The Selling of Wisconsin

via The Awl by Abe Sauer on 2/23/11


by Abe Sauer

There are no two ways about it: Wisconsin workers, both private and public, will emerge worse off on the other side of the current budget bill battle. But Wisconsin is going down fighting.

The question is: will Wisconsin unions be left with enough power to fight another day? Union leaders have offered to negotiate and make the financial concessions demanded by the Republican leadership. Governor Scott Walker has told them to go spit. He doesn't just want want to win this battle, he wants to win forever.

The longer Democratic legislators stay AWOL and force discussion of the bill to drag out, the better chance there is that even more information will come to light about just how much influence David and Charles Koch and their allies have on Scott Walker. If this stunning prank phone call, in which Walker speaks with a man he believes is David Koch is to be believed, it's a lot.

Each day, another revelation about the puppet governor. Now, the name that may just be the most important connection between the Koch Brothers and Scott Walker: Jeff Schoepke.

When it came out yesterday that Koch Industries had quietly opened a lobbying office, Koch Companies Public Sector LLC, just off Madison's Capitol Square, Jeffrey Schoepke was identified as the "regional manager." Jeffrey may put that on his business card, but according to the Government Accountability Board, Schoepke's profession is listed as "Lobbyists licensed in 2011-2012." Schoepke (and six others) were certified as lobbyists for Koch on January 5th, two days after Walker was sworn in. Schoepke is listed as Koch Public's main contact.

For those still unfamiliar with the Koch brothers, the New Yorker profile of the billionaire duo's spending in the war for the wealthy is a good start. They are the tea party's wallet.

More interesting than what Jeff Schoepke is doing now for Koch Industries is what he's done before.

After serving seven years under Republican Governor Tommy Thompson, Schoepke joined Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce in 2000. One Wisconsin Now's WMC Watch lists the organization as:

the central force driving the conservative, pro-corporate agenda in Wisconsin. In addition to its financial role, WMC provides junk science, legislative testimony, calls to action and member service to advance corporate interests. WMC’s talking points are used by conservative activists, organizations, elected officials and members of the media as the foundation for the conservative economic agenda in Wisconsin.

Schoepke put his nose to grindstone and soon was the director of tax and corporate policy—and the WMC's registered lobbyist.

Much has recently been made of the revelation that Koch Industries was Walker's second biggest supporter, ponying up $43,000 and giving $1 million to the Republican Governor's Association, which itself spent $65,000 on supporting Walker (and $3.4 million against his opponent). All of this was actually noted way back in September, 2010, by Scot Ross at One Wisconsin Now.

There are two more Koch-funded organizations that have not received the proper credit in Wisconsin. The left jab is Americans For Prosperity, which tenderized and prepared the ideological environment in Wisconsin where Walker could win by way of tea party astroturfing. (No surprise, the AFP paid for buses to bring Walker supporters to Saturday's counter rally and is cranking up its pro-Walker broadcast ads today.)

The right hook is the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that counts Koch Industries as a Private Enterprise Board member, and which practically hand-writes legislation for Republican legislators to submit, including Walker's. The Council even congratulated Walker for signing a tort reform bill in late January, being very careful not to put the word "our" before the word "bill." The organization has been called "Corporate America's Trojan Horse in the States."

Wonder why so many states suddenly bring similar legislation to the floor (as is happening now in Ohio, Indiana, etc.)? These guys.

But the Kochs didn't elect Walker alone. The WMC spends more money to elect pro-corporate Wisconsin candidiates than any other. Most infamously, WMC spent $4 million to elect pro-corporate Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices Annette Ziegler and Michael Gableman. The WMC knows how to partner, too. It's listed as the state partner of another huge Walker donor, The American Justice Partnership, one of those organizations named for exactly the opposite of what it actually does, like the Citizens for Prosperity, Wisconsin Family Action and Freedom First.

In October, 2010, WMC Vice President James Buchen practically bragged to the press that the lobbying group would spend $1 million to help Republicans win seats in the Legislature and had already spent $950,000 on Walker.

And the campaign money is only the beginning of WMC's influence. Since 1999, a year before Schoepke came on board, WMC has spent more than 58,000 hours and over $7.1 million lobbying state legislators, putting it at the top for lobbying spend in Wisconsin in nearly every year that Schoepke was there.

Today, WMC is hosting a "Business Day" event at the Monona Terrace, near the Capitol. Governor Walker (as well as GOP wet dream and WMC patron Rep. Paul Ryan and Fox Business' Stuart Varney) are marquee attendees at this all-corporate-access event. The event's agenda lists "Capitol Visits" from 10:30-11:45 a.m. This is unlikely to happen.

Not surprisingly, the Kochs have a ringer on WMC's board, Georgia-Pacific executive Kelly L. Wolff.

What Schoepke's move to Madison represents is the fusing of Koch's bottomless coin sack and a decade's worth of lobbying efforts and contacts and favors and money. The Kochs had the money, they just needed a bag man. Jeff Schoepke is the bag man.

The end game for the Kochs' conservative think tanks is now clear. Abandon the gummed-up politics of the national level and get it done at the state level. The goals in Wisconsin are:

• Try and bust the public unions, turning middle class workers against one another in the process; and while everyone's paying attention to that…

• push through unheard-of executive power for governor appointees (made not from within Wisconsin agencies but from D.C. think tanks like the Heritage Foundation) to make way for balancing the budget on cuts to expensive state services like Medicaid, so that tax cuts can be preserved, and…

• place state resources (and income drivers) such as the power companies up for (no-bid) sale to private industry, converting public resources into instant corporate wealth… to which the citizenry remains enslaved to pay.

Nearly every adventure movie has a stooge like Walker, a weak and dim bulb who will sacrifice everyone else to align with what he sees as the new dark power. Wisconsin should look at their new partners. One hundred and fifty-eight of those 250,000 new jobs Walker has promised by 2015 already have to make up for the 158 layoffs from the Koch Industries Green Bay Georgia-Pacific plant.

With the bill on the table and no Republicans backing down, it's not even a question any more of if they can get away with this, but just how much will they take. This bill will pass—maybe not with the union-busting condition, but it will pass.

Wisconsinites should all know the Joint Finance Committee Republicans as the dirtiest dirty dozen. These are the names that gave our state away to Jeff Schoepke and his lords.

Senator Alberta Darling
Senator Glenn Grothman
Senator Joe Leibham
Senator Sheila Harsdorf
Senator Luther Olsen
Representative Dan LeMahieu
Representative John Nygren
Representative Robin Vos
Representative Dan Meyer
Representative Pat Strachota
Senator Randy Hopper
Representative Joel Kleefisch

Top Photo: Williston, North Dakota. Farmers' union meeting with the county commissioners to protest the selling of land to corporation farms in Williams County; 1942; Library of Congress.

Koch poster photo via.

You can reach Abe Sauer at abesauer at gmail dot com.

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