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Mary Bottari: Right wing money flooding into state as voters head to polls

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin votes in the recall election that will see whether Governor Walker is shown the door or not. Now joining us from Madison to talk about the vote is Mary Bottari. Mary is deputy director of the Center for Media and democracy. They publish the website and, and they have a new site, Thanks for joining us, Mary.


JAY: So in the polls right now, Walker’s ahead anywhere from 2 to 5 points, depending which poll you believe. And he’s been relatively consistently ahead. Why?

BOTTARI: Why? Well, for the last eight months, Wisconsinites have been inundated by ads, ads run by the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity group, that say, hey, everything is fine, it’s working, jobs are growing, people are happy, teachers aren’t being laid off. And there’s been this huge expenditure, almost $10 million of issue ads by this Koch-funded group. Democrats went up on air just a few weeks ago to try and get their message across.

JAY: Now, I’ve seen some of the numbers. The vast majority of Walker’s money has come from outside the state, and the majority of the Democrat Barrett’s money has come from inside the state. But the thing is, there’s lots of Democratic money outside the state, and this, you would have thought, given all the enthusiasm for the protest movement from a few months ago, this would have been kind of a cause célèbre. Why didn’t more outside-the-state liberal Democratic money come to support the recall?

BOTTARI: Well, there was a couple of issues here. One was that the Democrats first had to go through a primary, and a primary in a very short recall election, it can be—really delay things. Folks spent $5 million trying to beef up the name recognition of Kathleen Falk, who lost the primary, and then Tom Barrett won the primary and we had to cut new ads, cut new messages, and get it out there lickety-split.

JAY: But in terms of just the actual amounts of money, this kind of inflow of money didn’t happen on the Democratic side the way it did the Republican side.

BOTTARI: Yup. Yup. Right.

JAY: I mean, why wasn’t this more a national galvanizing moment? Or is there some fear that he might lose, and Obama and all these people didn’t want to be associated with that?

BOTTARI: I think there’s a lot of that. And first of all, I should take a step back and say that Governor Walker has spent six months traveling around the United States raising money. He’d give a talk to some right-wing think tank funded by the Koch brothers or some other group, and then he’d have a huge fundraiser at night. For a short period of time, well, when the election had been triggered by the petition gatherers but had not been scheduled, he could raise unlimited amounts of money because of a flaw in the Wisconsin elections law. And he did. He got $500,000 checks. He got $250,000 checks from a litany of right-wing bigwigs like Bob Perry down in Texas. So he raised a $30 million war chest very quickly.

On the Democratic side, they did have a candidate during this entire time period, and they didn’t know who the candidate would be. And Wisconsinites spent a lot of time wringing their hands as opposed to mobilizing around a message, a candidate, and moving forward. Towards the end there, the Democratic National Committee was asked for a $500,000 check for the ground game here in Wisconsin. I don’t believe that check ever came. The Democratic Governors Association did help out a little bit. They sent in a couple of million.

But when Scott Walker has every Republican governor in the state campaigning for him—we’ve had Chris Christie, we’ve had Nikki Haley, we’ve had the guy down in Louisiana. Actually, a lot of Southern governors have come through here. They seem to have forgotten that we were on the wrong side of the war back then.

JAY: Okay. So there’s another issue which you’ve done some reporting on, but which is that there’s a grand jury being held. I believe there’s been six people that have been connected with Scott Walker, directly connected in terms of his office, that have been charged with 15 felony counts. Why hasn’t this made a bigger impact on at least the polling results? Why isn’t this a massive Wisconsin-wide story?

BOTTARI: You’re right. There is a secret John Doe investigation going on here in the state. It’s a lot like a grand jury in other states or at the federal level. And it’s a probe into the days when Scott Walker was a Milwaukee County executive. And his staff and his associates at the time, there have been charges, 15 felony charges over a number of individuals, charges of embezzlement, charges of bid rigging that have not yet been formally indicted but are floating around, charges of campaign finance abuse, and even charges of, believe it or not, child enticement. This is sort of a blockbuster story. But because of the secrecy of the investigation, nobody has really known who the primary target is. Everyone feels constrained for naming the primary target. It wasn’t until this weekend that we got more news about that.

JAY: Yeah, and what was that? I mean, who broke the story, and what’s happened with it?

