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.

Cart Ahead of Horse in Wisconsin Recall Poll

Did you see this headline in the Washington Post last week?

Scott Walker Leads in Wisconsin Recall Poll

I bet I wasn’t the only one who felt slightly sick upon reading that. The article mentions in passing that “the Democratic race has yet to really heat up.” Ya think? The signatures are still being counted! There isn’t an actual race yet, but this poll pits the one known candidate, our illustrious guv, against who? Hypothetical candidates. An actual candidate against four hypotheticals:

  1. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a “likely” candidate
  2. Former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, the only declared Democratic candidate
  3. Former Rep. David Obey, who has said that he doesn’t “really want to run”
  4. State Sen. Tim Cullen, who in the infamous telephone conversation with Pseudo-Koch (Ian Murphy) was described by Walker as “the only reasonable one” among the Democrats in the state legislature. Not much of a recommendation if you ask me.

Only one of the four have declared that they intend to run. If they have started putting together an organization and fund-raising, they’ve only just barely begun. Whereas Scooter, because of a “quirk in the state election law” that allows donors to contribute unlimited funds to a recall target, has been able to raise $4.5 million dollars in just five weeks. And, owing to the same “quirk,” Scooter has to spend that money in a big ol’ hurry. “In the same five weeks, the governor spent $4.9 million, a large chunk of it on TV and radio ads and direct mail solicitations. The unlimited funds must be spent before the recall is official.”

So it’s not just one actual candidate against four hypotheticals. It’s one stinkin’ rich actual candidate against four hypotheticals. To his credit, Charles Franklin, the director of the poll, did admit that “the old line ‘you don’t beat somebody with nobody’ is true.” But hey, why not go ahead and poll anyway? Just for jollies. Nobody’s going to really take this thing seriously, are they?

The early-to-the-party poll involved a whopping 701 registered Wisconsin voters. Jud Lounsbury at Uppity Wisconsin rightly pointed out that the poll is “grossly misweighted.” But far worse than that is the timing. There’s nobody—nobody—actually running against the stinkin’ rich ad-happy Scooter. A better headline for the Washington Post would have been

Cart Ahead of Horse in Utterly Meaningless Wisconsin Recall Poll

I figure the only polls Scooter and his handful of uber-rich supporters are going to feel good about for the foreseeable future are the ones like this one: completely make-believe. They’re clinging to this fiction to avoid having to think about the stark reality of this number: 1,000,000. One million signatures to recall Scott Walker. That represents a total of 46 percent of the turnout in the 2010 race for governor and is very nearly the number of votes Walker got in that election.

Croquet Walker

Here’s another meaningful number: 30,000—as in that awesome “army of more than 30,000 Wisconsin born-and-bred recall volunteers” that United Wisconsin is so rightly proud of, as are we all. The army of 30,000 isn’t done yet. Whoever Walker’s challenger is will have that same highly motivated army ready to roll up their sleeves and put the “movement” into “grassroots.” I keep telling you—we’re only just getting going. Trust me on this. The really good stuff is yet to come.