Starting last week, a shadowy political group with a generic-sounding name and a scant paper trail unleashed a TV ad campaign in Wisconsin to convince voters that Tuesday's recall elections are "against the Wisconsin way." Bankrolled by the Virginia-based Coalition for American Values (CAV), the ads urge support for Gov. Scott Walker and, instead of attacking his opponent, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, assail the very premise of the recall effort. Though dark-money funded attack ads have flooded the Wisconsin airwaves, targeting both candidates in recent months, Barrett supporters worry that CAV's last-minute effort could affect turnout among crucial undecided voters.
Mike McCabe, director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks money in state politics, says dark-money outfits like CAV poison elections in the Badger State. "The public is totally in the dark as to who is really supplying this money," he says.
CAV has so far released two 30-second ads and a single one-minute spot. One media buyer says the group has purchased airtime for its anti-recall ads in each of the state's seven media markets at an estimated cost of nearly $300,000. The ads depict various individuals who say they didn't vote for Walker in the 2010 election, yet oppose the recall. "I didn't vote for Scott Walker, but I'm definitely against the recall," one man says. "There's a right way, there's a wrong way, and I think this is the wrong way," says a woman in the same ad. "Recall isn't the Wisconsin way," the narrator says, ending with this message: "End the recall madness. Vote for Scott Walker June 5th."
CAV describes itself as a "grassroots advocacy organization created by leaders from a wide array of issue interests." It's unclear who's really behind the group—and it has seemingly taken measures to keep it that way. The local address CAV lists on disclosure forms appears to trace back to a Milwaukee UPS Store. Same goes for the Arlington, Virginia, address it provides on its bare-bones website.
Anyone who has followed this year's recall battle in Wisconsin knows the feeling of being buried in news stories, blog posts, tweets, rumors, and innuendo on campaign spending, crime rates, job creation, and the John Doe investigation looming over Gov. Scott Walker. "Frenzy" is a good word to describe the past 16 months in Wisconsin politics. The fight began with Walker's anti-union "budget repair" bill and the protests against it, but since then, Democrats and Republicans have clashed continuously over the governor and his controversial agenda, and political advertisements have blanketed TV and radio.
Let's face it: It's hard to make sense of it all in Wisconsin. So Mother Jones has compiled 10 of the most striking statistics from the recall rumble. They give you a sense of the time, money, and manpower invested by all sides—and how much each side has at stake:
Sitting US governors before Scott Walker who faced a recall via ballot box. Those two governors are North Dakota's Lynn Frazier, whom voters recalled in 1921, and California's Gray Davis, who got the boot in 2003.
Total spending on Scott Walker's recall election by candidates and outside political groups through the final days before the election. That sum shatters the previous record of $37.4 million in the 2010 gubernatorial election.
The margin by which Walker is beating Barrett in the political money wars. Since January 2011, Walker's campaign has raised $30.5 million; Barrett has raked in $4 million since entering the race in March.
The proportion of Scott Walker's recall donations that have come from donors outside of Wisconsin. Walker's opponent Tom Barrett has highlighted this statistic to back up his attack on Walker as a right-wing "rock star."
Volunteers signed up for the labor-backed We Are Wisconsin coalition. In the 96 hours before Election Day, that volunteer army knocked on 1.4 million doors throughout the state and made 1.5 million calls to eligible voters.
The number of voter contacts the Republican Party of Wisconsin made in the past year. Spokesman Benjamin Sparks describes it as "the largest grassroots campaign Republicans have ever had in the state." (In the most recent count, there were 3,270,637 registered voters in Wisconsin.)
Current and former Walker aides, associates, and supporters granted immunity by a circuit court judge in exchange for testifying in the two-year-old "John Doe" investigation examining activities that took place in Walker's office when he was Milwaukee County executive.
Official projected turnout among voting-age adults in Tuesday's election. The highest recorded turnout in a Wisconsin midterm gubernatorial election was 52 percent in 1962. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel political guru Craig Gilbert writes that the 60-to-65-percent-turnout forecast is "more or less insane." But then again, these are not normal times in Wisconsin.
