to “highlight Feingold’s vote for Obamacare and weak record on national security.”
Obama’s email comes after the national super PAC For Our Future announced that Wisconsin would be one of five states where it would be spending money. Republicans have branded Feingold — an opponent of PACs — a hypocrite for benefiting from the spending.
Feingold last year proposed that Johnson agree to a pledge designed to keep third party money out of the race. Johnson refused to sign it, with Reisinger saying, “How do you make a deal with someone who has broken his word?”
Feingold disavowed super PAC spending in his 2010 race, stopping the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from spending money on television ads to support him and refusing to back creation of a group to help his campaign.
And in 2012 Feingold lashed out at Obama for embracing outside money in his re-election campaign, calling it a “dumb approach” that would lead to scandal.
However, outside groups have already spent millions on Feingold’s rematch with Johnson, with more expected to come.
Outside groups on Johnson’s behalf, most notably Americans for Prosperity which is funded by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch, have outspent Feingold’s campaign about $5 million to $1 million so far this year. Most of the third-party spending benefiting Feingold so far, about $2 million from six liberal groups, came in 2015.
For Our Future is backed by billionaire environmentalist and Democratic activist and donor Tom Steyer, his NextGen Climate organization, and four labor groups. They are the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
The wages of Rebecca Bradley’s “sins” have caught up with her in a big way. But will they lead to the death of her career — and will they further corrode the reputation of her political handler, Gov. Scott Walker?
Wisconsinites will get part of the answer on April 5, when Bradley, currently serving as an interim Supreme Court justice, faces her infinitely more qualified challenger JoAnne Kloppenburg at the polls for a full 10-year term on the bench.
Foremost among Bradley’s “sins” are the viscerally hateful anti-gay columns she penned as a student at Marquette University about gays, people with AIDS, Democrats, feminists and every other group singled out by the extreme right during the “culture wars” of the early 1990s.
She claims to have changed her views about gays in the ensuing 20-plus years. Supporting that claim, Bradley sought out WiG’s endorsement for her first and only judicial election. During our interview with her, she seemed at ease, quite likeable and sincere in her support for LGBT rights.
But on every other far-right issue, Bradley has remained immovable, which suggests that her support for LGBT individuals comes with unspoken qualifiers. In light of our interview, for instance, we were surprised to learn recently that she sits on the governing board of the St. Thomas Moore Lawyers Society. That organization pushes for “religious rights” of the kind that involve trampling on other people’s rights in the name of religion, such as allowing people who own public accommodations to deny services to gays and lesbians if they feel to do so would violate their beliefs.
The only evidence Bradley has offered of her more inclusive adult sensibilities seems either self-serving or scandalous. She appeared at a Fair Wisconsin fundraiser, which proves she’s willing to rub elbows with LGBT people to further her electoral career. She says she’d perform a same-sex wedding, if asked; but after four years on the bench she’s never been asked, which indicates she doesn’t know many gay and lesbian people very well, at least not the marrying kind.
Ironically, the most convincing evidence that Bradley’s strict Roman Catholic code of sexual morality has evolved comes from her personal life: She was divorced after eight years of marriage, had an extramarital affair and had what sounds like a “friend with benefits” relationship with her former boss after they stopped dating “exclusively.” She’s been accused of breaching ethical legal standards by representing that boss in a custody battle with his ex-wife, despite the objection of the ex-wife and her lawyer. Her description of that episode suggests a measure of petty vindictiveness between the two women — a scenario that’s troubling because she took the personal soap opera into a court of law.
Otherwise, Bradley has maintained her fundamentalist Catholic view on choice — and even contraception. In 2002, she equated abortion with murder and compared it to slavery and the Holocaust. In 2006, she penned a column defending a pharmacist’s right to deny contraception as an act of religious conscience. Defying scientific consensus, she described certain contraceptives as abortifacients, meaning they cause miscarriages. That’s a view that elevates Catholic doctrine above science.
Friends and allies
The most telling indicator of Bradley’s current state of mind is the company she keeps, and that should trouble voters for a variety of reasons. Her life is peopled with the same kinds of organizations and individuals with whom she was linked in the early 1990s.
