MENOMONIE — Dark money has a stranglehold on Wisconsin politics.
So says Matthew Rothschild, who spoke at UW-Stout Thursday night, presenting his talk “Who Rules Wisconsin.” The talk, co-sponsored by the UW-Stout Student Association and the League of Women Voters of the Greater Chippewa Valley, focused on the trend of money being donated to political candidates by wealthy individuals and corporations to support their own self-interest (a.k.a. “dark money”).
Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group dedicated to clean government and informing the public so they can choose the political candidates they believe are best for the job. He said he gives talks like these because the people need to know they aren’t being represented properly.
“The people who are elected don’t really serve their constituents,” Rothschild said. “The people in leadership in Wisconsin over the last eight years have not been serving the people of Wisconsin, but have been serving their donors. We have a representational crisis.”
Rothschild started his speech with the overarching theme of his speech, where he said the cycle of rich individuals and corporations affecting who is elected into political office and what legislation is passed has been going on for as long as he can remember.
“The candidates raise money from these rich individuals and corporations, when they get into power they deliver for those rich individuals and corporations and so next time they run they give the candidates even more money,” Rothschild said. “This continually happens and around and around it goes, negatively affecting the people of our state.”
Rothschild’s history of covering politics and Madison and keeping his ear to the ground in the world of politics had him naming specific names and corporations who are currently providing dark money to political candidates such as current Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Besides the obvious political advantage this gives these corporations and individuals who donate receive, Rothschild said this affects every citizen negatively no matter their political affiliation.
Claims the environment is hurt due to corporations being able to lobby against regulations, wetlands being built on in the interest of financial expansion, labor unions becoming a thing of the past and other areas affected by political decisions are being tainted by dark money and corporate interest Rothschild said.
After the national situation was discussed, Rothschild provided two examples of how “dark money” is negatively affecting Wisconsin in particular at this very moment.
The examples were the State Supreme Court decision known as, “John Doe 2”and the re-write of the campaign finance law in Wisconsin. These decision have allowed individuals to donate $20,000 to candidates in Wisconsin instead of $10,000 (when individuals still can only donate $2,700 to a political candidate). These laws also now afford wealthy individuals and corporations the opportunity to donate to as many candidates as they want, as they now can’t max out in Wisconsin.
Rothschild said there is hope in the state to change this trend. He said he sees it in Madison when he advocates for his group.
“You’ll be shocked to hear that when I table at the farmer’s market in Madison, I’m not a passive tabler,” Rothschild said. “I stand up and I basically yell at people. I yell at people coming by to support banning gerrymandering in Wisconsin, sign this petition here and we need fair maps in Wisconsin. I did it two weeks ago and got 200 signatures in two hours. People are interested in the issues like they were never before.”
The final portion of Rothschild’s presentation provided a few examples of positive attempts for change in Wisconsin. He cited Black Lives Matter and the #MeToo movement as positive examples of people fighting for change in a peaceful way. And the other example is young people who are becoming more interested in political issues and are advocating for change across the state.
Annemarie McClellan, the Vice President of the League of Women Voters’ Greater Chippewa Valley Chapter, said discussions like this need to continue to happen for the common good.
“I think it is important to bring the community together and educate ourselves on topics that are fundamental to democracy,” McClellan said. “I hope people left with the idea that there are problems with so much money in the election process and how it dilutes the individual voter’s ability to have their voice and vote heard.”
Following a question-and-answer session, Rothschild later gave another presentation at the Judicial Center entitled, “Wisconsin Redistricting Reform Forum,” tackling the hot button issue of redistricting in the state.