Wisconsin

Spoiler Alert: Wisconsin GOP Campaign Getting Desperate

The Wisconsin state GOP leadership is getting really, really desperate. Charged with the unenviable task of defending Republican state senators against recall elections, the GOP head honchos seems to be running out of ideas.

You know you’re in trouble when your party and candidates are so lacking in credibility that your entire campaign depends on a helping hand from the other side. A secret recording of the GOP general membership meeting last week revealed that their strategy might hinge on the sleep deprivation and intra-party battles of Wisconsin Democrats.

Realizing that Sen. Dan Kepanke’s hope that the large number of public workers in his district decide to “sleep in” on election day probably won’t help him survive a recall, state GOP executive director Mark Jefferson and vice-chairman Julian Bradley came up with an interesting idea: Considering that campaigning for Kepanke would be pretty difficult, why not just campaign for someone else?

That’s exactly what Jefferson and Bradley proposed: running an additional Democratic candidate to compete against Jennifer Shilling in the primary, with the hopes of diverting enough attention and resources to keep Kepanke competitive in the general election.

We are actively keeping our ears to the ground and if anybody knows anybody for a candidate that would be interested on the Democratic side in running in the primary against Jennifer Shilling.... So if anybody knows any Democrats who would be interested, please let us know.

 

PFAW

Republicans Across the Country Work to Disenfranchise Voters

In the buildup to the 2012 election, Republican legislatures across the nation are implementing a tactic many hoped would die with the signing of the Voting Right Act of 1965 -- silencing the voices of those who disagree with them by simply not allowing them to vote. GOP legislators in at least 20 states are working hard to push through restrictive voter-ID laws that all but disenfranchise large, traditionally Democratic segments of the electorate. These laws would require voters to show a government issued photo ID at the polling place, something 11% of US citizens currently lack.

The facts are firmly against such laws. Voters are more likely to be struck by lightening than to commit fraud, and the Bush Justice Department’s five-year “War on Voter Fraud” resulted in only 86 convictions out of nearly 200 million votes cast (a rate of .0000004%). Furthermore, these laws are expensive to implement, wasting millions of dollars in a time when most states are under severe budgetary restraints. So why would Republicans advocate for such an obviously unnecessary law?

Politics, of course.

While 11% of the general population lack government issued photo ID, the number jumps dramatically when looking at traditionally Democratic segments of the population. A study by the Brennan Center for Justice notes that 15% of low-income citizens, 18% of young eligible voters, and 25% of black voters lack identification that would allow them to vote under these new laws. In addition, such ID is more difficult to obtain for these parties, many of whom can’t drive to the DMV to get an ID or lack the supporting documents, such as a birth certificate, necessary to receive an ID.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker just signed a bill that will require voters to show photo identification at the polls. This bill has provoked outrage amongst Wisconsin Democrats, with Stephanie Findley, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party Black Caucus, declaring:

Our proud tradition of open elections and high voter turnout will suffer. And with a stroke of the pen, thousands of African-American citizens will no longer be able to vote, solely because of their lack of identification. We now return to the days before the Voting Rights Act, where literacy tests and poll taxes were the rule.

This is backed up by the numbers. Fewer than half of African Americans in Milwaukee County hold ID that would be accepted at the polls, as compared to 83% of whites.

Florida already had a photo identification law in place, but Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill that goes even further, making it more difficult for third-party voter registration organizations to operate. Some such organizations, such as the non-partisan League of Women Voters, are pulling out of Florida all together, claiming the law will make it impossible to operate within the state.

In addition to making life difficult for voter-registration organizations, the new law also stops voters from making out-of-county address changes at the polls, making it more difficult for college students to vote, and shortens the early voting window from 14 days to eight. Five counties in Florida governed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act are declining to implement the new law, waiting for Justice Department approval before making any changes.

Early voting in also being targeted by Republican officials in North Carolina, who are studying how it helped Barack Obama win that state in 2008.

PFAW

New Corporate-Funded ‘Super PAC’ Created By The Man Who Helped Make Citizens United Possible

GOP activist James Bopp Jr. has played a critical role in eviscerating campaign finance regulations throughout his career as a Republican attorney. He successfully argued in FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life that Congress couldn’t prevent corporations from using money from their general treasuries on so-called “issue ads,” and he initially represented the right-wing group Citizens United in the landmark case that ushered in massive corporate involvement in politics (although he did not argue the case in Supreme Court).

After fighting for the power of corporations to increase their already-substantial role in public affairs, now Bopp is launching a pro-GOP political group that seeks to cash-in on the glut of corporate money. Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones reports that Bopp is one of the founders of the newly formed Republican Super PAC and is set to expand corporate involvement in politics to an even greater degree by having candidates participate in the fundraising for undisclosed corporate dollars:

"The different thing here with our PAC is that we are going to harness the political fundraising of candidates and parties," he says. He explains that the committee will allow candidates and parties to fundraise for their campaigns and party organs at the same time they solicit unlimited, anonymous contributions to the super PAC.

Here's how it works: Say House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) approaches the CEO of Exxon for a contribution to his reelection campaign. Under federal law, the CEO can only give Boehner $2,500. In the past, that’s the end of the conversation. But Bopp's plan envisions Boehner and his campaign asking that same donor—and his company—to pony up more money, as much as he wants, for the Republican Super PAC. The donor can even specify that the money be spent supporting Boehner or attacking his opponent. Then Bopp's PAC can buy ads, send out mailings, canvass neighborhoods, and do all the other things a political campaign typically does on Boehner’s behalf.