BOTTARI: So Current TV’s David Shuster was talking to his contacts at the federal level and broke a story that not only is Scott Walker the target of the secret John Doe investigation here at the state level, but he’s also being investigated at the federal level. And he cites sources in the U.S. Department of Justice at the federal level, unnamed sources. So that was a piece of good reporting at the national level coming in here to the state.

But the question is that when the Democrats are only starting to get this message out or have only had three weeks to try and reach a level of parity on TV to raise questions about the John Doe, a lot of Wisconsinite thinks it’s politicking and not a true story.

JAY: But why is it up to some TV ads? Where is the media of Wisconsin? I don’t even understand why they would need to know who the target was. Of course that makes it a juicier story, but when you’ve already got six people charged with 15 counts, that’s all public information. Why isn’t that in itself a massive story across the state, and why isn’t that having some effect on how people are voting?

BOTTARI: It has been a big story at The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is our state’s largest newspaper. There’s been some excellent reporting done there, especially by Daniel Bice. And it has been a big story for the Milwaukee TV. But out-state, you know, you know the state of journalism in America. Our reporters have been decimated. There’s very few reporters that cover state politics. You know, the local TV spends 15 minutes on weather and one minute on the serious news of the day. So it hasn’t been as big of a story as it could be, and I don’t think voters know very much about it.

JAY: Let’s get back to some of the politics of the recall campaign. We’ve interviewed and talked to people, you know, sort of that were very involved in the protest movement, and there’s sort of a feeling (and this isn’t new; I think it’s been over the last few months) that a lot of that momentum was lost because so much of the energy of the movement was kind of directed into the recall and electorial campaign, and the mass movement in the streets was kind of diffused, and that maybe that was a big mistake. What’s your view on that?

BOTTARI: Well, I think it’s hard to sustain 100,000 person protests week after week after week. So it is true that it rolled into more traditional Democratic politics. I think here in Madison there’s a lot of people who are not very much into traditional Democratic politics, and maybe for them it lost a little bit of momentum. But I’ve been all over the state and I’ve been in places like Janesville and in Racine and Kenosha and small towns like Burlington, and the core people, the grandmas, the teachers, the folks who are losing their BadgerCare, they’re still worried, and they’re still working, and this election’s going to rest on whether those people are knocking on a hundred doors over the next 24 hours or just one or two.

JAY: Now, one of the polls showed a significant section of unionized workers voting for Walker, voting Republican. I think it was over 30 percent. What do you make of why that is? I mean, one would think that unionized workers aren’t doing so well in Wisconsin.

BOTTARI: I think traditionally a certain—a pretty high percentage of unionized workers—or a surprising percentage, I should say, are Republicans. And so I think that that’s polling a lot of private sector union workers in the suburbs of Milwaukee. I think the unions think they’re going to, you know, erode into that, especially since the release of this blockbuster video showing Scott Walker in January 2011 telling one of his billionaire donors, who—the billionaire donor asked him, how are we going to make this a red state? Can we get right-to-work? How can we help you? And Walker goes, the first step is to divide and conquer, and first we’re going to go after public sector unions, implying that the second step is going to go after private sector unions.

Right-to-work is—swept 21 states this year. That was no accident. There was a big meeting at the American Legislative Exchange Council in December 2010. Wisconsin had 30 legislators there for that meeting and that discussion.

JAY: This is ALEC you’re talking about.

BOTTARI: This is ALEC. And in December 2010, after the elections, when 600 new Republican legislators were swept into office, they took control of 26 new states on a trifecta basis—both houses, and the governorship as well. They introduced this radical agenda, started pushing for it. And Scott Walker was an important part of all that.

JAY: And ALEC obviously has been pushing various proposed legislative proposals that would weaken and break down unions, both public and private.

BOTTARI: ALEC’s agenda in this area is astonishing. We published ALEC Exposed in July 2011. They have bills to kill public sector unions, they have bills to kill private sector unions, they have bills to prevent prevailing wage, to get rid of living wage, they have bills against state minimum wage. I mean, where is the bottom in ALEC’s race to the bottom? And I think I found it in the prison bills, where they’re for privatizing prisons and they’re especially for prison labor.

JAY: Okay. Well, we’ll come back to you after the vote on Tuesday and discuss the results and what’s next for Wisconsin. Thanks very much for joining us, Mary.

BOTTARI: Thank you for having us.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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Mary Bottari is the Deputy Director of the Center for Media and Democracy publishers of, and their new site CMD recently published a report documenting ALEC's dominance of the Wisconsin legislature under the leadership of ALEC alum Scott Walker.