On the evening of November 5, 2011, Lori Compas, a wedding photographer and mother of two, logged into Facebook and wrote something crazy. The kickoff of the statewide campaign to recall Gov. Scott Walker was days away. Wisconsinites were whipped into a frenzy. Discussions about what other Republicans to target for recall grew to Homerian lengths in online forums, comment sections, and Facebook threads. Compas decided to weigh in. "Is anyone planning to file papers to recall scott fitzgerald?" she wrote. "If not i'm gonna do it."
Later that month, she did. Then a few months after that, Compas launched her own campaign to defeat Fitzgerald in the recall battle she'd started.
Coming soon to your state: The anti-union, education-cutting, free-market-leaning, divide-and-conquer playbook of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
According to a leading conservative activist, the Walker agenda in Wisconsin is the new conservative game plan for all states in the union. That was the key message delivered at a rally Friday evening in Madison by Tim Phillips, national president of Americans for Prosperity, the conservative nonprofit started with money from the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. "The Wisconsin approach to changing and making state government better is the new model for the country," he said. "You are the model for the country."
Here a video of Phillips' remarks:
Since taking office in January 2011, Walker has slashed collective bargaining rights for public-employee unions, cut funding to public schools by $800 million, signed a controversial voter ID bill that critics say discriminates against students and minorities, and approved a divisive redistricting bill that benefitted his fellow GOP lawmakers. Walker managed to eliminate a $3.6 billion deficit, but did so, his critics say, at the expense of workers' rights, teachers and students, and the public sector as a whole. In a January 2011 conversation with billionaire businesswoman Diane Hendricks, a top donor of his, Walker admitted that his plan was to "divide and conquer" the unions in Wisconsin. Walker's agenda has turned Wisconsin into the most polarized state in America.
This agenda, AFP's Tim Phillips insisted, is the new model for state governments. "Today every other governor in the country and every state legislator in the country is watching Wisconsin," he said. "Because the Wisconsin approach to changing and making state government better is the new model for the country. You are the model for the country. For fiscal prosperity and economic freedom and getting the state moving again. You're the model!"
The June 5 recall election targeting Walker is seen as a referendum on his divisive politics and policies; tea partiers say the recall is "ground zero for the battle against Obama's liberal agenda." Walker's defeat on Tuesday would deal a blow to his hard-line conservative playbook. A win, however, could validate his brand of governing, give momentum to Republicans' efforts to win state and federal elections in the Badger State, and even convince Mitt Romney's presidential campaign to make a play for a state Barack Obama won by 14 percentage points in 2008. Even more, it might convince other state politicians to follow Phillips' advice and adopt the Walker agenda as their own.
Bill Clinton, left, and Tom Barrett at a rally in Milwaukee on June 1, 2012.
Former President Bill Clinton whipped a crowd of thousands into a frenzy Friday morning at a rally in downtown Milwaukee to support Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the challenger hoping to defeat Gov. Scott Walker in next week's recall election.
Clinton hailed Barrett's record on job creation in Milwaukee and his willingness to negotiate with unions, Republicans, and other stakeholders on tough financial decisions. The former president devoted even more of his 18-minute speech to slamming Walker, now 17 months into his first term as governor, for dividing Wisconsinites and sowing a climate of "constant conflict." Clinton went so far as to paint Walker's us-versus-them politics as contrary to the American spirit. "This divide-and-conquer, no-compromise crowd, if they had been in control, there never would have been a US Constitution," he said.
Clinton's visit was a last-minute addition to the slate of get-out-the-vote events by Democrats and Republicans on the eve of the June 5 recall. The event featured speeches from Mahlon Mitchell, the Democrats' candidate in the lieutenant gubernatorial recall, Congresswoman Gwen Moore, Wisconsin Democratic Party chief Mike Tate, and Barrett himself.