The Republican Super PAC is the logical outgrowth of Citizens United and a series of other recent court decisions that have overturned long-standing restrictions on corporate campaign spending. Bopp says these rulings allow his new group to go into uncharted campaign finance terrain. "This is perfectly legal," Bopp insists.
PFAW

Wisconsin GOP Moves to Disenfranchise Students and Seniors Just in Time for Recall Elections

In July, Wisconsin voters will start heading to the polls for a series of elections to recall several of the GOP state senators who voted to bust the state’s public employee unions. But the Wisconsin GOP, true to form, has a sneaky plan: they’re trying to change the voting rules to prevent many college students, senior citizens and others without official state IDs from casting votes in the recall election.

Wisconsin’s Voter ID bill, which if passed will kick in just before the recall elections, is one of 22 similar state-level bills currently in the works. Think Progress summarizes Wisconsin’s bill:

Wisconsin’s bill requires voters to use a driver’s license, state ID, military ID, passport, naturalization papers or tribal ID at the polls. Though student IDs are technically permitted, none of the colleges or universities in the state currently use IDs that meet the requirements listed in the bill. And as state Sen. Bob Jauch (D) notes, 175,000 seniors (70 percent of whom are women) do not have driver’s licenses and may have to “get a ride at least 50 miles round trip to obtain an identification card to enable them to continue their constitutional right to vote.” What’s more, the bill will cost the state more than $5.7 million to implement — at a time when Gov. Scott Walker (R) is claiming the state is broke and needs to restrict public employees’ collective bargaining rights to survive.

I can’t imagine that attempting to disenfranchise thousands of voters will do much to endear these lawmakers to Wisconsin’s citizens…but that won’t really matter if they can prevent enough people from casting votes.

 

h/t FireDogLake

PFAW

Public Workers, Relax: You Might Get a Plaque or Something

Last week, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker suddenly turned an about-face on the issue of public workers. Although he previously believed that the only way to combat the job-killing scourge that is Wisconsin’s public sector was to end their right to collectively bargain for fair wages and benefits, he now believes that Wisconsin’s civil servants make such valuable contributions to the state that they deserve a pat on the back.

As noted in Wonkette, Walker is now accepting nominations within each agency for acknowledgment on an “Employee Recognition Day.”

 

 Don’t worry, Governor. All is forgiven.

PFAW

GOP Attempt To “Defund The Left” Paying Dividends

The Republican drive to eliminate workers’ rights and bust unions has always been a partisan campaign to “defund the left” cloaked in language of ‘fiscal responsibility.’ Wisconsin State Senate Leader Scott Fitzgerald, one of the champions of his state’s anti-union law, even admitted that the plan to dismantle unions for public employees was to undercut progressive political activities and weaken Obama’s state reelection campaign, saying: “If we win this battle, and the money is not there under the auspices of the unions, certainly what you’re going to find is President Obama is going to have a much more difficult time getting elected and winning the state of Wisconsin.”

Now, the International Association of Fire Fighters has decided that it can’t afford to contribute to pro-union candidates on a federal scale because it needs to use its resources to fight back against the mushrooming threats to worker’s rights in GOP-controlled states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, and Alabama. Politico reports:

As newly elected Republican state legislatures aggressively push a slew of anti-union measures, the International Association of Fire Fighters is freezing its federal political spending and shifting all resources toward its beleaguered state and local colleagues.

“With the survival of our union and the ability to preserve and protect the rights, wages, and benefits our members deserve in jeopardy in the states, we have re-evaluated how to get the best results from our political dollars,” IAFF President Harold A. Schaitberger said Tuesday in an email blast to members that was obtained by POLITICO.



The move by the union is just the latest – and most dramatic – adjustment labor leaders are scrambling to make after Republicans across the nation in January tried to quickly push through new laws that would weaken the movement and its political influence.

In Wisconsin and Ohio, new laws would undermine the collective bargaining rights of most or all public employees. In Missouri, bills have been introduced to loosen wage and child labor laws. In Indiana, lawmakers sought to essentially ban public employee unions by becoming a right-to-work state. In Alabama, lawmakers have eliminated automatic union dues deductions from workers’ paychecks.
PFAW

Citizens United Freed Corporations to Politically Pressure Employees

The Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. FEC, which allowed corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on politicking, has caused ripples of sometimes unexpected consequences – from the toppling of long-established state laws to the rise of secretive corporate spending groups that operate outside the reach of disclosure laws. Now The Nation has uncovered another destructive consequence of the decision:

On the eve of the November midterm elections, Koch Industries sent an urgent letter to most of its 50,000 employees advising them on whom to vote for and warning them about the dire consequences to their families, their jobs and their country should they choose to vote otherwise.

The Nation obtained the Koch Industries election packet for Washington State [1]—which included a cover letter from its president and COO, David Robertson; a list of Koch-endorsed state and federal candidates; and an issue of the company newsletter, Discovery, full of alarmist right-wing propaganda.

Legal experts interviewed for this story called the blatant corporate politicking highly unusual, although no longer skirting the edge of legality, thanks to last year’s Citizens United Supreme Court decision, which granted free speech rights to corporations.

