Wisconsin Recall: Shooting the Moon

In his desperation to stay in office, Governor Scott Walker is throwing huge sums of bad money after more bad money. In fact, the only thing he has going for him is moola, most of it from out of state. Well, that, and a “quirk in state law” that enables a politician being targeted with recall to raise unlimited funds while the signatures are being collected and counted.

Walker raised more than $1 million per week from mid-December to mid-January. According to Mike McCabe, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, “The governor has raised more than any candidate for any state office in Wisconsin history.” And he can continue to raise unlimited funds for another couple of months while the recall signatures are being counted.

Not having any quirks in their favor, Walker’s opponents are just not going to be able to compete with him in the fundraising department. But there’s a crucial arena in which Walker can’t hope to compete with his opponents: people. One million signatures that can be translated to 1 million votes against Scott Walker. Ed Garvey, creator of the Fighting Bob Fest, crows that “that would be like a football team starting on the 30 yard line of the opponent.”

Even more important than those 1 million signers are the 30,000 Wisconsinites who worked tirelessly for two months to collect a total of 1.9 million signatures, including more than enough signatures to recall Walker, Lt. Gov. Kleefisch, and four state senators. It’s highly unlikely that those 30,000 will retreat to their living room couches for the remainder of the recall fight.

But there’s still the very real concern of how to answer the deluge of big money pouring into Walker’s campaign. Ruth Conniff at the Progressive describes Ed Garvey’s wild idea of how to address that concern:

Instead of trying to compete and raise tens of millions of dollars, whichever candidate emerges to take on Walker should try to “shoot the moon,” Garvey says. That means rejecting money from PACs, super PACs, corporations, unions, and, especially, out of state donors.

Instead of turning over the energized, grassroots recall effort to the professionals to wage a TV ad war costing millions of dollars, Garvey wants to see a recall election that looks a lot like the campaign to gather the signatures to recall the governor in the first place.

This idea … will draw a lot of skepticism, to say the least. After all, what kind of a winning strategy calls for unilateral disarmament? Letting Walker rule the airwaves might be the dumbest thing a candidate could do. Political suicide.

Or, it just might be a stroke of brilliance.

Ed Garvey
Ed Garvey at the 2011 Fighting Bob Fest

I submit that Garvey’s idea would be a really gutsy stroke of brilliance.

Contrary to what Xoff at Uppity Wisconsin suggests, the idea is not that Walker’s opponents shouldn’t raise any money at all. It’s that they should be very particular about where the money they accept comes from. And Garvey does not suggest that Walker’s opponents should be passive, as Xoff decries. Far from it! In fact, to be successful, a squeaky-clean people-powered campaign would require more hard work from candidates and volunteers alike than the usual money-driven negative-ad extravaganza.

Xoff cites the recent Florida GOP primary as evidence of the efficacy of negative television ads. But that election is a very different kettle of fish than the Wisconsin recall. That election presented a choice between candidates that voters show a distinct lack of enthusiasm for. It’s not as if any of the GOP contestants are drumming up much in the way of people power.

In other words, the Florida GOP primary is a quintessential case of politics as usual, whereas the Wisconsin recall is anything but. In Wisconsin we have more grassroots momentum than the United States has seen since the civil rights movement. It’s worth remembering that since the Wisconsin uprising started nearly a year ago, we have also seen the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement all across the country and indeed around the world. The sleeping giant has awoken. We the people are fired up.

We’re incensed about big money calling all the shots in our government. We’re fed up with cronyism and backroom pay-to-play dealing. We’re infuriated by elected “representatives” who listen only to money and never to constituents. We’re sick of having to vote for a “lesser of evils.”

This is a singular moment in which the people are as engaged as they’re ever likely to be. And that means we have the opportunity to do more than just kick Walker out. This is nothing less than our chance to directly address the corruption of big-money-driven “legalized bribery” that is our current political system.