Bradley has not earned her judicial career through her stellar educational background, legal writings, major cases or her legal career — which in part has consisted of defending doctors from malpractice claims and corporations from liability suits. She’s won the kind of honors that glossy magazines sell to advertisers, and she received the 2010 Women in Law Award from the Wisconsin Law Journal. But she did not have a Supreme Court-level legal profile outside of religious- and corporate-right circles.
Since 2012 Bradley has been hand-groomed for the bench by Walker, who’s appointed her to every judicial position she’s held during the ensuing four-year period. It’s easy to imagine that Walker was mentoring Bradley expressly for the state’s highest court.
If that’s true, it must have felt like a windfall for Walker when Supreme Court Justice Patrick Crooks dropped dead just months after Walker had elevated Bradley to an appeals court position. The tragedy gave Walker the chance to anoint his disciple as an interim justice on the high court.
Now, just a few months later, she can run as an incumbent for Crooks’ expired 10-year term.
During Crooks’ tenure, the Wisconsin Supreme Court leaned conservative by a 5–2 margin. But while Crooks ruled with his right-wing judicial colleagues 80 percent of the time, Bradley likely can be counted on as reliably as Walker’s other slavish supporters on the bench. She certainly feels as if she can count on him: She registered the domain name justicebradley.com before she’d even applied for the interim position — possibly before Crooks’ body was interned.
Bradley’s fierce partisanship and lack of political independence should concern voters. The Republican Party is virtually handling her campaign, which is being heavily funded by special-interest corporate groups. It’s safe to say that she’s deeply in the pocket of those corporations, which are bent on rolling back clean air and water regulations, getting rid of unions and allowing for endless political spending. She’s also served as president of the Milwaukee Lawyers Chapter of the Federalist Society, a group whose mission could have been lifted from Charles and David Koch’s greediest dreams.
The combination of Bradley’s over-the-top anti-gay writings and her fierce loyalty to the Republican Party and its moneyed special interests have prompted protests against her during the final weeks of the campaign.
We Are Wisconsin has either staged or planned demonstrations outside of every Supreme Court candidate debate. Protesters have carried signs printed with some of Bradley’s most offensive writings. But group member Saul Owen said it’s the totality of Bradley’s record — the unseemly partisanship, the big-money support and the political opportunism as well as the hate rhetoric — that has local leaders and advocates alarmed, not only by Bradley’s candidacy but about the degradation of justice in Wisconsin that it embodies.
“She can’t be trusted to hold everyone equally under the eyes of the law,” Newton said.
We Are Wisconsin has called upon Bradley to pull out of the race, charging that her campaign has tainted even further the Supreme Court’s already heavily strained credibility.
We Are Wisconsin plans to hold its next demonstration on Friday, March 18, outside a debate hosted by Wisconsin Public Television.
Bradley and Kloppenburg were virtually tied in the most recent poll, which was taken in February. That was before the indefatigable Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, uncovered and shared Bradley’s explosive hate writings from the Marquette Tribune. It also was before a misleading but effective anti-Kloppenburg television ad hit the airwaves, along with other contorted and inflammatory advertising.
The ads were paid for by an astroturf group misleadingly named Wisconsin Alliance for Reform. The group formed last October to run ads attacking former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold. The group’s Web domain reportedly was purchased by Lorri Pickens, whose husband has connections to Bemis, a company owned by the family that Ron Johnson married into. The company remains one of Johnson’s company’s best customers.
For a long time, Pickens has been associated, either directly or indirectly, with right-wing corporate PACs such as the Koch-brothers-backed Wisconsin Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity. She has also worked with Julaine Appling’s anti-gay Wisconsin Family Action, and she managed Vote Yes for Marriage, the group that supported the 2006 state constitutional amendment that banned gay marriage and later sought to overturn the state’s domestic partnership registry. (WFA is not making an endorsement in the Supreme Court race.)
That connection alone argues against Bradley’s self-proclaimed new worldview. And, on close inspection, her professional life has been lived in a closed loop with some of the same right-wing evangelicals and corporate-owned political hacks with whom she bonded during her years as a shock columnist at the Marquette Tribune, writing about how women play a role in their own rape.