“Before Citizens United, federal election law allowed a company like Koch Industries to talk to officers and shareholders about whom to vote for, but not to talk with employees about whom to vote for,” explains Paul M. Secunda, associate professor of law at Marquette University. But according to Secunda, who recently wrote in The Yale Law Journal Online about the effects of Citizens United on political coercion in the workplace, the decision knocked down those regulations. “Now, companies like Koch Industries are free to send out newsletters persuading their employees how to vote. They can even intimidate their employees into voting for their candidates.” Secunda adds, “It’s a very troubling situation.”

The Kochs were major supporters of the Citizens United case; they were also chief sponsors of the Tea Party and major backers of the anti-“Obamacare” campaign. Through their network of libertarian think tanks and policy institutes, they have been major drivers of unionbusting campaigns in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.

“This sort of election propaganda seems like a new development,” says UCLA law professor Katherine Stone, who specializes in labor law and who reviewed the Koch Industries election packet for The Nation. “Until Citizens United, this sort of political propaganda was probably not permitted. But after the Citizens United decision, I can imagine it’ll be a lot more common, with restrictions on corporations now lifted.”

PFAW

From Wisconsin: Palin Echoes the Right's Lies in Madison Speech

On Saturday in Madison, some of the right wing’s favorite puppets rallied along with an estimated 1,000 Americans for Prosperity “Patriots” and 5,500 counter protesters at the Capitol.

As the former Governor of Alaska took the stage to chants and drums and counter protesters respectfully turning their backs, sleet turned to snow, the wind from Lake Mendota whipped through the crowd and the protesters’ chants and drums grew so loud that it was impossible to hear the loudspeakers.

Palin called for the crowd to support Governor Walker’s strong armed maneuvering, saying “...you saw these violent rent-a-mobs trash your capitol and vandalize businesses. You held your ground. Your governor did the same thing. And you won.” It isn’t clear what violent mobs or vandalized businesses she was referring to. Fox News and fringe right-wing websites have tried to make similar claims about the protesters in Wisconsin, even resorting to using misleading video footage from unrelated protests in other states. But as anyone without a dishonest, far-right agenda who has been following the events of the last 62+ days can tell you, the protests -- and the protesters -- have been peaceful.

While Palin spent the majority of her speech blasting President Obama for energy saving and job creating programs such as consumer solar panels and high speed rail, Andrew Breitbart cut right to the point at hand, leading a chant of “go to hell” aimed at the thousands of counter protesters.

Despite the miserable weather, PFAW members and a whole host of progressive and labor allies were out in force in support of collective bargaining rights for Wisconsin’s public workers, not only at the Tea Party’s rally but on the other side of the Capitol, where thousands gathered for songs, slam poetry and speeches by those leading the fight.

After 62+ days of protests in Madison transitioning into weeks of recall efforts across the state, it’s clear this is truly what democracy looks like.

Wisconsin PFAW Supporters were out to greet Ms. Palin on Saturday:

PFAW

Walker Admits He Never Campaigned On Union-Busting

If Gov. Scott Walker wonders why there is such a negative reaction to his union-busting efforts in Wisconsin, he needn’t look very far: a poll by the non-partisan Wisconsin Policy Research Institute found that nearly six in ten Wisconsinites disapprove of his plan to dismantle the collective bargaining rights of public employees. If so many people in Wisconsin oppose a central tenet of Scott Walker’s social and economic policy and still elected him, the Governor surely made a very persuasive case on the campaign trail. Or did he?

Today, before the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, Gov. Walker admitted, for the first time, that he never campaigned on ending collective bargaining rights for public workers. Walker tried to claim that union-busting was part of the “range” of solutions he campaigned on (a Politifact-certified lie), until Rep. Gerry Connely (D-VA) pressed the issue and asked him if he ever “explicitly” campaigned on this particular proposal--to which Walker answered, “No.” Gary Sargent at the Washington Post has the video.

Note to future pols: if you plan to do something really extreme once in office, you may want to mention it once or twice beforehand.

For more info on the corporate interests driving the actions of the Committee and Governor Walker, check out our fact sheet, Anatomy of a Koch-a-Thon: Sham Budget Hearings Brought to You by the Koch Brothers

PFAW

The Story From Wisconsin: Big Defeat For Walker

A lot of people are feeling pretty good in Wisconsin right now, but Governor Scott Walker probably isn’t one of them.

Last night, his hand-picked successor to become Milwaukee County Executive (the office Walker left when he became governor) was crushed by a 22 point margin. And this morning Joanne Kloppenburg declared victory over State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, a conservative activist who tied himself to Walker’s agenda.

While Wisconsin judicial elections are officially nonpartisan, Prosser is well known as a Republican who was quickly associated with Scott Walker. People in the state then began to realize that electing Joanne Kloppenburg to the bench to replace Justice Prosser would shift the 4-3 conservative majority to a 4-3 liberal leaning court, thereby affecting how the highest court in the state might rule when Walker’s law inevitably arrives at their doorstep for review.

In no time flat, the election took on huge significance as the contest turned into a referendum wherein voters could express their favor or displeasure with Walker’s anti-collective bargaining legislation while affecting the ideological bend of the court that will likely be the final word on the legality of Walker’s law.

With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Kloppenburg scored a 204 vote victory. Close? You bet, but that’s cold comfort for Scott Walker and the Wisconsin GOP who might be feeling a twinge of regret for pushing their extreme anti-worker agenda.

