MADISON, Wis. — Gov. Scott Walker claims that he hears “good things” at his taxpayer-financed, closed to the media and the public listening sessions. Based on information obtained by One Wisconsin Now about how his audience is hand picked from lists provided by lobbyists, fellow Republican politicians and his state agencies with regulatory power over businesses it’s obvious how a governor at record low approval ratings is hearing what he wants to hear.
“Instead of hearing about what’s really on the minds of Wisconsinites who overwhelmingly disapprove of the job he’s doing, Gov. Walker is tooling around the state on our dime hearing from an exclusive audience recruited to tell him what he wants to hear,” said Mike Browne, One Wisconsin Now Deputy Director. “His office used special interest lobbyists with business before them to find attendees, state agencies were directed to ‘invite’ people who rely on state government to do business and fellow Republican legislators turned over their lists of local political insiders.”
“Gov. Scott Walker’s office has asked legislators, lobbyists, state agency heads and local economic development agencies to help select attendees for the governor’s invite-only listening sessions throughout the state, records show.
The records provided to the Cap Times offer insight into the selection process for participants in the governor’s marquee effort to reacquaint himself with Wisconsin voters after his failed presidential bid. Walker announced plans in his Jan. 20 State of the State address to hold listening sessions in 2016, asking for people’s long-term visions for Wisconsin.”
The records of internal administration efforts to recruit audiences expose a massive effort of time and taxpayer resources to ensconce the Governor in favorable settings. In one unseemly instance an insurance industry lobbyist solicited by Walker’s office for suggested attendees at the sessions took the opportunity to also mention he needed to confer with the administration on administrative rule of concern.
Records also reveal Walker and his staff also are tapping state regulatory agencies and information they collect about the businesses they regulate to generate attendee leads. Secretaries and staff of cabinet agencies like the Department of Health Services, the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Workforce Development and the Department of Administration were directed to provide the Governor’s office with lists of people associated with businesses over which they have oversight or with whom they do business.
One Wisconsin Now also analyzed the campaign contributions of the Walker session attendees and found that people at sessions between January and March made nearly 4,000 contributions totaling over $1 million, overwhelmingly to Republicans and conservatives.
Browne concluded, “Like always with this gang campaign, optics trump everything instead of actually listening to what’s on the minds of the people of Wisconsin. That’s why if you’re concerned about issues like Gov. Walker’s record cuts to public education, massive tax giveaways to the wealthy and corporations and his opposition to allowing borrowers to refinance their student loan debt he doesn’t care to hear from you.”