Koch money aids Scott Walker in Wisconsin voter suppression

Americans for Prosperity, the right-wing front group for conservative billionaire David Koch, a supporter of Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, and beneficiary of many of his policies, has run hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of pro-Walker TV ads in Wisconsin.

But in the just-concluded state Senate recall election, they took their fight directly to the voters, mailing forms that looked like absentee ballots to at least 10,000 solidly Democratic voters. Not only were those forms not absentee ballots, they also told the reader to return the ballot by August 11, two days after the recall election was held.  Additionally, the last page of the mailer was registered to the Wisconsin Family Action PAC, a far-right-wing advocacy organization that, like Americans for Prosperity, is not an absentee ballot processing center.

Democrats, understandably, were outraged. The Democratic Party of Wisconsin started legal action to force the Koch organization to cease distribution of these mailers, which they call a “dirty trick.”

Charles Shultz, a man from North Hudson, Wis., received the Koch mailer on July 28. After recognizing the obvious misinformation on the forms, he filed a voter suppression complaint against Americans for Prosperity, saying he believed their intended purpose was to discount his vote, and that he was targeted because he was a Democrat and a senior citizen.

For their part, the Wisconsin chapter of Americans for Prosperity blamed the (numerous) factual errors on a “typo.”

That excuse, coupled with their blatant attempts at voter suppression, earned Americans for Prosperity a spot on the August 4 Colbert Report.

This follows a series of actions by Walker and his Republican majority in the state legislature over the past several months that have grabbed several, though not enough, headlines. Since taking power last November, Walker and his GOP allies have rammed through a number of highly controversial measures, including: stripping the collective bargaining rights of public workers, slashing funding for education, and selling off the state’s power plants, as well as several actions that smack of voter suppression.

However, it appears that the GOP is not alone in initiating voter suppression: Americans for Prosperity has joined in on the action.

Walker and his Republican colleagues are surely aware of the unpopularity of their positions. Polls indicate that less than 37 percent of Wisconsinites approve of Walker’s performance as governor. This was made obvious by the weeks of protests in Madison by nearly 100,000 people, union and non-union alike, accompanied by the creation of a protest tent-city “Walkerville” around the Capitol. The GOP’s actions have spurred the unions into action; in fact AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka referred to Walker as their “Mobilizer of the Year.”

After a whirlwind petition drive, a historic number of six GOP state senators were forced into recall elections on August 9. While the Republicans managed to hold on to control of the state Senate, the Democrats succeeded in flipping two Republican districts, narrowing the GOP’s hold in the Senate, 17-16.

In light of all this, it is perhaps unsurprising that Walker would seek to insulate himself from voter backlash. He and his colleagues passed a controversial voter ID law that would require a current government-issued ID to receive a ballot. This law, passed under the guise of combating a nonexistent voter fraud problem, serves to disenfranchise the elderly, the poor, students and ethnic minorities – all historically Democratic voters.

Next, Walker and the Republican lawmakers proposed eliminating 10 DMV locations. Democrats, including state Rep. Andy Jorgensen, argued that many of these closures were slated for Democratic-leaning districts, such as Jorgensen’s in Ft. Atkinson. Regardless of the location, restricting the number of DMVs would make it even more difficult for voters who lack the proper ID to acquire it before Election Day.

Due to a massive backlash, the Republicans are now reversing their proposal to close down DMV offices.

But that does not mean that right-wing voter suppression efforts have dissipated.

Photo: rochelle hartman // CC 2.0


Ryan C. Ebersole
Ryan C. Ebersole

Ryan Ebersole is a mental health counselor on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Having finished his Masters degree at the University of Southern Mississippi, his undergraduate degree at the University of Evansville in Indiana, high school in the Fort Worth area of Texas and pre-K in Puerto Rico, and having been born in Florida, he has experienced several areas of the county.

While in Indiana, he worked at a social work agency for HIV+ clients, as well as a low-income community drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility - both of which caused him to take a great interest in the stigmatized and the disadvantaged in our society. Now as a mental health professional, he hopes to serve these groups, as well as continue political activism, especially for LGBT and health care rights, on the side.