One would think that other Republicans would learn some lessons from this defeat and tap down their extremism a bit. In Washington, at least, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

PFAW

Pro-Corporate Groups Spend Millions To Save Walker’s Preferred Justice In Wisconsin

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser was supposed to win reelection in a walk, after winning a February primary with 55% of the vote. Prosser, a former Republican state assemblyman, faced JoAnne Kloppenburg, who previously served as the state’s assistant attorney general and came in second in the primary. But Governor Scott Walker’s brazen push to bust unions and implement an ultraconservative political agenda spurred the progressive community into action, and Walker’s popularity plummeted.

Many of the Wisconsinites who are outraged over the right-wing policies pursued by Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature, rallied to Kloppenburg’s side. Walker allies feared the potential defeat of Prosser, who called himself “a common sense complement to both the new [Walker] administration and Legislature.”

While there are just a few hundred votes separating the two candidates, guaranteeing a recount, last-minute spending by right-wing organizations helped salvage Prosser’s flagging campaign.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice of New York University, which monitors spending in judicial elections, pro-corporate groups have greatly outspent progressive organizations. The Brennan Center found that spending in the race passed the $3.5 million mark, with most of the spending benefiting Prosser.

While the Greater Wisconsin Committee ran ads against Prosser’s reelection, pro-corporate organizations such as the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (an amalgamate of the Wisconsin State Chamber of Commerce and the Wisconsin Manufacturers Association), the Club for Growth, Citizens for a Strong America, and the Tea Party Express have flooded the state with ads supporting Prosser and berating Kloppenburg.

As of Monday, the four groups which backed Prosser spent a combined $2,177,220, but the Greater Wisconsin Committee spent $1,363,040. The final spending figures have not yet been tallied.

Citizens for a Strong America, a front group for the Koch Brothers-financed Americans for Prosperity, ran an ad so erroneous that the nonpartisan group PolitiFact gave it a “pants on fire” rating. Even the far-right Family Research Council added to the smear campaign, attacking Kloppenburg, who worked as assistant attorney general since 1989, as inexperienced in advertisements on thirty-four Wisconsin radio stations.

With a recount pending, Kloppenburg’s come-from-behind campaign shows the ability of progressives in states like Wisconsin to overcome the corporate juggernaut that is able to spend almost limitless amounts of money to support its favored candidates.

PFAW

Hundreds Protest Union-Busting Outside Koch Industries in Washington

Today, PFAW joined the We Are One Campaign and hundreds of workers outside of Koch Industries in Washington, DC to protest the political activities of the Koch brothers, the notorious multibillionaires who are working to destroy unions across the country. American workers are tired of being scapegoats and are taking to the streets all across the country to say so. It was great to see so many people turn out today to put the Koch brothers on notice. The Kochs have spent millions on advancing their anti-environment and anti-worker agenda. They founded Americans for Prosperity, and contributed $43,000 to help elect Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who recently signed a bill to end collective bargaining for state workers.

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Seek to Block Americans From Seeing Their Embarrassing Video

Wisconsin Republicans have been using the threat of legal action this week to suppress dissemination of a video that they are, quite justifiably, embarrassed about. As reported by Talking Points Memo:

First the Republican Party in Polk County, Wisconsin, pulled the tape of Rep. Sean Duffy (R-WI) fretting about making ends meet on his $174,000 a year salary from its own website. Now they want it gone from the whole Internet.

For a couple hours, the local county GOP was successful. But we've put an excerpt of the video back up.

A day after TPM posted the video we obtained of Duffy talking about his salary at a Polk County town hall meeting earlier this year, the Polk County GOP contacted the video provider we used to host the video, Blip.tv, and demanded the video be taken down. ...

The county GOP took down the video from its blog after the Washington Post posted a short clip of it yesterday morning.

An official with the Polk County GOP, which posted many other clips of the town hall on its YouTube channel, told TPM yesterday that the video was taken down because it was "was being republished without our consent."

Duffy and his supporters are right to be embarrassed. However, they are not right to use copyright law to keep Americans from seeing and hearing Duffy's words for themselves. Copyright exists to encourage and protect intellectual property. It does not exist to allow an elected official to avoid accountability for his own embarrassing political speech. Nor is it intended to be used as a tool to harass those who criticize you, particularly when dissemination of portions of the video for news and commentary most likely falls within the fair use doctrine - an exception to the exclusive right of copyright holders.

How many bloggers out there without a team of lawyers to represent them are now worried about legitimately posting this video or others like it in the future? How much political speech is being intimidated this way?

Use of the law to squash criticism - particularly when there is a legitimate fair use claim - is not new. For instance, the National Organization for Marriage had Rachel Maddow take down her clip of a NOM audition tape that made viewers heap scorn upon the organization and its latest advertisement.

Molly Ivins once noted how then-Governor George W. Bush used the threat of a lawsuit to shut down an embarrassing parody website:

The parody, run by a 29-year-old computer programmer in Boston named Zack Exley, annoyed Bush so much that he called Exley "a garbageman" and said, "There ought to be limits to freedom." (That's not a parody -- he actually said that.)

Bush's lawyers warned Exley that he faced a lawsuit. Then they filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission demanding that Exley be forced to register his parody site with the FEC and have it regulated as a political committee.

In just the past few days, we have seen right wing groups use the law on public records as a weapon to intimidate academics who criticize them. But in a country whose freedom depends on robust and open political debate, the law should be used to protect political discourse, not to prevent it.

