Scott Walker and the Link Between the Gun Lobby’s Money and Results in Wisconsin
In 2004 and 2006, the Wisconsin legislature passed legislation to allow concealed carry of firearms and both times it was vetoed by Gov. Jim Doyle (D), to the ire of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
That changed with the election of Gov. Scott Walker (R), who wasted no time in pushing for concealed carry, getting the bill to his desk and signing it in July of his first year in office, 2011. Not only that, but in December of that year, Walker signed a law moving Wisconsin's laws closer to Florida's reckless Shoot First Law made famous by the Trayvon Martin case.
DOYLE OUT, WALKER IN
The NRA had been trying to push Doyle out of the governor’s office for years, giving $10,000 directly to his Republican opponent in both 2002 and 2006. In 2006, after Doyle’s two vetoes of concealed carry, the NRA spent $650,000 on independent expenditures to force Doyle from office. Doyle announced he would not run for re-election in 2010 and was replaced by Gov. Walker.
By the end of 2011, Walker had proven himself to be a valuable ally of gun interests, but had run afoul of unions and liberals by eliminating key collective bargaining rights, provoking a recall petition drive by the left. When Walker needed help for the recall, the NRA rushed to his side. The very same day Walker’s opponents turned in the petitions to force a recall election, the NRA sent Walker a check for $10,000 to help keep its new friend in office.
In April, Walker made his appeal more explicit. While being honored with the Harlon B. Carter Legislative Achievement Award at the NRA’s annual convention for his signing of the pro-gun legislation, Walker asked for “support” and “help” from those gathered, cautioning that “if I fail in June, it sets us back at least a decade if not a generation.”
The NRA complied. In addition to its direct $10,000 contribution, the group poured over $646,000 into independent ads to help Walker defeat his Democratic opponent Tom Barrett.
But Walker isn’t the only recipient of pro-gun money in Wisconsin, according to Public Campaign analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics and the Wisconsin Secretary of State’s office.
Gun interests have donated $107,847 to Wisconsin legislative and statewide candidates since the 2002 election cycle.
Here are a few more facts about the gun lobby’s influence in Wisconsin:
- Gun interests’ attempts to reshape the legislature have a clear partisan slant: 38 times more money has gone to Republican campaigns than Democratic ones, over $101,000 to just $2,650. The biggest sources of that money by far are the NRA ($63,025) and the Wisconsin Concealed Carry Movement ($33,250).
- In addition to an allied governor to sign pro-gun legislation into law, the gun lobby also had their favored candidate in the attorney general’s office to implement the law. Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has taken $4,175 from gun interests and he made sure to receive the first concealed carry permit in the state. He also announced his approval of individuals carrying concealed weapons into the Capitol, even though he does not legally set that policy. The NRA gave Van Hollen an A+ rating for his 2010 re-election campaign.
- Sen. Pam Galloway (R-29) emerged in her freshman term as the lead Senate sponsor of concealed carry. After not having received any gun money for her 2010 election campaign, Galloway became a priority for gun interests and received a $2,500 contribution—larger than the usual maximum contribution because of the recall election—from the NRA, the largest of the 2012 cycle. Galloway resigned, however, rather than face popular unrest in the recall.
- The Senator responsible for getting Stand Your Ground legislation to Scott Walker’s desk in 2011 was also pushed out of office in the 2012 recall election. Sen. Van Wanggaard (R-21) took $1,000 from gun interests before sponsoring Stand Your Ground, but it was clear that the people did not believe Wanggaard had their best interests at heart when they forced the ALEC member from office in the June, 2012 recall.
- Gun lobbyists enjoy a close connection to Wisconsin politicians. Former Sen. Robert Welch (R-14) went through the revolving door to be a lobbyist after leaving the legislature in 2005, founding the Welch Group and being named one of the top 10 lobbyists in the state. Welch has lobbied for gun interests like the Wisconsin Bear Hunters Association, Safari Club, and WI-FORCE, the NRA state affiliate and has stayed cozy with Gov. Scott Walker, such as by attending his fundraiser for money to renovate the executive mansion.
- The state attorney general took then-Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-83) to court for refusing to show the public a draft of his concealed carry bill in 2005 even after he had shared it with NRA lobbyists to get their input. While enjoying this privileged access to Gunderson, gun interests made him one of the top recipients of their contributions in the legislature with $2,121.
Following the tragedy at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, gun reformer Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, released a statement calling the shooting a “powerful reminder of the need for a real national conversation about what we can do to prevent gun violence tragedies, and for our elected officials and presidential candidates to participate in that conversation by offering real plans to do something about it.”
All too often, victims of gun violence and their families are from less privileged communities and unable to afford their own lobbyists or to make donations to candidates—in Madison or anywhere else—to fight the influence of the gun interests, so it takes a tragedy like this to push the issue of gun control into the public consciousness.
Will Gov. Scott Walker, the biggest beneficiary of gun money in Wisconsin this past decade, start the conversation we need to prevent needless gun violence from creating more victims? Or will he and his allies in the legislature once again side with the gun lobby and push extreme legislation to eliminate what little is left of Wisconsin’s gun laws?