In an interview, an official with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin downplayed the importance of the anti-union provisions in Walker's "budget repair" bill in the Democrats' broader recall strategy. "Collective bargaining is not moving people," says Graeme Zielinski, a Democratic Party spokesman. And in the party's new strategy memo (PDF) for defeating Walker, there's little mention of collective bargaining or organized labor in the Democrats' messaging plans.
Walker's controversial anti-union legislation, known as Act 10, curbed collective bargaining rights for most public employees and made it harder for unions to recertify and collect dues from their members. (A federal judge later ruled that the recertification and dues provisions weren't legal.) When Walker introduced the bill—"dropped the bomb," as he put it—and threatened to sic the National Guard on angry public workers, tens of thousands of protesters poured into the streets of Madison, the state capital; thousands more occupied the Capitol rotunda.
On Tuesday, as baseball's managers penciled in their lineups for the first games of the 2012 season, Mitt Romney's campaign hailed a major roster addition of its own: GOP operative and dark-money guru Ed Gillespie.
Gillespie is a pillar of Republican politics. He chaired the Republican National Committee from 2003-05, served as a top aide to former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, and helped write the GOP's "Contract with America" in 1994. He also worked on George W. Bush's 2000 campaign and later served as a counselor to Bush in the White House.
What the Romney campaign's press release doesn't mention is Gillespie's years as a well-traveled Washington lobbyist. At his firm, Quinn Gillespie and Associates, Gillespie's client list included such mega-corporations as Bank of America, AT&T, now-bankrupt MF Global, Verizon, and dozens more. Quinn Gillespie bills itself as "as one of the country’s most influential and effective public affairs firms"—that is, a big-time influence peddler in DC. (Gillespie is no longer listed as working for the firm.)
Most recently, Gillespie made headlines for creating, along with Karl Rove, the powerful super-PAC American Crossroads and its shadowy nonprofit sister group, Crossroads GPS. The two groups dominated the outside spending wars in the 2010 midterms. American Crossroads led all other super-PACs in fundraising ($26.5 million) and spending ($21.5 million), and to good effect: Of the 10 races where it spent the most money, 6 went its way. Crossroads GPS, which as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit doesn't disclose its donors, did even better: It spent $15 million and got favorable results in 8 of its top 10 races.
The Crossroads twins dominate the outside-money playing field. And that's due in large part to Gillespie's savvy.
Gillespie says he's taking a leave of absence from Crossroads and his other gigs to work for Romney. But critics of super-PACs and dark money say Gillespie's move to the Romney campaign raises more questions about the supposed independence of the Crossroads groups, which by law cannot coordinate with any candidate or campaign. They wonder: Can Gillespie completely sever his ties with the Crossroads groups?
David Donnelly, executive director of the Public Campaign Action Fund, who calls the super-PAC coordination rules "a complete fiction," says that even if Gillespie ends his work with Crossroads, he'll still bring his knowledge of Crossroads' inner workings, its message and strategy, and relationships with its strategists and its funders to the Romney camp. That knowledge could prove valuable to Romney as he gears up for a general election fight with President Obama. "He could be the connective tissue," Donnelly says.
On Wednesday, President Obama signed into the law the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act, which bans members of Congress and their staffs from using non-public information to get a leg up in the stock market. The law also creates a system for tracking in real-time the stock deals of those walking the halls of Congress. The STOCK Act's passage marks a victory (of sorts) for the good-government group Public Citizen, a long-time advocate of banning congressional insider trading. Here's a useful White House fact-sheet with a full rundown of the law's provisions.
What the STOCK Act does not do is shine some much-needed sunlight on the so-called political intelligence industry. Political intelligence companies meet with lawmakers and their staffs and gather valuable information for Wall Street firms and hedge funds to use in their investment decisions. But a provision forcing these companies to register like lobbyists, included in the original STOCK Act, was stripped out by House Republicans. That explains the bittersweet celebration from Public Citizen's top lobbyist Craig Holman, a driving force behind the bill. "This is a good bill—the most significant ethics achievement of the 112th Congress," he said in a statement. "But it could and should be stronger, and legislation is pending to strengthen it."
