Data Wonk

The Fall of Scott Walker

Did the Club for Growth contribute to the rise of Donald Trump and the fall of Scott Walker?

By - Sep 23rd, 2015 02:20 pm
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Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

Gov. Scott Walker. Photo from the State of Wisconsin.

What is behind the quick rise and fall of Scott Walker? I would suggest that he was a victim of the growing gap between the voters Republicans increasingly depend upon and the agenda of funders of Republican candidates. Nowhere is this gap more pronounced than when it comes to campaign finance.

When he is not attacking immigrants, the Iran agreement, women for their looks, or supposed enemies of Christianity, Donald Trump criticizes his rivals for their dependence on Super PACs and wealthy donors. He also calls for higher taxes on hedge fund managers and other wealthy individuals. Attempting to turn his wealth from a liability to an asset he claims he is the only candidate that won’t be dependent on the wealthy individuals and interest groups. Trump distantly echoes Herb Kohl, whose self-funding allowed him to be “nobody’s senator but yours.”

Recent Trump tweets develop this theme:

  • Many Super Pacs, funded by groups that want total control over their candidate, are being formed to “attack” Trump. Remember when u see them
  • I’m turning down millions of dollars of campaign contributions—feel totally stupid doing so, but hope it is appreciated by the voters.
  • I’m self funding my campaign but lobbyists & special interests for Jeb & others are starting to do big ads—desperate! Don’t believe them.
  • The lobbyists & special interests have just put out an ad for Jeb which hits me “just a little” but is very false!
  • The phony Club For Growth, which asked me in writing for $1,000,000 (I said no), is now wanting to do negative ads on me. Total hypocrites! [In another, Trump forwards a tweet from Sean Hannity calling Club for Growth “mafia organization of extortion”]
  • The hedge fund guys (gals) have to pay higher taxes ASAP. They are paying practically nothing. We must reduce taxes for the middle class!
  • By self-funding my campaign, I am not controlled by my donors, special interests or lobbyists. I am only working for the people of the U.S.!
  • Remember that I am self-funding my campaign. Hillary, Jeb and the rest are spending special interest and lobbyist money.100% CONTROLLED

The message of these tweets is that Trump, with a self-financed campaign, is the only candidate not beholden to other rich people. The sight of Scott Walker auditioning for the support of Koch-supported groups played into Trump’s story line.

Walker tried to portray Trump’s attacks as a sign that he is a secret liberal. But the evidence indicates that his views on campaign spending may be closer to those of the average Republican primary voter than are those of his critics.

Numerous polls have shown that voters are unhappy with the role of money in politics. Particular ire has been focused on the Citizens United decision because it opened the door to corporate donations.

In early June of this year a New York Times/CBS News poll surveyed public views towards campaign financing. The Times headline summarized the finding: Poll Shows Americans Favor an Overhaul of Campaign Financing. Those unhappy with the present system included a majority of self-identified Republicans.

The next series of graphs summarizes the answers from all respondents (shown in green) and those identifying as Republicans (shown in red). Overall it is clear that when it comes to campaign finance Republicans are much closer to Democrats and independents than they are to Republican leaders, such as Sen. Mitch McConnell, or the funders of Republican candidates, such as the Club for Growth.

Here is how they responded to the question: “Which of the following three statements comes closest to expressing your overall view of the way political campaigns are funded in the United States: 1) On the whole, the system for funding political campaigns works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary to make it work better. 2) There are some good things in the system for funding political campaigns but fundamental changes are needed. 3) The system for funding political campaigns has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it.”

Campaign finance needs:

Campaign finance needs:

The next graph shows responses to the question, “do you think money has too much influence, too little influence or is it about right?” An overwhelming majority of Republicans agree with other Americans that money’s influence was too much.

The influence of money

The influence of money

In their view, donations bought influence over legislation. The next chart shows the responses to the question, “How often do you think candidates who win public office promote policies that directly help the people and groups who donated money to their campaigns — most of the time, sometimes, rarely or never?”

Candidates help donors

Candidates help donors

There is also bipartisan support for limiting the sizes of contributions. Here is how people responded to the question: “Which one of the following two positions on campaign financing do you favor more: limiting the amount of money individuals can contribute to political campaigns, or allowing individuals to contribute as much money to political campaigns as they would like?”

Should contributions to campaigns be limited?

Should contributions to campaigns be limited?

It should be noted that present law does limit the size of contributions. However, the recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision shutting down the John Doe investigation seems to open a very wide loop hole in this limitation, by allowing coordination between candidates and outside groups able to accept unlimited contributions.

Even without coordination Republicans join their fellow citizens in not liking unlimited spending by outside groups. Here is how they responded to the question, “Currently, groups not affiliated with a candidate are able to spend unlimited amounts on advertisements during a political campaign. Do you think this kind of spending should be limited by law, or should it remain unlimited?”

Limit spending by outside groups?

Limit spending by outside groups?

