Scott Walker Hates Crony Capitalism Like A Fat Kid Hates Cake

Dave Weigel offers this 140-character report on Scott Walker’s remarks at the South Carolina Freedom Summit:

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.

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Walker Goes Cuckoo for Koch Bro Bucks

Charles and David Koch plan to spend $900 million on the 2016 campaign cycle, more than any pair of private citizens have ever committed to an election in the history of our debased republic. And the billionaire brothers Stand With Scott.

On April 20th, at a fundraising event for the New York State Republican party, David Koch reportedly told the assembled plutocrats that Scott Walker should be the party’s nominee.

While the Kochs later contested that report, the remarks were widely viewed as signaling a key victory for Walker in the invisible primary of the GOP donor class. They also sparked speculation about the source of the Kochs’ apparent devotion to the Wisconsin Governor.

The policy preferences of your average arch-libertarian oil tycoon don’t differ sharply from the stated positions of any 2016 GOP contender. The distinctions between establishment-aligned Marco Rubio and tea-party favorite Ted Cruz are more rhetorical than ideological. Every major Republican candidate believes in cutting welfare spending and taxes on the wealthy, while opposing a carbon tax and new EPA regulations.

And on a couple of the issues where there is divergence of opinion, Walker has actually taken stances contrary to the avowed positions of the brothers Koch.

Take criminal justice reform. This past year, the Kochs helped bankroll the ACLU’s efforts to shorten prison sentences and decriminalize non-violent offenses, while hiring a vocal critic of mass incarceration to a full-time position at their think tank.

Yet, if you were looking to support the 2016 contender whose political identity was most defined by draconian crime policy, Scott Walker would be your man. As Scott Keyes documented in The Nation, Walker spent his nine years as an Assemblyman raking in donations from Wisconsin’s private prison operators, while pushing a cornucopia of tough-on-crime legislation.

Keyes notes that “in just the 1997–98 legislative session, Walker authored or co-sponsored twenty-seven different bills that either expanded the definition of crimes, increased mandatory minimums for offenders, or curbed the possibility of parole.”

If the Kochs want to liberate the poor from the oppression of food assistance AND mandatory minimum sentencing, Rand Paul would seem the logical choice.

Similarly, the Koch Brothers have long been notorious in a certain segment of the right for their putative support of “illegal amnesty.” Yet, the very week that the Kochs made their affections known, Walker questioned the desirability of all immigration, legal or otherwise.

If the Kochs want America to burn coal until melting ice-caps sink Bangladesh AND to provide those displaced Bangladeshis with worker permits, Marco Rubio seems a better fit.

Why then have they backed the man from Milwaukee?

The most obvious explanation is that Walker won their eternal devotion when he successfully pushed the Koch labor agenda past the communists of Madison, Wisconsin.

And in fact, Walker first came to the attention of the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity when, as a Milwaukee County Executive, he laid off a number of county employees to close a gap in his budget.

That organization took a lead role in Walker’s first gubernatorial election, inviting him to speak at their rallies and events starting in 2009. And Koch Industries provided Walker with the largest out-of-state contribution to his 2010 campaign.

In 2011, when Walker’s restrictions on collective bargaining brought protestors to the capital, AFP bussed in a counter-insurgency of tea party activists. In 2012, Koch Industries ramped up their giving to the Republican Governors Association, which proceeded to spend $5 million on attacking Walker’s challenger, former Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

While money qualifies as speech these days, David Koch has also expressed his approval of Walker in old-fashioned spoken English, telling the Palm Beach Post in 2012, “What Scott Walker is doing with the public unions in Wisconsin is critically important. He’s an impressive guy, and he’s very courageous.”

Clearly then, Walker’s success at disempowering both public and private sector unions in a purple state, while winning 3 elections in 4 years, is no small part of his appeal to Kochworld.

Relatively overlooked though, is Walker’s record on the environment, the area of policy that most directly impacts the financial interests of the Kochs, and the survival interests of the human species.

Even among Republican governors, Walker has distinguished himself for the ferocity of his opposition to President Obama’s climate agenda, instructing his attorney general to challenge the EPA’s legal authority to regulate carbon emissions in Wisconsin.

And Walker’s proven himself as staunch an adversary of green energy, as he is a defender of the right to pollute. As noted by Mother Jones’ Tim Mcdonnell, Walker’s latest budget would cut $8.1 million in funding for his state’s renewable energy research center, while committing $250,000 to a study on the potential public health threat posed by wind turbines.

Walker’s tenure also saw a tenfold increase in fracking sand mines, a relaxation of environmental standards for iron mines, and the delay of phosphorous pollution regulations that were opposed by a Koch-owned paper factory.

In 2013, Walker signed a pledge drafted by Americans for Prosperity, vowing to oppose any climate related legislation that would produce “a net increase in government revenue.”

So sure, the Koch brothers support criminal justice reform. And Sheldon Adelson says he supports universal healthcare. But if you want to predict which candidate a Republican billionaire is going to back, better to sweat the details of his financial commitments than his ideological ones.