Wisconsin recalls a referendum, but it's not what you think

Wisconsin recalls a referendum, but it's not what you think

The Republicans call it a crushing defeat to organized labor and Dems, but if anything, it's a crushing defeat of the democratic process.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s six-point win in a special recall election has been called both a stunning defeat for Democrats and organized labor, and a referendum on the Republican agenda nationwide. Of course, in any catalytic political event, such as the Wisconsin recalls, both sides are going to attempt to use it to promote their own agenda. Of course, in this case Republicans are much better positioned to do so. However, more so than a referendum on either Democratic pro-labor or Republican libertarianism, the Wisconsin recall was a forecast of what’s going to happen nationwide as the presidential election picks up speed; it’s a referendum of SuperPACs and the new age of unfettered, unaccountable campaign spending.

Scott Walker’s recall campaign outspent Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett by a margin of 7-1, the largest gap in campaign funding in any recall election ever. By the way, another historical record broken? Scott Walker is the first U.S. governor to survive a recall election. Is there a correlation? Absolutely. Walker’s opposition, primarily pro-labor groups and union-supporting Democrats, would chant “This is what democracy looks like!” at their rallies. In a bit of dry irony, one Republican senator that had recently survived her own recall election, announced “This is what democracy looks like!” at the Walker victory party last night. Both sides were wrong. The Wisconsin Recall is not what democracy looks like; it’s what a plutocracy looks like, with candidates and campaigns being largely supported by big donors, financiers, and corporate-backed SuperPACs that don’t even reside in the state of Wisconsin.

According to Walker’s Campaign disclosures, the Walker campaign raised a total of $30.5 million dollars. However, based on the disclosure reports, The Center of Public Integrity estimates that 66 percent of the fundraising came from out-of-state SuperPACs and other donors with an eye on the political capitol to be gained from a union defeat in Wisconsin. By contrast, Tom Barrett raised a total of $3.9 million total, with only 26 percent originating from out-of-state sources that were attempting to fight the influence of large conservative PACs. One third of Walker’s campaign funds came from actual Wisconsin donors, whereas three fourths of Barrett’s funds did. Does that sound like Democracy.

Of course, campaign funds alone don’t win elections on their own, and there is a deeply polarized Wisconsin electorate right now. However, for either side to claim that this was simply an ideological war within the state, or a referendum of either side, is misleading. If this was illustrative of anything, it’s the broken campaign finance system in this country, and slow death of the democratic election process.