In the Citizens United case, even as the US Supreme Court struck down limits on political contributions from companies, eight of the nine justices made it clear they would accept a requirement that the outside groups disclose their contributors. Proposals to do these have failed because of the Republican leadership in Congress.

This is another case where the funders Walker needed to fund his campaign were out of sync with the Republican rank and file. Here is how people responded to the question: “Do you think groups not affiliated with a candidate that spend money during political campaigns should be required to publicly disclose their contributors, or do you think it’s O.K. for that information to remain private?”

Disclose contributors to outside groups?

Disclose contributors to outside groups?

Certainly much of Trump’s success in the opinion polls is due to his willingness to pander to the worst instincts of a segment of the Republican base. However, his attacks on the high-spending individuals and groups shrewdly exploit a huge gap between Republican funders and many Republican voters. Rather than committing political heresy, he taps into a concern that resonates with voters who identify as Republicans.

In its series of election finance decisions, starting with Buckley v Valeo in 1976, running through Citizens United in 2010, to McCutcheon last year, the US Supreme Court has severely curtailed restrictions on money in elections. In doing so, the justices played down the amount of damage they were doing to the electoral process.

The court was encouraged in this path by the Republican establishment and many organizations on the right. Following the McCutcheon decision, which removed the aggregate limit on how much a donor could give to all candidates, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said in a statement, “I am proud that the RNC led the way in bringing this case and pleased that the Court agreed that limits on how many candidates or committees a person may support unconstitutionally burden core First Amendment political activities.” Newsweek reported that the RNC hoped the decision would have an immediate effect on the number of donors to campaigns, parties and political action committees in that year’s midterm elections.

The Club for Growth, also celebrated. “This is a great day for the first amendment, and a great day for political speech,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “With Citizens United and now McCutcheon, the Supreme Court has continued to restrict the role of the federal government in limiting and regulating speech. We hope further efforts to increase the ability of citizens to participate in our democracy are also successful.”

The club’s next target would be Wisconsin’s restrictions on the ability of candidates to coordinate with outside groups. Ironically, the court pointed to these very restrictions as one reason that independent advocacy has “substantially diminished potential for abuse” (Buckley). In the McCutcheon decision, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:

We have said in the context of independent expenditures that “ ‘[t]he absence of prearrangement and coordination of an expenditure with the candidate or his agent . . . undermines the value of the expenditure to the candidate.’ ” Citizens United, … (quoting Buckley …)

Critics of the US Supreme Court decisions have considered naïve the justices’ belief that lack of coordination makes the independent expenditures less effective. Typically candidates set up a super PAC, staffed with loyal operatives. For example, Unintimidated PAC, Scott Walker’s super PAC, is run by Keith Gilkes and Stephan Thompson. Gilkes ran Walker’s 2010 campaign and 2012 recall effort. Thompson managed his 2014 reelection bid. The federal rules against coordinating didn’t kick in until the candidate is official. Walker announced his candidacy late, on July 13. Up until that time he was free to discuss strategy with Gilkes and Thompson, visit primary states, and help Unintimidated raise $20 million (according to the New York Times). It seems far-fetched that Walker would not have settled on a joint strategy and division of labor with Gilkes and Thompson—as with the other candidates and their super PACs.

Since July, however, Walker could not legally talk to Gilkes and Thompson. The Atlantic’s Molly Ball suggested that part of Walker’s problem was “that two of his most trusted advisers can no longer talk to him.” The rise of Donald Trump would throw into doubt whatever strategy Walker and Unintimidated developed. Should they respond and, if so, how?

Ball went on to point out that other candidates seemed to suffer the same problem. Jeb Bush and his super PAC, Right to Rise, often seemed to work at cross purposes, particularly in responding to Trump. Rick Perry‘s campaign was “suspended” because it ran out of money to pay staffers, even though his super PAC raised $17 million. Of course if the campaigns were working under Wisconsin rules, they could coordinate to their hearts’ delight, until the time came to explicitly tell people how to vote.

The Club for Growth has emerged as the most bitter Trump critic. It would be ironic if, in working to dismantle restrictions on financing, it helped create the very conditions that allowed the Trump candidacy to prosper and the Walker candidacy to collapse.

Categories: Data Wonk, Politics

10 thoughts on “Data Wonk: The Fall of Scott Walker”

  1. Rich says:

    This comment is neutral on the opinion, serving only to remind people that the poll at the heart or the argument contained responses from only 1,022 people.

  2. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    All this baloney is meaningless. Scott was pushed into running before his time. The last 4 years have been a nightmare from the greedy Left who want more of our tax money, all the time. Scott is 47, but looks 27.
    After the record that he accomplished the last 4 years people expected to see John Wayne and they me gaffes, but everyone does that, Trump 10 times daily. Reagan notorious for gaffes.
    Voters are very unhappy right now with leaders and it shows, when they bunch up behind rookies out of power.
    The last budget was poorly conceived and poorly sold to the state and it showed. Trump hit him on that, it went viral on social media and people took a look.
    His negatives are very low so he has big future ahead.
    “Miles to go before he sleeps”.

