Increasing numbers of people are clamoring for publicly funded campaigns.
They forget that, in Wisconsin, we’ve had them forever.
I don’t refer here to that little box on your tax form that allows you to funnel a buck to the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund. I refer to the age-old practice of political tithing.
Private-sector folks might have to tithe to their churches. Government employees, if they realize what’s good for them, also have to kick back some of their taxpayer-funded salaries to the political deities who hand out the jobs and promotions – and take them away.
Jim Doyle alone, during his various campaigns for statewide political office over the years, collected over $730,000 from people who made their living off taxpayers, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. That figure includes donations from some politicians and public employees outside Madison, but also a good number of Doyle administration employees and appointees who see the contributions as a good investment. Or at least a hedge against unemployment.
Tithing to the current governor ceased last summer after he announced his impending move from the mansion. But smart public employees, particularly those who are not protected by civil service status, started wondering where exactly to send big chunks of their paychecks instead.
This is no small group. In addition to all the civil service employees who might want to get into a new leader’s good graces, there are about 130 people in Madison right now, most of them highly paid, who serve “at the pleasure” of either Gov. Doyle or somebody directly appointed by him. And there are quite a few more who serve at the pleasure of boards that the governor at least partly controls. These groups include some big givers – people like Department of Workforce Development Secretary Roberta Gassman, who has personally given Doyle over $11,000 since 1994. Or David Helbach, an administrator in the Department of Administration (and former Senate Majority Leader) who gave Doyle $1,000 in June of 2008, another $1,000 in December of 2008 and another $1,000 in March of 2009.
Nobody hates a lame duck, you have to suspect, more than the guy who gives him $3,000 before realizing he is quitting – although some contributors are nothing if not nimble. They find new potential employers quickly.
Tom Barrett did not announce that he is running for governor until last November. The most recent campaign finance reports include only contributions made through the end of last December, but the tithing to Barrett from current Doyle Administration employees switching allegiances was already fairly impressive. Among the early tithers to Barrett last December alone: Department of Administration employees Tanya Bjork ($5,100), Daniel Schooff ($500) and Brian Vigue ($600); Employment Relations Director Jennifer Donnelly ($1,000); DNR Executive Assistant Mary Ellen Vollbrecht ($300); Workforce Development Deputy Secretary JoAnna Richard ($250), Insurance Commissioner Sean Dilweg ($250); Public Service Commission Chairman Eric Callisto ($200) and Department of Children and Familiies Secretary Reggie Bicha ($100).
If Bicha wants to remain a secretary, frankly, he’d better step it up a little.
All told, by the end of last year Barrett had collected over $100,000 from civil servants and other government employees or former employees during his two bids for statewide office, according to the WDC’s breakdown of campaign finance reports through the end of 2009. Scott Walker had collected a little over $32,000 from the same group during statewide bids while Mark Neumann had collected only $1,150 from them by the end of the reporting period.
Those totals are growing, of course, as we inch toward November – which, contributors know, is a bad month to be looking for a job. Unless, of course, you chose the right recipient.
-April 12, 2010