The spin from the left on the morning after their disastrous Wisconsin recall election failure is that Governor Scott Walker (R-WI), who walked away with the election, did so because he spent oodles of money.
Politico‘s takeaway: “Money shouts.” “Walker wins one for the plutocrats,” trumpeted Joan Walsh of Salon.com. “Outspent 7-1, Democrats couldn’t beat Scott Walker with a strong ground game.” Media Matters’ favorite Washington Post columnist, Greg Sargent, cited the Citizens United decision allowing corporate political spending no less than five times in his recap of the election – despite the fact that not one dollar spent in Wisconsin would have been illegal before Citizens United. The Post‘s Chris Cillizza said, “Being outspent 10-1 (or worse) is never a recipe for success in a race. Democrats cried foul over Walker’s exploitation of a loophole that allowed him to collect unlimited contributions prior to the official announcement of the recall in late March.” Daily Kos said that with Walker’s spending edge, “It shouldn’t even be close.”
This is false.
Overall, over $63.5 million was spent on the recall effort by various parties. Walker spent about $30 million; Barrett spent about $4 million. Most of the money spent by Walker came from out-of-state sources – The Republican Governors Association spent about $4 million, almost all from out-of-state; the Kochs gave $1 million; the Chamber of Commerce gave $500,000. On the surface, then, it appears that Walker had a tremendous cash advantage.
Not so fast. As it turns out, labor unions spent an additional $21 million on the recall election. When it came to state senate recall elections back in September 2011, Democrats outspent Republicans $23.4 million to $20.5 million.
While Politico’s Glenn Thrush says that there’s “only one paragraph you really need to read this ayem, courtesy of the Center for Public Integrity,” then quotes a paragraph talking about Walker’s biggest donors, that’s hackish reporting. The CPI actually adds:
Campaign contributions tell only part of the story. National unions have kept Barrett’s campaign alive by funding outside groups dedicated to defeating Walker. More than a year since Walker limited collective bargaining rights for most public employees, the nation’s three largest public unions — the National Education Association (NEA), American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — have channeled at least $2 million from their treasuries and super PACs to two Wisconsin-based independent expenditure groups.
It’s also worth noting that, while Republicans largely had to build their ground game from the ground up, labor unions have a consistent ground game – funded by tax dollars. All of the donations to Walker and pro-Walker groups were not mandated. The same is not true of Big Labor dollars, which come from mandatory unions dues in most cases.
In terms of strict numbers, Walker spent some $30 million; Barrett and the unions spent $25 million. That’s not a 7-to-1 differential. And when you add in unions’ inherent advantage in ground game, you’re talking about a better-than-even split for Barrett.
Scott Walker won last night because he is a good governor. He didn’t win because of a money advantage, even though Wisconsin rules heavily favor incumbent politicians who are recalled (they can raise unlimited contributions from individuals after recall petitions are filed, whereas opponents cannot take more than $10,000 from individuals). The media’s attempt to pass this election off as a win for big money simply doesn’t hold water.