PFAW

A Defense of Academic Freedom in Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin has responded to the state GOP's request for the e-mails of Professor William Cronon relating to the clash over collective bargaining in that state. This was the opening salvo in a series of such requests to bully and intimidate university professors.

Talking Points Memo reports that the University has complied with the request, paying due respect to protecting academic freedom, among other values:

We are excluding records involving students because they are protected under [federal law]. We are excluding exchanges that fall outside the realm of the faculty member's job responsibilities and that could be considered personal pursuant to Wisconsin Supreme Court case law. We are also excluding what we consider to be the private email exchanges among scholars that fall within the orbit of academic freedom and all that is entailed by it. Academic freedom is the freedom to pursue knowledge and develop lines of argument without fear of reprisal for controversial findings and without the premature disclosure of those ideas.

Chancellor Biddy Martin also posted a message to the campus community to help ensure that academic freedom would not be chilled by the Republicans' assault:

Scholars and scientists pursue knowledge by way of open intellectual exchange. Without a zone of privacy within which to conduct and protect their work, scholars would not be able to produce new knowledge or make life-enhancing discoveries. Lively, even heated and acrimonious debates over policy, campus and otherwise, as well as more narrowly defined disciplinary matters are essential elements of an intellectual environment and such debates are the very definition of the Wisconsin Idea.

When faculty members use email or any other medium to develop and share their thoughts with one another, they must be able to assume a right to the privacy of those exchanges, barring violations of state law or university policy. Having every exchange of ideas subject to public exposure puts academic freedom in peril and threatens the processes by which knowledge is created. The consequence for our state will be the loss of the most talented and creative faculty who will choose to leave for universities where collegial exchange and the development of ideas can be undertaken without fear of premature exposure or reprisal for unpopular positions.

To the extent that the GOP hoped to find evidence that Professor Cronon was using state computers to engage in partisan political activities, they're out of luck:

We have dutifully reviewed Professor Cronon's records for any legal or policy violations, such as improper uses of state or university resources for partisan political activity. There are none.

But this should not be the end of the story. As we have noted previously, this incident should not be viewed in isolation. If the party officials involved with this are not held accountable for their overreach, this incident will do long-term damage. Continuing party support for those who undermine the foundations of our free society significantly lowers the bar for what departures from the principles of democracy are now acceptable.

PFAW

The Right's Use of Records Requests to Chill Dissent and Attack Academics

In Wisconsin and Michigan, we are seeing what appears to be the latest right wing tool to intimidate and harass its critics: extensive – and baseless – public records requests against academics at public universities. The consequences for the free and open debate on which our democracy depends are serious indeed.

Last week, Wisconsin Republicans clamped down on criticisms of their party's efforts to undermine workers' rights by filing a broad demand for copies of all of the emails of University of Wisconsin-Madison history professor William Cronon that mention Governor Scott Walker, the eight Republican state senators who have been targeted for recall, or unions that represent government employees. Cronon had recently penned a blog post calling attention to the work of a little-known group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its apparently significant influence on Republican state lawmakers, including those in Wisconsin such as Governor Walker. The message was clear. Criticize what we do and we'll come after you to see what we can dig up to smear you with.

Any thought that this might be an isolated response was quickly shattered when similar requests were made for Wisconsin-related e-mails at three Michigan universities. Rather than being from the Wisconsin GOP, these were from a right-wing organization called the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. They filed requests for e-mails of the faculty of the University of Michigan Labor Studies Center, the Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues at Wayne State University, and the Labor Education Program of Michigan State University. The requests cover not only e-mails relating to the Wisconsin clash over the labor rights, but, according to press reports, also any e-mails mentioning Rachel Maddow.

Aside from their far right conservative ideologies, the Mackinac Center and ALEC have something else in common: Although not well known among the general public, they are part of a network of right wing ideological organizations that have been heavily funded over the years by many of the same small group of wealthy funders, including the billionaire Koch Brothers, the Coors family, the Scaife family, and corporate giant Exxon Mobil.

It is not likely a coincidence that these two right wing organizations employed the same unusual tactics in two different states just days apart. Who knows where they will go next. Clearly this is a pattern. And, unfortunately, it's a familiar one. Just as in the McCarthy era, academics face intimidation and harassment and possible threats to their reputations if they take public stands against the far right. The specific method of intimidation may be different (i.e., public records requests), but the goal is the same.

This intimidation is as insidious now as it was more than half a century ago, because it does not matter that the targets have done nothing wrong and have nothing to hide. As we have seen, all it took was one purloined e-mail, taken out of context and distorted beyond all recognition, to manufacture the phony "Climategate" scandal that threatened the reputation of climate scientists around the world and set back climate change regulations by years.

Anyone doubting that the far right is both willing and able to destroy their reputations with such distortions needs look no farther than the devastating video "exposés" of ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood. The ACORN video came first and essentially destroyed the organization. In the best traditions of McCarthyism, the right now uses any association with ACORN to discredit its opponents. They are hoping for equal success with NPR and Planned Parenthood.

People For the American Way strongly supports the Freedom of Information Act and its state and local equivalents. Opening government records to the public serves as an essential check on the abuse of government power. Indeed, the Bush Administration prepared for its long war against civil liberties in the administration's early days by essentially reversing the Clinton Administration's presumption that FOIA requests should generally be granted unless there is some reason to deny it.

