Putting the party back in politics: The progressive legacy is revered each year in Wisconsin as corporate pols are dismissed

Take heart from a model of La Follette-style populism hailed over corporation-friendly leaders in Scott Walker mold

Published January 7, 2017 2:30PM (EST)

Scott Walker   (AP//J. Scott Applewhite)
Scott Walker (AP//J. Scott Applewhite)

The best political party in America is not that of the Democrats or the Republicans. By far, the best political party is a real party named the Fighting Bob Fest.

It's a daylong, outdoor political festival run by a coalition of Wisconsin progressives who believe in putting the party back in politics. Held in Madison every September, the Bob Fest is like a state fair of politics, not only featuring give-'em-hell speechifying and hot populist issues but also terrific edibles from a dozen food trucks, bottomless kegs of great local beers, lively music, dozens of activist booths, games, political humor, a farmers market and, well, fun!

The idea behind the Bob Fest is creating a political event that people actually want to come to. Plus, not only is admission free, but also the Bob Fest is proud to be free corporation-free, rejecting any funding or ads by corporate interests. It's a volunteer-run festival of, by and for regular people and is paid for each year by passing the bucket and drawing staff support from The Progressive, the feisty, populist-spirited magazine founded 107 years ago by Sen. Robert "Fighting Bob" La Follette.

Yes, the Fighting Bob Fest is named for La Follette, a truly great U.S. senator who was renowned for battling the corruption of American politics by corporate money. In fact, when serving as Wisconsin's governor a century ago, La Follette passed a law banning corporations from making donations to political candidates — a law that's still in effect.

Corporate interests today use front groups in a political ploy to bypass such bans and deploy millions of dollars to benefit their chosen candidates — including Wisconsin's current governor.

Some magicians perform mind-boggling magic tricks, such as levitating themselves, apparently with no hidden force lifting them up. But remember, the key word in the phrase "magic trick" is trick. Scott Walker, for example, is quite the political trickster. This right-wing extremist became so unpopular during his first term as Wisconsin's governor that he faced a recall election in 2012. Yet he seemed to rise before our very eyes, magically lifting himself above the public's anger to avoid defeat. How did he do that?

As reported by The Guardian newspaper, some 1,500 secret emails, court testimonies and financial records were uncovered, revealing that Walker had a hidden lifeline of corporate cash hoisting him up. Despite a Wisconsin law specifically prohibiting corporations from funding political candidates, millions of those banned dollars were pumped to the gov.

The trick is that the corporate checks were sent to supposedly independent political outfits that, thanks to the Supreme Court's ridiculous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, are allowed to take in unlimited campaign funds without disclosing the names of the corporate donors — provided that the independent groups do not in any way coordinate their electoral efforts with the campaign of the candidates they want to elect.

Even if it were obeyed, this farcical ruling essentially sanctions organized corporate corruption, but Walker & Co. didn't even try to adhere to it. Rather the governor asked everyone from the Koch brothers to Home Depot and Donnie Trump to funnel checks to the "independent" political groups backing him. He wrote personal thank-you notes to the donors and even had his media strategist handle the ads for both his campaign and the groups.

Scott Walker, his front groups and his corporate donors aren't a magic act; they're thieves, stealing our democracy to impose their plutocracy over us. They're mocking the law and the people. That's the importance of bringing together those mocked in big events like the Bob Fest — where 10,000 Wisconsinites gathered last year in the fighting spirit of La Follette, determined to stop the corporate governor's cynical end run.

By Jim Hightower

MORE FROM Jim Hightower

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Bob Fest Gov. Scott Walker Progressives Robert La Follette U.s. Senator Wisconsin