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Wisconsin's Place in the Koch Brothers' and Bradley Foundation's Right-Wing Web

A Shepherd Q&A with American Bridge’s Eddie Vale on the conservative takeover of Wisconsin

Apr. 9, 2014
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The conservative takeover of Wisconsin in 2010 didn’t happen by accident, according to a new report by American Bridge, a progressive watchdog group tracking the influence of conservative money in politics. The Wisconsin takeover was a coordinated effort of right-wing candidates, think tanks, issue ads and media outlets funded by deep-pocketed national donors, most prominently Charles and David Koch and the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation. The report details how the influx of right-wing dark money supported Scott Walker in his 2010 gubernatorial election, then propped up his anti-public sector agenda and underwrote the new redistricting map that will likely cement a Republican majority in the state Legislature for a decade.

Last week, American Bridge Vice President Eddie Vale spoke to the Shepherd exclusively about the new report.

Shepherd: What was your intent when you set out to document the conservative takeover of Wisconsin?

Vale: People talk about money in politics or the Koch brothers and these vague, amorphous concepts. We wanted to show that the issue of the Koch brothers and their money isn’t a D.C. issue; it isn’t a campaign finance issue. It’s really hurting and affecting people’s lives on a day-to-day basis. The reason why workers in Wisconsin are losing their collective bargaining rights is because of this outside money. The reason why voting rights are being cut back is because of this money. The reason why women’s access to family planning services is cut back is because of this money. It is having a very negative effect on people’s lives in the state.

Shepherd: Can you really draw a direct line between this dark money and specific policies?

Vale: Oh yeah. It’s not even a matter of us needing to draw the line as much as they directly draw it for us. They are very upfront and direct about what they are trying to do. The Koch brothers talk about how they are against union rights, they’re against minimum wage rights. If you look at the American Legislative Exchange Council, ALEC, they go a step further than even the Koch brothers. They don’t just talk about the issues—they literally write bills and send them to lawmakers.

Shepherd: Don’t the groups on the left do the same thing?

Vale: Certainly folks on the left advocate for issue positions. But if you look at the scope and scale of the amount of money that’s being spent, and the morass of c3s and c4s and stuff that the Koch brothers are running their money through in Wisconsin, there is nothing really close to the scope and size of what’s happening there.

Shepherd: Have you been able to detect these operations in other states, or is Wisconsin alone in this?

Vale: I think that it’s something we’re seeing replicated in other places around the country. That’s one of the projects we’re working on, to show how similar things are happening in other states. It’s not a coincidence that this happened in Wisconsin. A good example is another study we just completed, about North Carolina. They have the same kind of influx of national, outside groups and money. And they have a sort of similar in-state situation. You guys have the Bradley Foundation and they’ve got a guy named Art Pope, who did a lot of the same things and funded the same things on the ground. They have the same convergence of right-wing money from the state combining with this influx of national folks to work together. North Carolina did pretty much the same thing, top to bottom, from redistricting to then passing pretty much every right-wing bill under the sun through the legislature. Just ramming them through—introduce, pass; introduce, pass—as fast as they could.

Shepherd: In Wisconsin, Americans for Prosperity is starting to get involved in local elections. We’ve seen the De Vos family trying to influence Milwaukee Public Schools elections to elect pro-voucher candidates. They drop a ton of money in at the last minute, which they don’t have to report until after the election. Is this the next frontier?

Vale: That is something we’re seeing across the country. It’s the next step in their playbook. They have been using this money and these tactics in races for governor and Senate and the House. The next iteration of that isn’t just doing state legislative races, but more recently they are going into mayoral races and county executive races. It will have a dangerous impact, since the amount of money in those races is lesser overall. A big donor coming in at the last minute in these smaller races with a lot of money or an ad campaign can have a greater impact than in bigger races.

Shepherd: What can be done to attack the power of this network?

Vale: Expose it. Sunshine is the best medicine. There is a very good reason why there isn’t just one group doing this. They filter it through their own web of companies and LLCs and c4s with the intention of hiding the work that they are doing. They don’t want people to know the sources of funding or what their real agenda is. With this report, we are trying to shine some light on this and show people what’s going on. Campaign finance money is a very amorphous issue that people aren’t really following and don’t realize that it impacts their lives. But we wanted to show that this has a real effect on their lives. The reason why you are not getting health care, the reason why you are not getting unemployment, the reason why the Planned Parenthood clinic in your neighborhood is closing is because of this outside money that is being spent. There are very concrete and negative impacts in your daily life because of these types of operations.

Link: “How Conservatives Took Over Wisconsin”


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