Dave Weigel offers this 140-character report on Scott Walker’s remarks at the South Carolina Freedom Summit:
Scott Walker on the threats to prosperity: “It’s not out of reach because of Wall Street. It’s out of reach because of K Street.”
— daveweigel (@daveweigel) May 9, 2015
The quote may be all of two sentences long, but it nonetheless captures the helpless vacuity and hypocrisy of Scott Walker’s “populism.”
First, the vacuity: To say that broad prosperity isn’t threatened by the power of Wall Street, but only the power of K Street, is akin to saying that Syrian dissidents aren’t threatened by Bashar al-Assad, only by the army that he funds and organizes.
The rise of K Street wasn’t bankrolled by the National Association of Lobbyists, the Chamber of Cronyism or Americans for The Special Interests. The proliferation of lobbyists in the nation’s capital isn’t some causa sui phenomenon, independent of the concentration of economic power that Wall Street has done so much to facilitate. This point is obvious and easily illustrated: Last year, the nation’s financial sector spent upwards of $1.8 million a day on campaign donations and lobbying.
Still, a generous reading of Walker’s statement doesn’t necessarily contradict this plain fact. Walker’s argument could be that big business does not pose an inherent challenge to shared prosperity, so long as it’s unable to leverage its economic power to influence the political process.
But such hermeneutical charity just transforms Walker from a naïf to a hypocrite. The Wisconsin Governor is an enthusiastic defender of the Citizens United ruling, and has personally benefited from various corporate entities’ exercise of their inalienable right to undermine democracy.
Now, the little angel on my shoulder protests: Perhaps, Mr. Walker believes that unlimited corporate spending on elections is tragic, but necessary to preserve First Amendment freedoms. For if the government is to allow the New York Times Corporation to fund the dissemination of political messages in its newspaper, how can it prohibit the Shell Corporation from disseminating its own political messages through media?
Perhaps, the verbose angel continues, perhaps he believes that the way to deter corporate spending in politics isn’t for the government to outlaw the practice, but for it to curtail corporate subsidies and regulations so sharply, there will be no incentive for such outsized spending.
But again, our generosity betrays us. Because what makes Walker’s statement so audacious, is that it comes less than 24 hours after the non-partisan Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau released a report detailing his own profligate spending on corporate subsidies.
In 2011, Walker established the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, an entity designed to channel taxpayer money to private corporations, so as to keep their operations and jobs within state lines.
Walker is hardly alone among American governors in pursuing job creation through corporate bribery. Though distasteful, it’s possible to argue that such subsidies offer the taxpayer a return on investment. If the subsidies succeed in attracting or retaining large employers, the state could theoretically capture more revenue in the long run, while improving the economic fortunes of its citizens.
The trouble for Walker is that his state’s auditors found the WEDC had a funny habit of providing corporations with subsidies without asking for anything in return.
The statute that gave the WEDC the authority to lend certain corporations taxpayer money, or to provide them with tax credits, mandated that such giveaways come with a contractual obligation to create or retain jobs within the state of Wisconsin.
The report released Friday found that:
Grant and loan recipients that were contractually required to create or retain jobs were not contractually required by WEDC to submit information, such as payroll records, showing that the jobs were actually created or retained.
WEDC did not establish all statutorily required policies for its tax credit programs, did not consistently evaluate whether businesses met all eligibility requirements in its tax credit policies, and allocated tax credits in ways that did not consistently comply with statutes and its policies
The report also notes that in 2014, WEDC cut $4.2 million from its “balance of loans with repayments 90 days or more past due,” by amending loan contracts to defer payments, or else simply writing them off.
With enemies like Scott Walker, K Street needs no friends.