By Bill Lueders
By now, Wisconsin residents are well aware what happens when elections loom: saturation television ads and robocalls at a frequency that constitutes harassment. The groundwork for these onslaughts is being laid, in fundraising letters to potential donors, typically conveying a sense of urgency and danger.
“Our opponents know my campaign is strong,” reads one such letter, from Tammy Baldwin, a Democratic congresswoman running for U.S. Senate. “And so they’re trying to destroy my campaign with (a) massive smear effort.”
Yikes. How much do you need?
Baldwin suggests giving $35, $50 or even $100, to beat back the threat from “right-wing special interests such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s American Crossroads that can spend millions of dollars on a negative ad campaign without even breaking a sweat.”
Despite these partisan references, the mechanics of the fundraising letter transcend political boundaries. The themes of good vs. evil, us against them, grassroots support compared with outside special interests, are staples.
Consider these claims from a recent fundraising letter by Scott Walker, the embattled Republican governor, to potential donors in other states:
“Conservatives are under attack in Wisconsin and that means … There’s BIG TROUBLE AHEAD where you live. If the powerful labor unions get their way in my state … They’ll get their way in yours.”
Yikes. How much do you need?
Walker: “I need you to stand up for democracy and for conservative stewardship, and I hope you’ll honor me with a ‘Friends of Scott Walker’ contribution for $25, $100, $500, $1,000 or more today.”
At last accounting, in January, Walker had raised $12.2 million in a little more than a year, almost half from outside Wisconsin. But that’s not something he highlights in his pitch to potential out-of-state donors. Instead, he stresses his foes’ out-of-state ties, saying “thousands of Big Labor protesters, many bused in from Chicago and Las Vegas, buzzed around the state Capitol like angry wasps.”
Baldwin, in turn, reportedly has raised $4.5 million, including a little more than $2 million in the first three months of this year. That means she’s doing about as well as her four potential GOP challengers — Tommy Thompson, Mark Neumann, Eric Hovde and Jeff Fitzgerald — combined.
You’d think that might lessen the urgency of Baldwin’s need to raise cash. You’d be wrong. Her detractors, she says, are “trying to silence my progressive voice by destroying my 2012 campaign for the U.S. Senate. They don’t want me in the Senate because they know I’m not afraid to take on the powers-that-be in Washington.”
It’s not easy being a politician these days; that’s a true fact. Perhaps all those donation-bearing self-addressed envelopes — help ease the pain.
Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.