Such laws exist to expand public dialogue and the dissemination of information affecting the public welfare. But the rights granted by FOIA laws, like so many others, have limitations and can be abused. A demand for information can be made not to hold government accountable and enhance public debate, but instead to harass, intimidate, suppress public debate, and keep information and opinions out of the public square. This is particularly true when it is aimed at individuals in state academic institutions.

That's what we see happening in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The public has a right to know about the activities of government entities working in its name. When a government entity has the authority to issue licenses, allocate funds, imprison people, conduct safety inspections, conduct elections – the core activities of government, all of which have substantial impacts on individuals, businesses, and groups – open records laws can help ensure that these tasks are done lawfully, without favoritism or waste. Reflecting how often members of the public request such information, many government organizations have entire offices dedicated to fulfilling these records requests.

So how often does a member of the public submit a record request for, say, the Labor Studies Center at the University of Michigan? I asked Roland Zullo, a research scientist there. He had to think about it because such requests are so rare, but he thinks the last one was about five years ago, a fishing expedition from a conservative organization essentially seeking all of their records going back to the 1950s. When the organization learned how much it would have to pay to cover the costs of its truly expansive request, it apparently backed off.

The Supreme Court has recognized the unique role that universities, including public universities, play in maintaining our liberties. As it stated in 1957, during the McCarthy era, "[t]eachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die."

That is why the American Historical Society has strongly condemned the efforts by Wisconsin Republicans to intimidate Professor Cronon:

The purpose of the state's Open Records Law is to promote informed public conversation. Historians vigorously support the freedom of information act traditions of the United States of which this law is a part. In this case, however, the law has been invoked to do the opposite: to find a pretext for discrediting a scholar who has taken a public position. This inquiry will damage, rather than promote, public conversation. It will discourage other historians (and scholars in other disciplines) employed by public institutions from speaking out as citizen-scholars in their blogs, op-ed pieces, articles, books, and other writings.

We should recognize that public universities are a unique hybrid. They are funded by the public, and we should be able to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent efficiently and legally. But their work also contributes to the robust debate over public issues without which our freedom will die. And that debate requires that we protect academic freedom and ensure that faculty have no reason to feel intimidated for asking difficult questions, conducting their research and writings, and making statements that those in power do not wish to hear.

That is the American Way.

PFAW

Does Holding Banks Accountable Count as “Terrorism”? Glenn Beck Thinks it Does.

This weekend, the New York Times told the story of a man named Charlie Engle who is in jail for being sold a bad loan. Engle did commit a crime by signing a so-called “liar loan,” in which he falsely stated his income to get a mortgage. But what is shocking is who got off scot-free: the financial executives who convinced millions of Americans like Engle to sign similar loans, helping to bring the economy to its knees.

I thought of this story when reading about the new campaign being waged by Fox News demagogue Glenn Beck to get a man who is trying to hold big banks accountable for their actions charged with “domestic terrorism.”

Stephen Lerner is a prominent figure in the labor movement. A former executive at the SEIU, he designed the Justice for Janitors organization, which has secured workers’ rights and living wages for thousands of janitors across the country. Recently, Lerner echoed the frustration of many in saying that big banks got off scot-free after their reckless lending procedures forced millions of Americans out of their homes and caused a major financial crisis. And he proposed a solution. Ezra Klein summarizes:

Like a lot of people, he feels the financial system got off too easy in the crisis. They created the mess, but unlike the millions of foreclosed homeowners and newly unemployed workers, they’ve come out mostly unscathed. It’s still very, very good to be a banker in this country. It’s not good at all to be underwater on your house. And he’s got a plan for changing that.

Union types are always looking for “leverage.” Leverage is what I have that gives me power over you. And Lerner thinks he’s identified the point of leverage that workers and homeowners and students have over the financial system. “What does the other side fear most?” Lerner asked. “They fear disruption, they fear uncertainty. Every article about Europe says a riot in Greece, the markets went down. The folks that control this country care about one thing: how the stock market does; how the bond market does; and what their bonus is. So I think we weed out a very simple strategy: how do we bring down the stock market, how do we bring down their bonuses, how do we interfere with their ability to, to be rich.” To do so, he wants to see a campaign of disruption and strategic default led by community-activist groups and aimed at J.P. Morgan Chase.

As Lerner sees it, once there’s leverage, once the banks are scared, there can be a settlement. What sort of settlement? Lerner gives a couple of examples in his talk. “You” — meaning banks in general, and J.P. Morgan Chase in particular — “reduce the price of our interest, since your interest rate is down; and second, you rewrite the mortgages for everybody in the community so they can stay in their homes. We could make them do that.”

You may or may not agree with the wisdom of Lerner’s idea. But would you call it “terrorism”? Glenn Beck would, and has now chosen Lerner to be the newest anchor point in his vast liberal conspiracy theory, saying that the labor leader is plotting to commit “economic terrorism" by “collaps[ing] the system.”

People For’s legal department looked into what our laws actually say about domestic terrorism and, needless to say, it's not even a close question. There’s no danger to human life involved here. And there’s certainly no effort to intimidate the civilian population or the government.

In fact, under Beck’s definition of terrorism as advocating for peaceful economic disruption, he himself should be investigated. As Media Matters has pointed out, Beck himself has more than once advocated “taking down” or “resetting” our entire financial system—a much more sweeping economic action than the targeted protests Lerner is advocating.