If not now, when? If not us, who?

As Garvey argues, “The real question in the recall is not which heavily financed politician will run enough ads to win. It’s whether our democracy has finally completely collapsed. This battle in Wisconsin is, finally, a battle over who will rule—millionaires and billionaires who want to buy our state government for their own nefarious purposes, or the people of the state.”

Roll up your sleeves, Wisconsin. This is our moment to shoot the moon.

10 thoughts on “Wisconsin Recall: Shooting the Moon

  1. We do need answers for negativity. One of those answers is a positive picture of Wisconsin, AND a POSITIVE CANDIDATE! Advertisements need to be targeted to the extent they are used. But you also need to use public venues to get out the message, through policy forums, picnics (the election will be in the summer, right?) and old-fashioned rallies, heck, maybe even parades! It occurs to me as I write that having a summer election can be a great advantage because people will be outside more than inside, at farmers’ markets and festivals, and other gatherings where the 30,000 can circulate. It’s cheaper to reach people outdoors than indoors if you’re not using a lot of television.

    One other point — I heard a story about the ads in last week’s Florida primary. One reason there were so many was that the Romney campaign especially had to spend a lot of money to demonstrate to its contributors that their money was being used, and television is the easiest way to get rid of a lot of dollars. The people of Florida did not like all the ads, and all the mailers (sometimes 6-8 per day). Very careful and targeted spending could be quite helpful.

  2. I agree with Ed Garvey. In a jujitsu-type strategy, turn your opponent’s strength against him. The same could and should apply here. I was an ardent petition circulator, and I will be an ardent campaigner for whoever runs against Walker. I believe that one strategy we can use would be a constant barrage of letters to the editor in every newspaper in or near Wisconsin, pointing out three things: (a)Walker came to power because of a recall election against Tom Ament, (b)Walker won because the Koch brothers spent $4.3 million in negative ads against Barrett and (c)a running tally of Walker’s PAC contributions by donor. We will need signs everywhere that say “they can’t buy Wisconsin any more”. It can be done.

  3. I think I’ve waited all my life to be “shooting the moon” and this is exactly what I thought it might feel like. I’m in. Let’s go recall some very wrong people.

  4. The stakes couldn’t be higher for this election. I’m optimistic that the progressive grassroots network that collected over one million signatures will also support a good candidate to victory over Walker. The cynic in me wants to know what action we take if Walker’s corrupt machine steals the election.

  5. Could you give an example of a campaign where one candidate spent millions of dollars running negative commercials and the other candidate stayed positive and raised little money, and the positive candidate won?

    • In 1992, in his first bid for the U.S. Senate, then-unknown Middleton resident Russ Feingold promised to rely on Wisconsin citizens for most of his campaign contributions (remember the garage door?). I couldn’t find information about how much money the candidates raised, but apparently both of the other two primary candidates were millionaires. In the primary, Feingold won by a walloping 70 percent. He beat the Republican incumbent, Bob Kasten, 52.6 percent to 46 percent.

      Even if it hasn’t been done before, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. “Those who say it can’t be done should get out of the way of those doing it.” There’s so much wrong with U.S. politics, and the people of Wisconsin are so fired up. I think if anybody can do it, we can. And I’d work my buns off to see it happen. Whereas I have very little energy for a politics-as-usual kind of campaign.

    • In his last two Senate campaigns of 1976 and 1982, William Proxmire refused to take any campaign contributions, and on each spent less than $200 out of his own pocket — to cover the expenses related to filing for re-election and return postage for unsolicited contributions. Granted, those days were very different, but it is interesting that both of the examples I found are from Wisconsin.

      • I voted for Bill Proxmire, and remember well his campaign. There were no tv ads, no flyers in the mail..and he won, handily for as long as he was alive. Russ lost the last election because of the horrendous negative campaign of that bad Johnson fellow..We have to have some answers for negativity..otherwise people are gullible.

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