Walker claims he had no knowledge of Rebecca Bradley’s writings when he appointed her as an interim justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Bradley didn’t disclose the college columns in her applications for judicial appointments. Where the forms asked for academic and extracurricular activities, she listed her time as a Marquette University student senator and as editor of the student newspaper at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School.
But Walker’s disavowal is hard for anyone informed about his history with Bradley to believe.
Both were student Republicans whose time at Marquette overlapped, and both wrote conservative commentaries for the Marquette Tribune. Today, the two travel in the same corporate-right Republican circles, and they’re practically neighbors. Their Wauwatosa homes sit around the corner from each other, less than half a mile apart.
Bradley’s most controversial writings, including the column in which she called gay people “queers” and “degenerates” who deserved to die of AIDS, were published two years after Walker dropped out of college. But they had a common acquaintance — Jim Villa, one of Walker’s longest and most trusted advisers. Villa served as Walker’s chief of staff for five years when the governor was Milwaukee County executive, and he also served as an informal adviser during Walker’s brief presidential run last year.
Villa was a target during the John Doe investigation into possible illegal political activities among Walker’s Milwaukee County staff. Investigators, who suspected Villa of misconduct in public office and solicitation of public employees to commit misconduct, applied for a search warrant of Villa’s home and office.
Villa was not charged and went on to receive a cushy appointment from Walker in 2014 as the UW System’s vice president of university relations. Villa, who was president of the Commercial Association of Realtors Wisconsin at the time, had no discernible qualifications for the job, which came with a salary of $178,000. Critics of Walker’s civil service overhaul have cited Villa’s hiring as a blatant example of the cronyism they say will become the new norm in state hiring decisions under the revamped law.
Ross contends that it’s inconceivable Villa wouldn’t have mentioned the columns to Walker, given their inflammatory nature and the pair’s decades-long relationship.
But Villa denied that allegation to The Associated Press, saying, “Not only did I not speak to him about it, I didn’t remember those writings.”
That statement rings especially false because Villa’s gay sexual orientation, a well-known secret in GOP political circles, would make Bradley’s diatribes against “homosexuals” hard to forget — especially given their shocking level of malice: “The homosexuals and drug addicts who do essentially kill themselves and others through their own behavior deservedly receive none of my sympathy,” Bradley wrote on Feb. 28, 1992, in a statement that typifies the aggressive style of her writings at the time.
For all the public knows, it might have been Villa’s coming out to his friend Bradley that led to her changing attitude toward LGBT people. But Villa declined to return a phone message left by WiG seeking clarification.
A lose-lose situation?
There’s a reason Walker has refused to say whether he would have appointed Bradley if he’d known of her public writing in advance: If he replied in the affirmative, he’d run the risk of alienating all but the right-wing evangelists who form the hard core of Republican loyalists. On the other hand, if Walker condemned Bradley’s unseemly written tirades, then he might suffer a backlash from the same voters.
Perhaps that’s why Bradley’s apologies for her past writings and her insistence that she has changed have struck so many people as hollow. If she backtracks on the vitriol that would inspire homophobes to the polls to support her in droves, she’s undermining her own election effort.
Bradley’s attempts to temper her past writings already have some of her most bigoted supporters up in arms.
On Charlie Sykes’ online blog Right Wisconsin, one anti-gay follower wrote: “If Bradley backs down here, she loses my vote. She needs to show some spine. The majority of voters in April will be older and whiter. That demographic does not thing (sic) gays are equal to straights.
Another wrote (quoted verbatim): “If they stay within their sex preference and not frakkin cheat, that gene goes away. Benefit for marriage is for those who can reproduce within their sex preference. BY the way, she was correct back then, gays, bisexuals and drug users spread HIV and cost millions in healthcare costs. Go ride a seatless bike.”
Bradley surely does not want to be associated with that kind of ignorance, but without such supporters she might very well lose the race, despite the millions that corporate special interests will likely spend on her.
