Money in Politics in Wisconsin

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We’ve all seen the ongoing breakdown in the Wisconsin political system caused by Republicans in the WI statehouse. Rather than respect the outcome of this November’s election, legislators are working to undermine the incoming Democrat governor-elect, Tony Evers. This has earned widespread outrage at the state’s Republican legislators, but what few people know is that they’re not acting alone. Walgreens is financially supporting the power grab.

What NY Times columnist David Leonhardt recently uncovered was not necessarily a secret, nor is it one of a kind, but it’s disturbing nonetheless. Walgreens’ decade long partnership with the Wisconsin Republican party is emblematic of a greater problem in our country that we often don’t talk about until it is too late: the corrupting influence of money in politics.

A decade ago, following a controversial ruling in a lawsuit about taxes that favored the company, Walgreens made donations to Wisconsin Legislature leaders Robin Vos, the current Assembly speaker, and Scott Fitzgerald, Senate majority leader. This turning point is significant because before the ruling, Walgreens donated to politicians on both sides of the aisle. Now, Walgreens and other stores like it pay millions of dollars less in taxes, and state Republicans have successfully secured the state legislature in a stranglehold over the last decade.

When a bipartisan group of state legislatures tried this year to address large retailers lowering their tax assessments by claiming that their profitable stores should pay the same taxes as people who owned empty stores, the measure was unsuccessful. Vos and Fitzgerald were behind its collapse. This wasn’t a one-time pulling of strings – their maneuvering in favor of companies like Walgreens at the expense of everyday Wisconsinites is part of a longstanding pattern.

And yet, Walgreens lowering its tax responsibility, while an issue, is not what most Americans are upset about when they think of all of the nonsense going on in Wisconsin. What voters are really angry about is their votes being undermined by politicians who don’t believe they answer to them. This is the crux of the issue when it comes to money in politics, and it’s why this latest scheme has landed both Vos and Fitzgerald in hot water with Americans across the country– because it’s a perfect, clear-cut example of the intersection of money in politics and voter subversion.

This is nothing new, and it won’t be stopping anytime soon given the difficulty of rolling back Citizens United, which allows companies and individuals to spend virtually unlimited amounts of money on elections. These lame-duck-session votes to stop same-day voter registration and to limit the powers of Evers and the incoming attorney general are part of a pattern of voter suppression taking place right now, funded by huge amounts of untraceable dark money. But for the first time in awhile, Americans across the country and in both parties are paying attention to how corruptible our democracy is. That might not seem like much of a silver lining given the success Republicans in Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina are having with gerrymandering and unpopular lame duck session votes right now, but at least it’s something. The next step is turning this public outrage into real, concrete policy change.

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