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  September 16, 2016

The Guardian Leaks Reveal $12 Million in Corporate Money Behind Gov. Scott Walker's 2011 Fight Against Unions

The documents show Wisconsin judges ordered the destruction of court documents that revealed governor Scott Walker coordinating with right-wing billionaires to finance his recall campaign, says Matthew Rothschild of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
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SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN: It’s the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

Wisconsin court documents that should have been destroyed, were leaked to the Guardian this week. The documents show how corporations and billionaires provided Governor Scott Walker with at least 12 million dollars in undisclosed donations to fight off his recall referendum in 2011. Back then Governor Walker faced a tough recall vote because of his attack on the Wisconsin Public Employee Unions, which had led to massive protests and a months-long sit-in at the state legislature.


Joining us from Madison, Wisconsin, to take a closer look at this issue is Matt Rothschild. He is the executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. For two decades before that, he was editor and publisher of The Progressive magazine. Good to have you with us Matt.

MATTHEW ROTHSCHILD: My pleasure Sharmini, thanks for having me on.

PERIES: Matt, the documents that the Guardian released was ordered destroyed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Why were they ordered to be destroyed?

ROTHSCHILD: Really good question and we're delighted to see those emails because we never thought they would see the light of day because yes you’re right, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered them destroyed. I can’t remember a case of potential public malfeasance where the files were supposed to be destroyed. It was an outrageous order from the Wisconsin Supreme Court. They put a stay on that order so that an appeal could be made to the US Supreme Court.

But one reason I think they wanted to destroy the records was because they’re embarrassing. They’re embarrassing to Scott Walker who they are allied with ideologically. 5 out of 7 justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court are conservative. Many of those justices in fact benefited by 8 million dollars in expenditures from the very groups that were under investigation by this John Doe prosecutor.

PERIES: Explain that. How were the judges involved in this?

ROTHSCHILD: So the conservative justices benefited from 8 million dollars in expenditures in so called issue advocacy by Wisconsin manufacturers in commerce and Wisconsin Club for Growth. They would run adds in support of these justices when the justices were running for the top spots on the bench. These are elected positions here in Wisconsin. So they benefited from this money from the same groups that were being investigated by the prosecutor in this case. So that’s one reason why they might’ve wanted to see those documents destroyed.

PERIES: Now if you were a journalist covering the occupation of the state legislature and all of what was going on at the time which was very heightened in the US. You know lots of media were on it. You could see that Governor Scott Walker's comeback was really magnificent. His return and then winning the referendum. We of course didn’t know he had 12 million dollars backing him at the time. Describe for us, just take us back. Describe for us what has happened and what were the key moments when things turned around.

ROTHSCHILD: Well the defeat by the forces of good here or the defeat of the forces of good here in Wisconsin was kind of a crushing blow for all of us when Walker won the recall. Remember Walker had rammed through a law that stripped public sector workers and most of their collective bargaining rights and he did a lot of other bad things on the policy level.

So there was this massive recall effort. A million people signed a petition to recall Scott Walker and he only won the first time around with 1.6 million voters or something like that. So we all thought with a million signatures on these petitions he could be defeated. But he has a base of support here. Wisconsin’s kind of schizophrenic. There is a right wing base here. And he also had access, we didn’t know how much access until yesterday but he had access to just tones and tones of money from rich multi-multi-millionaires.

Billionaires on the right, corporate executives, and what these documents showed is he just spent most of 18 months running around the country, sitting on the laps of millionaires and billionaires and begging them for money. But not money directly to his recall election campaign but to a third party group. It was a laundry operation to this third party group called the Wisconsin Club for Growth. And then that Wisconsin Club for Growth, sprinkled the money to other groups and these other groups would run the adds that Walker himself and the Walker campaign were supervising.

PERIES: And how is it that these donations were kept secret for so long?

ROTHSCHILD: Well this is the essential problem with dark money in American politics. You can give undisclosed, unlimited amounts of money to third party groups because of the Citizens United Decision of 2010. But you can’t give unlimited undisclosed, you’re not supposed to anyway, amounts of money to third party groups if those third party groups are coordinating with a candidate. And that is the heart of the debate going on right now with the appeal of the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision to the US Supreme Court. The US Supreme Court has to decide whether it’s going to take the case or not.

PERIES: Right and what is it that we know at this point about Scott Walker’s connection to the club that received the money?

ROTHSCHILD: Well his connection is just about as intimate as it can be. Scott Walker’s chief political strategist, a guy named RJ Johnson, was also head of Wisconsin Club for Growth and RJ Johnson was working with Scott Walker to line up millionaires and billionaires to give money to Wisconsin Club for Growth which would then give it to other groups that would then run adds in support of Scott Walker. So Walker doesn’t have an arm’s length distance here, he doesn’t have a fingernail’s distance between himself and Wisconsin Club for Growth right now.

PERIES: And so in your opinion is this a result of Citizens United.

ROTHSCHILD: Well part of it is. I mean Citizens United let dark money just run rampant in American politics and in Wisconsin politics. But this was even a violation of Citizens United because there was coordination going on between the outside groups and the candidate.

PERIES: And so what next? What is your organization planning to do about all of this?

ROTHSCHILD: Well a couple things, we’ve got our fingers crossed that the US Supreme Court will take the case and overturn the Wisconsin Supreme Court decision. We’re praying for that. If we pray. And secondly we’re considering filing complaints against some of these outside groups which may have been stretching the legal boundaries of what they could do under the IRS. We’re considering filing complaints on some of these companies that seemed to be giving directly even on company cheeks. Money to political groups that are coordinating with candidates. That’s un-kosher we think. So we’re looking at all the angles right now.

PERIES: And in the meantime I hope the document’s sealed and secured in London.

ROTHSCHILD: Yea and I hope they won’t squeal because I know the attorney general here in Wisconsin is trying to find out who dared leak these emails. They still want those emails to be secret but thank god for the Guardian for getting these leaks and these emails out there.

PERIES: Alright, Matt I thank you so much for joining us and we would really appreciate it if you would keep us abreast and report back on what’s happening.

ROTHSCHILD: Anytime, my pleasure.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.




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