The same holds true for Walker. His political fate might now be intertwined with his Frankenstein’s monster. With approval numbers that are under water, Walker cannot afford to be associated with either the bigoted rage surrounding his surrogate’s image or a repudiation of that rage.
This time, whatever the outcome of the Supreme Court race, Walker seems to have manipulated himself into a corner. After all the failed attempts he’s made to keep his strategic moves in the dark, he still hasn’t learned that he’s being watched by people like Ross and reported on by all of the state’s responsible media.
Republican-backed conservatives dominate Wisconsin’s Supreme Court and, during 2015, they handed several major legal victories to Scott Walker, who seemed undaunted by the stench of politics attached to the decisions.
The biggest was John Doe II, a case brought by the Koch-backed Club for Growth and the big business-backed Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce. They claimed the investigation into the campaign coordination of their PACs with Scott Walker’s re-election effort violated their freedom of speech, even though the state had a law prohibiting such activities.
The court’s right-wing majority not only ruled for the PACs, which are the same dark money groups that donated big bucks to their judicial campaigns, but also overturned the state’s election law in order to accommodate those donors. Now it’s legal in Wisconsin for PACs, whose donors are anonymous, to coordinate their advertising strategies with candidates’ campaigns, so long as PAC advertising doesn’t overtly name a candidate to vote for or against.
After the ruling, the court’s GOP majority ordered all the evidence compiled in the case to be destroyed.
Prosecutor Francis Schmitz, a Republican and a Walker donor, went back to the bench saying he had evidence Walker’s 2014 campaign did indeed coordinate with PACs on precisely the kind of advertising the court said remained illegal. The justices said it was too late for that now. Then they fired him.
The Legislature’s Republican leadership amplified the furor over this extraordinary case by outlawing John Doe investigations of elected officials, demolishing the Government Accountability Board — a nonpartisan watchdog group that provided information to prosecutors — and vastly increasing campaign contribution limits.
The Wisconsin GOP, which gerrymandered the electoral map in 2011 so that it cannot lose, either plans to remain in power forever or believes that Democrats, if they ever regain power, would emmploy the unethical tactics that the GOP has used.
That’s a grave error. Just ask the Republicans in Congress who gave president George W. Bush extraordinary executive powers. Now that Democrat Barack Obama is using them, the GOP is branding him a fascist.
Partisan court antics continue
Next up for the court is an election to replace conservative Justice Patrick Crooks, who died suddenly in the fall. Walker handed the position to Rebecca Bradley, a fervently anti-choice donor to the governor who’s been a judge for four years. The governor appointed Bradley to both the judicial positions she’d held in her meteoric rise to the top of Wisconsin justice.
Bradley was so confident Walker would appoint her that she registered the domain name “justicerebeccabradley.com” before the deadline for applying for the vacancy.
Bradley now has the advantage of running as an incumbent. She’s also backed by the Republican Party and the same moneyed groups as her conservative colleagues on the bench. They’re expected to fight to the last million to keep the court — Bradley’s loss would leave the court split.
Her two competitors are far more experienced justices and neither is considered a conservative. One opponent is 4th District Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, who came to fame for very nearly beating anger-challenged Judge David Prosser in 2011. In fact, she was declared the winner before Waukesha County Clerk Kathy Nickolaus mysteriously found thousands of votes for Prosser that she’d somehow misplaced. The other leading challenger is popular Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald.
A Feb. 16 primary will narrow the field to two candidates for the April 5 general election.
Ten political action committees (PACs) controlled by labor unions that represent police, firefighters, plumbers, carpenters and construction workers contributed about $64,000 during the first six months of 2015 to Republican campaign committees.
The labor PAC contributions to Republicans accounted for about 45 percent of the total $142,350 in labor PAC contributions to all legislative and statewide officeholders and candidates between January and June 2015, which was the same period that the Republican-controlled legislature and GOP Gov. Scott Walker considered and approved prevailing wage law changes and a right-to-work law that were opposed by most unions.
Topping the list of labor unions that contributed to Republican statewide and legislative officeholders was the Wisconsin Pipe Trades PAC, which gave $36,000, including $30,000 to Walker and $6,000 to the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee (RACC). RACC is used by Republican Assembly leaders to raise money from special interests to spend against Assembly Democratic legislators and candidates in elections.
