Surrounded by dozens of supporters at an evening campaign rally in Madison on May 30, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate for governor in Wisconsin’s tumultuous recall election, had something encouraging to tell the crowd: The fact that his opponent, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, was outspending him by more than 7 to 1 was no big deal.
“He’s got the mountains of money,” Barrett declared. “I’ve got you.”
Now, Barrett probably wishes he’d had the mountains of money. On Tuesday night, Walker turned back the union-driven effort to toss him out of office, beating Barrett by a comfortable seven percentage points.
Less than two years into his first term in office, Walker became a recall target after stripping Wisconsin’s state employees of their collective bargaining rights. Thousands of teachers, firefighters and other public employees marched on the capitol building. It looked as if Walker had a mighty army arrayed against him.
But Walker had something more potent than an army: billionaires.
The governor put together a nationwide fundraising effort and was richly rewarded. Two-thirds of the $31 million Walker raised to fight the recall came from out-of-state donors, mostly rich guys who hate unions. The gush of cash going to Walker overwhelmed Barrett’s boots-on-the-ground effort and provided more proof, if any more were needed, that the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling -- eliminating limits on campaign donations -- has dramatically altered the balance of power in American politics.