The bill's passage marks the end of a years-long, little noticed fight by Holman and others to outlaw congressional insider trading and drag political intelligence firms into the open. What set the STOCK Act on the path to passage, though, was an explosive 60 Minutes segment on the issue last November. (You can watch it here.) Coached by Holman, 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft laid out how members of Congress appeared to make investments based on non-public information. Kroft named names, among them House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio); House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.); Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), chair of the House financial services committee. (All the lawmakers denied any insider trading.)
The segment landed like a bomb in Congress. The number of co-sponsors to the STOCK Act leapt to 93. The Senate soon passed the full STOCK Act by a 96-3 vote.
Although the House would later pass a watered-down version of the bill, its passage is an important win for Holman and his allies. What's more, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) has already introduced new legislation on political intelligence-gathering.
In the weeks leading up to Tuesday's GOP primary in Wisconsin, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum fell over themselves praising the most wanted man in the Badger State: Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who faces a recall election in June. Romney lauded Walker for taking on the "excesses that have permeated the public services union." Santorum praised Walker for battling his state's "union bullies," adding, "Not only should he not be recalled, he should be reelected." The Walker love was red meat thrown to Wisconsin's GOP voters, the vast majority of whom back their embattled governor.
Both Santorum and Romney supported Walker, but in the end, it was Romney who won over Wisconsinites and clinched a decisive win. The major news networks called the primary for the former Massachusetts governor half an hour after polls closed at 9 p.m. Eastern. "We have won a great victory tonight in our campaign to restore the promise of America," Romney said in Wisconsin on Tuesday night. "You won't find Americans with bigger hearts than those here in our heartland."
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who lost to Scott Walker in Wisconsin's 2010 gubernatorial race by 125,000 votes, wants another shot at governor.
On Friday afternoon, Barrett announced he would seek the Democratic nomination in Wisconsin's recall race. Barrett faces former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, a union favorite; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout; and Secretary of State Doug LaFollette. Barrett said in a statement that Gov. Walker has "divided our state like never before and presided over a Wisconsin economy that last year lost more jobs than any state in the country."
He continued: "He 'dropped the bomb,' as he said, and ended 50 years of labor peace and worker protections—something he never said he'd do during the 2010 campaign. I know, because I was there. As governor, I will fight to restore collective bargaining rights, because it's the right thing to do, and it's necessary to heal Wisconsin."
Recent polls show Barrett heading to victory in a hypothetical Democratic primary. A recent Marquette University Law School poll showed Barrett with 36 percent of support, Falk with 29 percent, Vinehout and LaFollette with 8 percent each. A late February survey by Public Policy Polling showed Barrett beating Falk 45 percent to 18 percent. (That was an improvement for Barrett: a January PPP survey put him ahead of Falk 46-27.) In that same February PPP survey, Barrett led Walker by three percentage points in a hypothetical general election, 49-46. A Marquette University Law School poll published last week showed Barrett trailing Walker 49-47.
Barrett's entry sets up a bruising fight for the Democratic nomination in the Walker recall rumble. There is no love lost between Barrett and Wisconsin's labor unions, a bastion of Democratic support, and in recent weeks, union officials have quietly sought to undermine Barrett's standing in Wisconsin and work against a possible recall candidacy. In an interview with Mother Jones, Falk questioned the wisdom of a late entry by Barrett into the recall fray. She said she hoped Barrett would support her recall candidacy just as she supported his 2010 gubernatorial campaign. "I think it's his turn to support me and I hope he does," Falk said.
While Falk boasts of her many union endorsements, Barrett is a fixture in Milwaukee and Wisconsin politics, and already counts former Rep. Dave Obey (D-Wisc.) as a high-profile supporter in the race. Barrett's candidacy will make it harder for Falk to win widespread support in Milwaukee, a Democratic hotbed, says Charles Franklin, a visiting political scientist at Marquette University. Yet Barrett, Franklin adds, bears the burden of having already lost a governor's race to Walker in 2010. (Barrett also lost in the 2002 gubernatorial primary.)
In a statement, Falk responded to Barrett's announcement by saying, "I welcome Tom to this important race."