Unions Flood Wisconsin In Final Days of Walker Recall

When "We Are Wisconsin" really means "We are union members from New Jersey, Alaska and other states"


MADISON — A final round of campaign finance reports shows that one of the most active liberal political action committees in Wisconsin is bringing in money and campaign staff from out of state in the days before the recall election.

We Are Wisconsin, a political action committee based in Madison, is one of the most active groups campaigning against Republican Gov. Scott Walker. The PAC since May 24 has received more than $1.18 million from unions in other states and Washington, D.C. Most of that total has been spent to bring in out-of-state organizers to help drive Tuesday's get-out-the-vote initiatives.

Unions have led the effort to recall Walker since February 2011, when he and Republicans in the Legislature passed Act 10, which curbed collective bargaining for unionized public workers.

Walker faces Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, a Democrat, in Tuesday's gubernatorial recall election.

Ciara Matthews, communications director for the Walker campaign, called the spending totals "a last ditch effort" to turn the race in Barrett's favor.

"I don't think there was any doubt that the unions were going to play hardball in the final week of the campaign," she said.

As of June 1, We Are Wisconsin had spent more than $3.4 million on the recall election through advertisements critical of Walker and other Republicans, or in favor of Barrett and other Democrats.

It's been widely reported that national unions have been pouring money into the Wisconsin recall election, which many see as a preview to November's national elections, determining control of Congress and the White House.

But these last-minute contributions from unions — based at the state level — tell a slightly different story. 

The unions are trying to prevent the spread of reforms from Wisconsin to their own states — many of which have Republican governors and Republican-controlled assemblies.

Steve Wollmer is communications director for the New Jersey Education Association, a Trenton-based teachers' union. His union, he said, is helping to fight a national effort to crush public-sector unions.

"The attitude of a lot of the unions is that this is a very significant fight that goes beyond the borders of Wisconsin," he said.

For the most part, these last-minute donations are in-kind contributions, which are different from cash donations.

According to the Federal Election Commission, an in-kind contribution is any donation of anything of value — including office machines, furniture and supplies — to a campaign. The value of the donation must be reported, but donated materials do not 

In this case, most of the in-kind contributions are in the form of campaign workers from across the country helping to organize Wisconsin voters in the final days of the campaign. 

"The recall election process began with the public-sector unions occupying the Capitol, so it is fitting that it would end with them here again," said Ben Sparks, spokesman for the Wisconsin Republican Party.

The Ohio Education Association made a $58,000 in-kind contribution May 30, followed a day later by a $21,000 contribution from the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

New York State United Teachers gave $23,000 on June 1, the Massachusetts Education Association gave $17,000 on May 31, and a group of unions based in Washington, D.C., poured in $922,000 during the past week, according to the reports.

Money even came from as far away as Alaska, with the National Education Association's local union there chipping in $4,000.

Wollmer defended the use of mandatory union dues to fight a political battle in another state.

"People are elected by our union members to determine how their dues should be spent," he said. "We're completely transparent about it."

Matthews agreed the race has national implications for the future of organized labor.

"Governor Walker is very reform-minded, and they have to do whatever they can to stop other governors and other states from following his lead," she said. "This is about trying to influence elections to ensure that the unions have more seats at the table than the taxpayers."

The Barrett campaign did not return requests for comment.

After the close of the final campaign finance reporting cycle May 24, any contributions or expenditures of more than $500 must be reported daily to the Government Accountability Office.

This article originally appeared at WisconsinReporter.com