Wisconsin's reforming Republican Gov. Scott Walker easily turned back a recall attempt by labor activists angry at him for ending collective bargaining for public service unions. But the New York Times, pushing its own agenda, would prefer the story to be about the "stunning amount" of money in politics. The Times and other media have obsessed over the big spending by Walker supporters, which is rather galling considering that it was the left responsible for holding this election in the first place. Also absent: credit to Tea Party activists.
Reporter Monica Davey (pictured) set the table with Saturday's "Wisconsin Tops Itself in Big-Money Race ," portraying the spending as a problem in itself.
The last governor’s race in Wisconsin, in 2010, broke spending records for such campaigns in the state, with more than $37 million expended by the candidates and outside groups. Two years later, in a recall election set for Tuesday, the candidates -- Gov. Scott Walker and Mayor Tom Barrett of Milwaukee -- are the same, but the money has ballooned to an estimated $60 million.
That is an especially stunning amount for a race that has been only months in the making.
Even before Election Day on Tuesday, some groups, including the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an independent organization that tracks political money in the state and came up with the latest estimate, were calling on lawmakers to overhaul the state’s financial reporting requirements.
Among the biggest problems, according to Mike McCabe, executive director of the organization, is a lack of transparency about outside groups that are buying ads -- a collection that makes up about $30 million of the spending in this campaign.
Mr. Barrett, a Democrat who campaigned in Milwaukee on Friday with former President Bill Clinton, has raised about $4 million, his campaign reports show. He said this week that he would support calling a special session of the Legislature to work on finance overhauls.
Mr. Walker, a Republican who on Friday visited suburban Milwaukee with Gov. Nikki R. Haley of South Carolina, has raised more than $30 million since the start of 2011, two thirds of that just in the last five months, his reports say.
Davey on Thursday after Walker's easy win issued a slightly hostile profile of Walker that also talked up money: "Talk of Higher Office Swirls Around Wisconsin Governor in the Spotlight ."
Mr. Walker’s profile clearly has already risen. His list of big donors in the recall election includes many outside Wisconsin, and prominent givers to other conservative causes: among them, Foster Friess, the Wyoming man who donated to a “super PAC” that kept Rick Santorum’s presidential hopes afloat; Bob J. Perry, who helped pay for the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads against John Kerry eight years ago; and Trevor Rees-Jones, the chairman of a Texas oil and gas company.
His approach, it seems, has always been the same. He is uncompromising, polarizing, headline-grabbing, austere. In Milwaukee County, he once proposed that the government might want to consider abolishing itself. There, he also pushed for privatizing cleaning and food service workers. He also pressed for changes to pension and health care contributions and workers’ hours -- a familiar theme when he became governor.
Michael Shear also found "corporate interests and billionaires" who gave to Walker in his story on the same page, "Looking at Recall Vote As Drawing Lines for All – Taking Note of Strategy, and the Price Tag ." Shear contrasted Romney's money with a nonpartisan source – Obama's campaign advisor David Axelrod. Never mind that the Obama campaign has been bragging about how much money they would raise for the 2012 campaign, and that those predictions have been repeated without criticism in the Times.
Although Mr. Obama kept his distance from the state in the final weeks of the union-led recall effort, his party, his campaign team and his labor allies exerted an enormous joint effort there that proved to be mismatched for the organized and well-financed Republican apparatus.
The corporate interests and billionaires who are pouring cash into Mr. Romney’s “super PACs” gave millions to Mr. Walker. To combat those resources, Mr. Obama’s campaign, aided by union allies, constructed a turnout machine in Wisconsin that they said will be a model for other battleground states.
The biggest contributors to Mr. Walker included investments from Bob Perry, the Houston homebuilder whose family has spent more than $8 million this election cycle; Foster Friess, the entrepreneur who was the leading benefactor to Rick Santorum; Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who provided millions to Newt Gingrich; and Charles and David Koch, whose group helped finance millions in advertisements.
“The fact that you’ve got a handful of self-interested billionaires who are trying to leverage their money across the country,” said David Axelrod, Mr. Obama’s senior campaign strategist, said in an interview. “Does that concern me? Of course that concerns me.”
State law allowed unlimited contributions to Mr. Walker’s campaign, mirroring the free flow of money into presidential campaigns via federal super PACs that were allowed under the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision.
But Mr. Axelrod said he was confident that the president’s campaign would be in a better position to respond aggressively than was Mr. Barrett.
“We start off in a better place, and we’re not going to get outspent eight to one,” Mr. Axelrod said. “We are not going to have just a month to run our campaign. You cannot draw that parallel here. We’re in an entirely different situation.”
Actually total spending in the race was not "eight to one" but closer to 2.5 to one through May 21, according to the Times' own figures, showing pro-Walker spending of $45.6 million and pro-Barrett spending of $17.9 million (8-1 may refer to spending by the campaigns themselves).
-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch  site