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What all that money in Wisconsin really bought

June 06, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker celebrates his victory Tuesday night in Waukesha.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker celebrates his victory Tuesday night in Waukesha. (Morry Gash / Associated…)

What was the (somewhat predictable) response by the losers in Tuesday’s Wisconsin recall election?

As my colleague Michael A. Memoli wrote:

WASHINGTON -- If there's a common thread among Democrats and their allies in their collective response to the Wisconsin recall election, it's as simple as this: money talks.

Speaking with reporters on Air Force One, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that in what was essentially a repeat election between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Walker won by roughly the same margin, but only after "he outspent his challenger by a magnitude of 7 or 8 to 1, with an enormous amount of outside corporate money and huge donations."

Which is true, of course (the being outspent part).  But does the second part -- that Walker owes his victory to his well-funded campaign -- hold true as well?

I’m not so sure.

In fact, in some ways the results in Wisconsin remind me of the old poker truism: Winners tell jokes; losers say deal.

Of course there was a lot of money in this race: more than $60 million overall, with Walker at about $30 million and Barrett at about $4 million.

But does $30 million really speak that much louder than $4 million?  Does it account for a 53%-46% margin of victory?

You might compare it to Coca-Cola and Pepsi.  Both spend many millions advertising their brands of flavored sugar water.  But in the end, do Pepsi drinkers become Coke drinkers, or vice versa, because of a clever ad?

I don’t think so.  And I don’t think most voters are so easily swayed either.

It’s not that the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision was a good one.  And it’s not as if we don’t have a money problem in politics.

But that problem isn’t the undue influence of money on voters.

Rather, it’s the undue influence that the big donors have with the candidates. That influence is power, and power is what the big donors are after.

So I’m worried less about the money spent reaching Wisconsin's voters and more about the access that that money buys with someone like Scott Walker.

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