The corporate-funded right wing has made it clear in the last few months that they will not tolerate working people who want to take on big corporations. In Wisconsin and Ohio, teachers and police officers and other public workers have been demonized for fighting to their right to organize, while corporations continue to get massive tax breaks and hold a huge amount of sway over elections.

In their world, the millions of Americans who suffered from the financial crisis—people like Charlie Engle—are the criminals, and the people who try to organize working Americans are “terrorists.” That topsy-turvy view of justice and power is unsettling, to say the least.
 

UPDATE: Lerner responds to Beck in The Nation:

So that was it: Beck, right-wingers and Wall Street sympathizers went ballistic because they knew the ideas I talked about are far from being a secret leftist conspiracy; in fact, they’re in sync with the thinking of most Americans. In my talk, I raised a very simple yet powerful idea: that homeowners, students, citizens and workers should make the same practical decisions Wall Street and corporate CEOs make every day—they should reject bad financial deals.


PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Challenge The Rule Of Law To Push Anti-Union Agenda

After the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature rushed-through Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting legislation, the District Attorney of Dane County, which covers the state capital, sued to block the law’s implementation. According to the District Attorney, the legislature violated the state’s open meetings law by failing to give the public 24 hours notice before meeting about the bill, resulting with a judge issuing a temporary restraining order on the bill’s implementation. But the GOP leaders of the legislature decided to publish the bill despite the judge’s ruling, creating immense confusion about whether the anti-union legislation is the law or not. While the judge did not explicitly bar the Legislative Reference Bureau from publishing the law, the clear intent of the judge’s order was to prevent the law from being implemented.

CNN reports on the ensuing legal crisis and the reactions of labor organizers and State Senator Chris Larson, a member of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network, who are leading the charge against the GOP’s latest power grab:

The litigious and contentious battle in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights has a new twist -- the publishing of the law despite a judge's order against such a move.

That left lawmakers and observers wondering Saturday whether the law had taken effect.

This latest drama started Friday afternoon when the state's Legislative Reference Bureau published the controversial act that curbs the collective bargaining rights of most employees.



The Wisconsin State Employees Union Council 24 blasted the publishing of the law.

"By attempting to unilaterally publish their bill eliminating the rights of hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites, (Gov.) Walker and his cronies have unquestionably violated the laws of this state to further their extreme overreach for absolute power over our state's people."

Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson said, "The courts are going to step in again and say, 'No, you have to follow the letter of the law' and again they broke it. ... I think it's pretty shameless of Walker and the Republicans."

Update: Gov. Walker has announced that he will begin implementing the anti-union law despite the legal uncertainties. In response, state Democratic chair Mike Tate said:

"Are there any laws that yet bind Scott Walker and the Republicans? With the arrogance of the zealot, they act as if they were laws unto themselves. Ultimately, our Constitution and our courts will protect us from their warped ideologies, but in the meantime, our democracy in Wisconsin is being flayed."

Update 2: (AP) MADISON, Wis. (3/30):

A Wisconsin judge has ruled that there should be no further implementation of a law taking away nearly all collective bargaining rights for public workers.

Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi said Tuesday that her earlier restraining order saying the law shouldn't be enacted had either been ignored or misinterpreted.

Sumi stopped short of saying the law was not already in effect. She says she will take more testimony on that issue.

The Legislative Reference Bureau posted the law on a legislative website Friday, leading Gov. Scott Walker's administration to declare the law was in effect.

Sumi revised her original March temporary restraining order blocking the secretary of state from publishing the law, which is typically the last step before it becomes effective.

PFAW

Wisconsin Republicans Clamp Down on the Right to Criticize Them

Wisconsin Republicans have escalated their assault on Democrats, liberals, unions, and anyone else who does not fall into line for their ideological agenda. This time, it is the right to criticize the Republican Party that is under attack, as the Cap Times reports:

The Wisconsin Republican Party, apparently stung by a blog post written by UW-Madison history professor William Cronon, has responded by asking the University of Wisconsin-Madison for copies of all of Cronon's office e-mails that mention prominent Republicans or public employee unions.

Cronon revealed the GOP's Freedom of Information Act request in his Scholar as Citizen blog post late Thursday evening along with a lengthy, and typically scholarly, defense.

In his inaugural blog post on March 15, Cronon, one of the UW's academic stars, had sketched the apparent influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a shadow conservative policy group that works with Republican state legislators, on Gov. Scott Walker's legislative agenda. It was the first time the respected professor had used a blog format and he was, to put it mildly, surprised by the response. The blog generated more than half a million hits. For many of his readers, it was the first time they were aware of the organization and its involvement with conservative legislators around the country.

Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, major Walker campaign contributors, provide funding support for ALEC. ...

The Republican request, filed two days after Cronon's March 15 post appeared, asks for "Copies of all emails into and out of Prof. William Cronon's state email account from January 1, 2011 to present which reference any of the following terms: Republican, Scott Walker, recall, collective bargaining, AFSCME, WEAC, rally, union, Alberta Darling, Randy Hopper, Dan Kapanke, Rob Cowles, Scott Fitzgerald, Sheila Harsdorf, Luther Olsen, Glenn Grothman, Mary Lazich, Jeff Fitzgerald, Marty Beil, or Mary Bell."

The named individuals are the Republican governor, the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate, and the eight Republican senators targeted for recall.

Professor Cronon has written a long, must-read response to this political effort to intimidate him for daring to question the Republican Party.

