“The trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant,” President Reagan once quipped, “but that they know so much that isn’t so.” He could have been talking about the liberal explanation for Scott Walker’s recall victory. They claim Walker won because he outspent his opponent eight-to-one. Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett was supposedly drowned in a flood of corporate cash.
It’s a convenient explanation, one that ties into liberal concerns about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. It avoids admitting that many Wisconsin voters liked Walker’s reforms limiting government unions. It’s also completely untrue.
Yes, Governor Walker raised about $32 million and Barrett raised $4 million in the campaign. But Barrett didn’t organize the recall. Government unions did. And Barrett’s contributions number does not count the $21 million spent by three unions. No one who knows anything about the union movement could imagine they would declare a blood feud and then sit on the sidelines.
Government unions were the top-spending outside group in the last election cycle, handily outspending both the Chamber of Commerce and American Crossroads. These unions wanted to send a message to other governors not to repeat Walker’s reforms. In their campaign against Walker, they were as generous with their own money as they are with taxpayer dollars.
The MacIver Institute tracked the recall spending by AFSCME, SEIU, the NEA, and the rest of the government-union movement. They reported spending $21 million on the recall. That total excludes the value of their “in-kind” contributions — manning phone banks, get-out-the-vote efforts, bringing in campaign workers from other states — that the FEC does not require unions to report.
The union movement spent more than enough to make their case against Walker. Walker spent enough to make his case, too. Walker won because, having seen his reforms in action, most voters liked them. He even got 38 percent of the union vote (as much as in his first election).
Governor Walker’s limits on collective bargaining in government enabled him to close a $3.6 billion deficit without raising taxes and without laying off teachers. He made paying union dues voluntary and held unions accountable by requiring them to run for reelection. These were good policies. If the voters had disagreed, then no amount of cash would have saved Walker. Just ask former New Jersey governor John Corzine. He spent his fortune losing to Chris Christie.