The Milwaukee Police Association PAC, which is one of the few labor unions that has been a longtime contributor to mostly Republican legislative and statewide candidates, contributed $11,000 to GOP fundraising committees, including $6,000 to RACC, $3,500 to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate (CERS), $1,000 to GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, and $500 to Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel. CERS is used by Republican Senate leaders to raise money from special interests to spend against Democratic state senators and candidates in elections.
Rounding out the top three labor PACs that gave to Republicans was the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin Local PAC, which contributed $7,000, including $6,000 to RACC and $1,000 to CERS.
The top Republican recipients of labor PAC contributions between January and June 2015 were Walker, $32,500; RACC, $24,000; and CERS, $4,500.
In March, Walker and majority GOP legislators approved a right-to-work law, which prohibits requiring workers to make payments to labor unions as a condition for employment. In July, Walker and the legislature approved a 2015-17 state budget that repealed the state’s prevailing wage law as it applies to local government projects.
Gov. Scott Walker raised nearly $5.9 million in the first six months of the year through a state committee used to finance his races for governor.
Walker reported the fundraising Monday to state regulators.
The money raised by his Friends of Scott Walker committee is separate from other groups he and his supporters have created to bolster his run for the Republican presidential nomination. Those groups generally raise far more than candidates because there are no contribution limits and they are not required to reveal the identities of their donors.
Monday’s report shows that Walker raised nearly $5.9 million and spent almost $5.7 million over that time.
Walker also created a tax-exempt committee called Our American Revival to raise money as he explored a presidential run, and his backers have created a super PAC called Unintimidated that can also raise unlimited amounts.
A court decision ending an investigation into the activities of Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall campaign could transform Wisconsin elections by allowing candidates to coordinate their campaigns with outside organizations — or PACs — that support them, while shielding the candidate’s PAC donors from fundraising limits and disclosure.
That opens the door to unlimited spending by outside groups on advertising that campaigns will be able to direct and manage and the state can’t track. Candidates could encourage donors who have reached their limit on direct contributions to donate to organizations working on their behalf.
“(Political donors) don’t like the fact their names are disclosed. This way they can give secretly,” said Jay Heck, executive director of the government watchdog group Common Cause in Wisconsin. “Why would you contribute a disclosed contribution of $10,000 when you can avoid the hassle of people knowing who you are and contribute an unlimited amount of money to an issue ad? This is a brave new world.”
Questions about the investigation have dogged Walker for months, a period in which he also was raising his national profile ahead of formally announcing his presidential campaign. Barring an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the ruling makes his quest for the White House smoother as he courts voters in early primary states.
The case concerned political activity conducted by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and other conservative organizations during the 2012 recall effort against Walker.
Court documents released last year offer a partial indication of how coordination could work going forward. Those documents show Walker’s campaign aides told him to let donors know they could make unlimited donations to Wisconsin Club for Growth without having the contributions publicly disclosed. The club then funneled the money to other conservative groups that advertised on the governor’s behalf.
Heck warned that closer relationships between candidates and outside groups would lead to quid pro quo policies and legislation benefiting the groups. “It’s just going to enable candidates and outside groups to do a lot more things,” he said. “That makes those outside groups very valuable to the candidate and they’re more beholden to them. It really puts citizens on the sidelines.”
Republican campaign strategists see such coordination as free speech, and the Supreme Court ruling an affirmation of the ability of all groups to express their views.
“You’re going to see more freedom of speech and how people choose to express themselves, whether it’s through advertising, digital, social media. Whatever medium they choose to use, they could,” said Brandon Scholz, a veteran GOP campaign strategist. “It’s going to mean more free-flowing donations to groups on both sides. It will be more money going into elections. If you want to change that, change the U.S. Constitution and freedom of speech.”
David Rivkin, an attorney who represents Wisconsin Club for Growth, said candidates have been talking with outside groups and helping them raise money for decades.