  3. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    All these figure on campaign spending are meaningless cause they do not comply with the constitution. All courts decided this years ago. We actually had less problems in 60’s when there were no limits but everything was disclosed. This 527 mess, a creation of Feingold, needs to be ashcanned and go back to open financing. People are not stupid, if they know where the money is coming from they can make decisions.

  4. Kate in Milwaukee says:

    Wow, someone needs a nap. WCD, take a little down time and come back when you can at least proofread.

  5. DTY says:

    @Rich – you are showing either ignorance or bias to say that a survey with “only” 1,000+ responses is somehow invalid. Surveying and development of sample sizes is a science, not some random and haphazard function. There is plenty to the science that says once you establish the proper sample size and a given range of estimation, it won’t matter if you sample 1,000, 10,000 or 100,000 people, the results will all be within the margin of error.

    Go ahead and discuss how your views differ from the opinions of the writer or if there are gaps in assumptions, but attacking the survey data itself is just ludicrous.

  6. Bruce Thompson says:

    Rich and DTY: a size of 1022 is quite common because it gives a 95% confidence interval of plus or minus 3%. Most opinion polls interview around 600 people, for a confidence of 4%. 25% of the people in the NYT poll said they were Republicans, which would give a confidence of 6.1%.

    The point is that the NYT sample is at the high end.

  7. David Ciepluch says:

    The statistics applied are valid work. As DTY and Bruce covered, this is very standard work and a sample size is on the higher end for this type of survey work. Thank you for the work and detailed graphing. Excellent work and analysis and what is missing in mass media discussions.

    My main take away is that a majority of the population, Democrat and Republican, want the large money donor influence out of politics.

    As for Walker leaving the scene of a Presidential run, it shows his Koch money connection really did not help him mask that he is just a terrible candidate. Once national media found out what a stooge, dolt, and lacking any kind of spine, they turned their backs on him as well as his right wing support.

    Local media has long given Walker and his policies kid glove treatment and he rarely appeared in any semblance of a contested forum that would challenge his ALEC laws that have done so much damage in Wisconsin. Walker’s ALEC laws and policies have led to worst in class compared to other states. Wisconsin has led in loss of median family income, and in lack of business startups. This is proven data as well.

    Now that Walker has been shown to be nothing but a fool by national media and a complete rejection by his supposed right wing supporters, what does that say about Wisconsin voters and GOP that supported this Koch stooge in the first place. Walker has shamed himself and Wisconsin. It is doubtful he will ever be able to mount any sort of national campaign again. He has been exposed in too negative manner.

    I hope he disappears from the scene or just hides out in his tunnel under the Capitol Building. He is definitely not worthy of public service.

  8. David Ciepluch says:

    This is a quote I found posted by a woman on Facebook. I cannot take credit for it of course but it does capture the sentiment of the way many people feel in Wisconsin in 3-short sentences. This cracked me up and I will continue to use it for Walker.

    “One day he will be in jail where he belongs. The fact that he calls himself a Christian makes me want to vomit. He is a spineless little weasel and should be kicked in the balls daily with a metal tipped boot.”.

    Thank you to the unknown author about our worst and most corrupt governor in modern history.

  9. Bill Kurtz says:

    “People aren’t stupid, if they know where the money is coming from, they can make decisions.”
    Scott Walker didn’t want people to know where the money came from, his campaign staff encouraged donors to donate to front groups that could keep their names secret. And we never would have known the price the mining company paid to buy the chance to write its own legislation if it hadn’t come out during the John Doe investigation.
    WCD is right, though, that Walker’s budget was poorly conceived and poorly sold- but Vos, Fitzgerald, Darling et al felt no need to sell it, in the confidence their seats have been gerrymandered safe.

  10. Tony Muhammad says:

    In spite of this report objectively revealing mainstream media ignoring voter citizens sentiments and opinions about our Nations political arena controlled by greedy fat-cats. Under the guise of voter organized Super Pac’s Groups raising contributions, to Dem’s and Repub’s (I view all Super Pac groups comparable to the arcade game “Pacman,” which gobbles, gobble, gobbles other Pacman before they shape shift with equal or greater capabilities to gobble, gobble, gobble! ).

    Since corporate entities inclusion in the American Constitution as – human beings – is not what makes a Governor like Scott Walker politically missey. His fall from grace in his presidential campaign run is also due to other than Wisconsin Repub voter’s not buying and endorsing his crafty bag of double talk!

    I haven’t lost sight of the fact Scottie as a real human being was a lousy human being before he attracted so much money from the Koch Brothers. Scott Walker ability to politically “Shape-shift,” is what attracted the Koch Brother’s political Pacman controlling intentions.

    It would have been good for Scott Walker as a human being to have stood by the Pope of Rome with John Boehner then maybe Scottie would have resigned from his own political shape shifting.

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