In some ways, this is reminiscent of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's assault on academic freedom in Virginia. Academic freedom exists only in name if scholars questioning the Republican Party are bullied into not using it. In that sense, the Wisconsin assault against Professor Cronon is directly related to all the other ways that the modern-day GOP is actively undermining the infrastructure of our democracy, giving us:

  • elections where significant numbers of the GOP's opponents are prevented from voting;
  • campaigns where the GOP's opponents can't be heard over corporate millions;
  • the right to protest, but if you oppose a Republican official he may secretly plant troublemakers among your group to discredit you;
  • the right to a free press, but if a Republican who you criticize sends his goons to rough you up, the Party will not bat an eye;
  • the right to form a union that cannot collectively bargain;
  • the right to free speech, but if you displease the GOP you risk becoming the subject of phony video smears followed up by legislative attack;
  • the right to lobby, but your lobbying firm loses access to a GOP-dominated Congress if it hires Democrats.

In isolation, the incident in Wisconsin is terrible. But to see it only in isolation would be a grave mistake.

If the party officials involved with this are not condemned and banished from the party, this incident will do long-term damage. Continuing party support for those who undermine the foundations of our free society – as in the examples above – significantly lowers the bar for what departures from the principles of democracy are now acceptable.

This incident should be a rallying cry for Americans to protect the liberties and rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution.

PFAW

Pro-Voucher Group Working Against Recall of Union-Busting Wisconsin Republicans

Cross-posted on Right Wing Watch

An organization that backs private school vouchers is campaigning against the recall of the eight Republican Wisconsin senators who backed Governor Scott Walker’s anti-union legislation. The so-called American Federation for Children (AFC) is an ardent supporter of the voucher scheme in Milwaukee, the unsuccessful voucher program which Walker and his GOP allies want to export to other parts of the state as part of bolstering the Republicans’ attacks on public schools and teachers.

Listen to their robocall defending GOP Senator Sheila Harsdorf:

At the same time that Walker and the Republicans proposed a massive $834 million cut to public schools, endangering the state’s esteemed public education system, they seek to spend more taxpayer money on a wasteful voucher program that has been unable to improve the education of Milwaukee students. A comprehensive study in 2009 found “no overall statistically significant difference between [voucher school] and [public school] student achievement growth in either math or reading one year after they were carefully matched to each other,” and that fourth graders in the voucher program were actually performing worse than comparable public school students.

While the private school voucher scheme did nothing to improve education, it did funnel taxpayer dollars to religious schools: of the 120 schools receiving vouchers examined in the study, 95 were religious and 7 operate within a religious tradition.

Renowned education scholar Diane Ravitch, once a proponent of the so-called “school choice” movement, told OnMilwaukee.com that the voucher program “has not worked”:

Milwaukee is indeed the nation's laboratory for assessing the value of school choice. The advocates of school choice predicted that academic performance in choice schools would not only soar, but that the competitive pressure would cause achievement in the regular district schools to improve. None of this has happened. The latest studies show that students in voucher schools and in charter schools do not perform any differently from those in the regular public schools.



"Reformers" in Milwaukee have been pursuing strategies that we now know are ineffective. The more time and resources devoted to ineffective strategies, the less attention there is to finding useful improvements. Choice got the support of foundations and business leaders, but it has not worked.

Even the state schools superintendent Tom Evers agreed that “choice schools have proven to be no more effective and in some cases less effective than Milwaukee Public Schools.”

But organizations like the AFC ignore and dismiss the clear findings that the Milwaukee voucher program is a wrongheaded and ill-designed effort to improve education, and instead want to expand the program to more school districts and tear down the public education system. Now, they want to make sure that Republican legislators keep their jobs and continue to support vouchers and bust unions representing public school teachers.

PFAW

Walker’s Patronage Faces Scrutiny

While Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and his Republican allies in the state legislature talk a tough game when it comes to fiscal responsibility and sound governance, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel today reports on a brewing controversy regarding the governor’s hiring practices. According to reporter Daniel Bice, Walker’s team helped a Republican political operative get a job in a state agency with a higher pay than her predecessor. Not only was the staffer a paid GOP activist, but she is also the mistress of Republican State Senator Randy Hopper.

Progressives are currently seeking to recall Hopper, an ardent supporter of Walker’s union-busting legislation. But Hopper may not even reside in the district anymore, as his estranged wife claims that he now lives with his mistress in Madison.

Bice reports:

Even though the state is supposedly broke, top officials in Gov. Scott Walker's team were able to scrape together enough money to give a state job to the woman identified as Sen. Randy Hopper's girlfriend.

Anything for a political ally.

Valerie Cass, a former Republican legislative staffer, was hired Feb. 7 as a communications specialist with the state Department of Regulation and Licensing. She is being paid $20.35 per hour. The job is considered a temporary post.

Cass previously had worked in the state Senate and for the GOP campaign consulting firm Persuasion Partners in Madison. She also was paid for campaign work for the state Republican Party and U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner before that.



Cullen Werwie, spokesman for the governor, confirmed that it was Keith Gilkes, Walker's chief of staff. She was then interviewed by the Department of Regulations and Licensing's executive assistant and deputy and hired by Secretary Dave Ross, a Walker cabinet member.



Hopper has maintained that he had nothing to do with Cass' recent appointment to the state job.

Interestingly, Cass' name does not appear on a lengthy list of job applicants to Walker's transition team.
PFAW