“You can have a political campaign talk to a social welfare group and tell them we want to emphasize our era of environmental success. ‘What do you think is the best way to explain this?’” he said. “That’s called collaboration. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
At least three groups named in the investigation, including Club for Growth, spent heavily on getting the four conservative justices who penned the opinion elected. Two of the four refused prosecution calls to recuse themselves. That could form the basis for an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, although lead prosecutor Francis Schmitz hasn’t said whether he’ll pursue that avenue.
Democrats said they’re ready to play the game by the new rules.
“While we firmly believe that people want to see less, not more, money in politics,” state Democratic Party spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said, “we ultimately will work within the bounds of the law to ensure we can take advantage of every available resource to help us.”
Progressives across the country were preparing a series of protests against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling today (April 2) striking down in federal law the limits on overall contributions that the biggest of individual donors can make to candidates, parties and PACs.
More than 100 events were expected to take place following the morning announcement from Washington, according to Public Citizen, a progressive national watchdog group.
The ruling builds on the High Court decision in 2010, Citizens United, that cleared the way for corporations to invest in political campaigns.
The ruling today was 5-4 — a predicted split between conservatives and liberals — with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The Court said the wealthiest contributors in American politics can invest millions into candidate and party coffers. Roberts wrote that the aggregate limits “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities;’”
The ruling did not remove limits on individual contributions to a candidate for president or Congress, which currently is $2,600 per election. But Justice Clarence Thomas, who voted with the majority, said in a separate writing that he would have removed all limits on campaign contributions.
In the dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said that the Court’s majority had “eviscerated our nation’s campaign finance laws.”
The case began with a complaint from wealthy Alabama Republican Shaun McCutcheon, who challenged the overall limits imposed on his contributions in a two-year federal election cycle.
Protesters today were planning to rally in Albany, N.Y., under a banner that proclaimed “Big Democracy Is Not For Sale.”
Rallies also were being organized in Washington, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Houston, Tampa, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver.
There also was criticism from the business community. The American Sustainable Business Council, which represents more than 200,000 businesses, said: “The American Sustainable Business Council is deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s ruling in McCutcheon v. FEC. Responsible business owners do not want more money in politics. They are concerned that excessive spending on elections will continue to tilt the political debate in favor of dominant, legacy industries, which support damaging and unsustainable economic, social, and environmental policies.”
At the AFL-CIO, president Richard Trumka called the ruling “one of the most undemocratic and corrosive decisions in history.”
Trumka said, “By striking down individual aggregate limits on First Amendment grounds, the Court has further tilted our political system in favor of corporations and the wealthy and against working people. Our founding fathers did not intend for our electoral process to be the facade for political auctions.”
In regional reaction, Lisa Subeck of United Wisconsin said the McCutcheon ruling “moves us another step closer to the outright legalization of bribery by allowing the wealthiest donors to pour unlimited amounts of money into the campaign coffers of our elected officials.
“Aggregate campaign finance limits provide a crucial safeguard against the corruption that too often plagues our political system. With today’s ruling, how can the public trust that our decision makers, and the policies they set, are not simply for sale to the highest bidder?”
The same morning that the Supreme Court issued its ruling in McCutcheon, Wisconsinites learned that 13 communities in the state had voted in favor of overturning the 2010 Citizens United ruling.
Non-binding referendums in support of a federal constitutional amendment on the issue were approved by voters in Waukesha, Wauwatosa, Elkhorn, Delavan, Lake Mills, Edgerton, Shorewood, Whitefish Bay, Waukakee, Belleville, DeForest, Windsor and Waterloo.
More than 40 communities in Wisconsin have backed overturning Citizens.
Subeck said the victories on April 1 “send a clear message to our elected officials in Madison and in Washington that we demand action to overturn Citizens United and restore our democracy.”
Terry McAuliffe’s successful campaign for governor in Virginia might provide a playbook for fellow Democrats in 2014 — and a warning for Republicans.
Outside money makes a difference.
A really big difference.
Nominally independent committees, political action groups, environmentalists and unions poured almost $14 million into McAuliffe’s campaign. He went on to raise and spend almost $33 million to defeat Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
But money that didn’t go through McAuliffe’s campaign helped him just as much.
