In a recent opinion column for USA Today, Wisconsin Governor and Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker criticized Democratic contender Hillary Clinton for fighting for labor unions, groups he referred to as “special interests.”
"While Clinton is dead-set on defending and enabling the special interests that have driven our nation’s capital to the point of dysfunction, we’re focused on fixing the broken system these forces created," he wrote
Walker has obviously gotten the memo that Americans are looking for candidates to put forward credible solutions to the problem of special-interest politics. Recent nationals polls by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal have found that the political influence of corporations and the wealthy is a top concern for voters in 2016 and that Americans overwhelmingly support fundamental changes.
But does the criticism of Clinton have any credibility coming from a candidate like Scott Walker?
As governor, Walker repealed the state’s judicial public financing system aimed at ensuring justice was not for sale in Wisconsin. He fought for legislation to reduce access to the ballot through a controversial voter ID program. He wants to weaken the state’s gold-standard elections watchdog. And, with his attacks on labor, he made it harder for everyday people to have a voice in government.
This weekend, the same week that USA Today published his column, Politico reported that Walker attended an “audition” at a conference of large campaign donors organized by Charles and David Koch. Walker, who has a cozy relationship with the Kochs and whom David Koch has signaled is a favorite of his, praised the 450 rich conservatives in attendance. In other words, the collected small contributions of working Americans in unions represent special interests, but the Kochs and their wealthy friends don’t?
Many presidential candidates, Democrats and Republicans, have offered solutions to fight special-interest influence, including a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC, lobbying reforms, and political spending disclosure. Rather than trying to score cheap rhetorical points against political opponents, Walker should be absolutely clear with American voters what policies he supports to ensure a government truly of, by, and for the people.
Last week, Every Voice and eleven other national organizations concerned with big-money influence released "Fighting Big Money, Empowering People: A 21st Century Democracy Agenda," a roadmap to put everyday people back in charge of our elections. The organizations delivered letters to every presidential candidate, including Walker, calling on them to take Americans’ cynicism about the money-in-politics problem head-on by engaging voters on these solutions in their campaigns.
The agenda is simple. Everyone should participate, everyone should have a voice, everyone should know who’s funding campaigns, everyone should play by commonsense rules, and everyone should be held accountable for bad behavior.
We need to provide incentives that encourage the active participation of small donors in our elections such as matching funds for small contributions, so candidates are accountable to, and dependent on, the people, not moneyed interests. It means we must overturn Citizens United and other Supreme Court cases that strip the ability of regular Americans to allow common-sense limits on election spending. And it means that instead of creating discriminatory voting barriers -- such as a law spearheaded by Walker to require government-issued identification to vote in Wisconsin -- we must protect and expand equal access to the ballot box so every voice is heard.
Without offering a comprehensive plan to restore our democracy, Walker is the last person to say someone else is influenced by special interests. Hypocritical attacks on other presidential candidates will only harden Americans’ cynicism that our government does not work for us. If, on the other hand, Walker and others engage voters on a specific platform to empower people in our political system they will find a very receptive electorate.