In the final month before the November election, allies aired an additional $3 million in television ads to help McAuliffe maintain his lead, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project, which tracks political money.
What’s up for grabs in 2014? Try 435 seats in the House, one-third of the 100-member Senate and 36 governor’s offices.
Outside spending will play a pivotal, if not deciding, role.
This year’s elections will be the first when both parties fully embrace outside groups and their potential to accept unlimited contributions from supporters.
The usual players such as the National Republican Senatorial Campaign and the Democratic National Committee are expected to keep helping candidates. But other major groups on the outside also are now poised to influence the races.
• American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS. The partner organizations take their cues from strategists Karl Rove and Carl Forti, as well as former Republican National Committee heads Haley Barbour, Ed Gillespie and Mike Duncan. Considered the heaviest hitter among Republican outside groups, the two spent $176 million in 2012, mostly criticizing Democrats. Only donors for American Crossroads, a super political action committee, are disclosed.
• Americans for Prosperity. The chief outlet for libertarian billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. The group helped the nascent tea party rise in 2010 and has spent heavily in support of libertarian-minded Republicans. Tax filings in Colorado from 2013 showed the group spent $122 million during 2012 but came up short in its bid to defeat President Barack Obama. Because of the way it is structured, it does not have to disclose its donors.
• Heritage Foundation. The longtime think tank on Capitol Hill has stepped up its political machinery since former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., took over. The group’s political arm, Heritage Action, played an outsized role in October’s government shutdown, warning lawmakers who supported a compromise that there would be consequences. The 2014 elections will be the first ones with DeMint calling the shots.
• U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The biggest business coalition with deep pockets for Republicans. In 2012, the group spent almost $36 million to help GOP candidates and causes. The establishment-minded group has taken sides during some Republican primaries, coming to the aid of more mainstream candidates. It does not disclose its donors.
• America Rising. A research shop that is run by GOP operatives, including Mitt Romney’s campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, and RNC aides Joe Pounder and Tim Miller. The group and its affiliated consulting firm send staffers to track Democratic candidates with the goal of capturing their gaffes. The researchers also dig into Democrats’ histories. America Rising then shares information with fellow conservatives.
• FreedomWorks. Another Koch-backed operation, this one focused on mobilizing rank-and-file conservatives to support conservative Republicans running for office. The group trains grassroots activists to fight for lower taxes and less government and threatens Republicans if they break from party orthodoxy. It took its name from a group started by former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who is no longer part of the organization.
• Club for Growth. A take-no-prisoners enforcer for candidates who pledge to lower taxes. The well-funded group spent $17 million to help candidates, and punish defectors, in 2012 and has sketched out a strategy to go after incumbent Republicans who stray from the group’s line. Its current leader is former Indiana Rep. Chris Chocola, who took over when Pat Toomey was elected to the Senate.
• Senate Conservatives Fund. Like Heritage and FreedomWorks, a thorn in the side of compromise-minded Republicans. The Senate Conservatives Fund is backing challengers to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, as well as Sens. Pat Roberts of Kansas and Thad Cochran of Mississippi. The group, founded by DeMint, has run ads against Republican Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Richard Burr of North Carolina.
• American Bridge. The research-focused operation was a model for the GOP-friendly America Rising. When Republicans flub, there’s a good chance that someone from American Bridge is there to capture it and pass it along to reporters, Democratic campaigns and the Internet. The group, founded by former Bill Clinton critic-turned-liberal patron David Brock, has started an effort to defend Democrats’ potential 2016 candidates and to document prospective Republican rivals’ challenges.
• Priorities USA. Begun as a way for Democrats to counter the super PAC-savvy GOP in 2012’s presidential campaign and now shifting its focus to 2016. It spent $65 million to defeat Romney, aided by supporters such as movie mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg, director Steven Spielberg and comedian Bill Maher. The group, founded by former Obama White House aides, is in talks with former colleagues to consider becoming a de facto super PAC-in-waiting for Hillary Rodham Clinton, who may run for president in 2016.
• Independence USA. Ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s political group is dedicated to defeating candidates who don’t support a crackdown on illegal weapons or back education improvements. Bloomberg spent $2.2 million in Virginia’s governor’s race alone to help McAuliffe defeat Cuccinelli. That’s a preview of the clout that Bloomberg could wield now that he’s just left office.
• Planned Parenthood. A reliably Democratic group that helps candidates who support abortion rights and dogs those who don’t. The group is powerful because it can introduce abortion rights into a race, forcing both candidates to make clear their positions, and often putting anti-abortion Republicans on the defensive. Led by Cecile Richards, a former top aide to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, the group has proved potent in using paid advertising and grassroots organizing to fight politicians who would restrict abortion rights.
• EMILY’s List. Powerhouse organization that aims to help female pro-abortion rights candidates raise cash at all levels of government. It combines advertising, grassroots organizing and voter data to help its chosen candidates compete. The group has been an early advocate for a female president, with its Madam President effort widely seen as an effort to prepare the way for a Hillary Clinton to run again for president.
• NextGen Climate Action. The project of Tom Steyer, a San Francisco billionaire investor who spent $2.4 million in television ads against Cuccinell. In all, NextGen spent almost $8 million in the Virginia race, including online ads, websites and mail to voters. Steyer has signaled he will continue to spend heavily to help candidates who pledge to work to curb climate change and has shown he will go beyond green topics if he needs to. In Virginia, his PAC ran an ad criticizing Cuccinelli’s position on abortion rights.
• House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC. Taken together, they represent one of the Democrats’ best shots at controlling both chambers. Run separately from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, they can accept unlimited contributions from people or companies looking to help Democrats. Already, Senate Majority has aired ads to help endangered Democratic Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana.
Two liberal PACs are funding Mitt Gets Worse a website featuring video testimony from LGBT civil rights advocates saying the candidate’s LGBT record has deteriorated.
The funders American Bridge 21st Century and Courage Campaign Super PAC.
The site’s name is a play on the popular and positive It Gets Better campaign to inform young LGBTs that, whatever they’re dealing with, “it gets better.” Romney, earlier this summer, was said to have bulled gay kids at school.
The home page at MittGetsWorse.org says, “Welcome to the Mitt Gets Worse Project! American Bridge 21st Century and Courage Campaign Super PAC have partnered to launch this oral history project and rapid response campaign that aims to educate voters about Mitt Romney’s extreme anti-LGBT agenda.
“Romney has earned a reputation as a flip-flopper — changing his positions in whatever direction advances his career. But when it comes to LGBT issues, there’s one thing you can always count on: Mitt Gets Worse.” The PACs say year after year Romney moves right.
In the weeks before the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the Mitt Gets Worse campaign will be posting first-person accounts – video testimonials – from LGBT civil rights advocates.
The site already contains testimony from:
• Jennifer Chrisler, the executive director of the Family Equality Council, a national group that fought for marriage equality in Massachusetts, where Romney was governor.
• Julie Goodridge, the lead plaintiff in the marriage equality case that led to Massachusetts legalizing same-sex marriage. She describes her meeting with Romney as “the most frustrating experience in the entire marriage case.”
• Kathleen Henry, chair of the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, who recalls that Romney’s chief of staff told her in 2006 that the governor was rescinding an executive order creating the commission because it included transgender and bisexual youth.
• Adam Bink, director of the Courage Campaign, who helped organizing a grassroots campaign to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment intended to ban same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.
Bink said Romney has “thrown LGBT people in Massachusetts under the bus and he’d do the same for the rest of America if elected “president.”
He added, in a statement, “Mitt Romney said in 1994 that he’d be better for gay rights than Sen. Ted Kennedy. But Mitt got worse, radically changing his positions. Can anyone trust Mitt Romney if he says one thing and does another to the people of his own state? Our message to voters is simple: if Romney’s flip-flopped on these basic issues of fairness, he can’t be trusted to keep his word on the other issues that matter.”
On the Web: http://mittgetsworse.org/category/videos/
Download a PDF of the current issue of Wisconsin Gazette and join our Facebook community.