That gap in the anti-Walker coalition may seem self-evident, but not to Freeman. Her father is “a gun-toting tea partyer, and he’s definitely offended by the kind of big-money corporate agenda Walker has,” she says.
“I don’t understand why these tea party groups stay with Walker,” says Freeman, 44, a fast-talking, ruddy-faced, keys-on-the-belt-loop career counselor who put her business on ice for the duration of the campaign.
She says Walker’s campaign will ultimately alienate some tea party members.
“You want to really tick off a Badger? Tell them their campaign’s being run by people from out of state.”
About 90 percent of United Wisconsin’s funds have been raised in-state.
A Missouri woman, Mary Steeb, is the recall campaign’s largest donor; she gave $2,000 because she grew up in Wisconsin, where her sister teaches school.
“I love my sister, who’s really hurting,” says Steeb, owner of a food distributor with 20 employees. “Wisconsin used to be a place where quality of life was more important than anything. The money pouring in is because of the collective desire of some billionaires to break the unions so they can keep making money. That’s not right, and it’s not good business.”
Freeman says the signatures of a million Wisconsinites prove the recall can win without the kind of money Walker will have.
“The rules have changed and Walker and his PACs can raise unlimited money, but we’ll be okay because people’s views of Walker are already set,” she says.
Walker’s campaign agrees that most voters’ views are set, but in the governor’s favor.
“The left is so loud that you don’t hear it,” says campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews, “but there is a silent majority that stands with the governor in support of long-term structural reform. The left will say he hates children, he kicks puppies, but voters know he’s saved millions of dollars and their schools are still just as good.”
“The people don’t care where campaign funds come from,” Matthews says. “They understand that when you’re less than a year into your term and facing a recall, you have to get the word out.”
Freeman lived in California in 2003, when Gray Davis became one of only two governors ever to be recalled.
“No matter how much Davis spent, there was no budging his ratings,” she says.
In California, which also saw a massive influx of out-of-state money, there was no limit on what the Democratic governor could spend in the recall campaign. But the money did Davis little good, says Tammy Cali, who handled marketing for the anti-Davis campaign and now runs Eberle Communications Group, a McLean political fundraising firm.
“Wisconsin is different,” Cali says, “because it’s a David-versus-Goliath story. Scott Walker is a tea party guy, a David who is a victim. In politics, to win you need an enemy or a victim. In this case, you have both. You can ask people around the country for money for Walker by saying, ‘If this can happen to Scott Walker, it can happen in your state.’ ”
Still, Cali says, the Walker side should be careful about the perception that corporate money is calling the cards.
“The big-money groups stand for everything some tea partyers see as wrong with this country,” she says. “But on the other hand, some tea party groups see that big money can help them.”
‘The front line of this debate’
Ross Brown is all for freedom, including the freedom to express yourself with wheelbarrows of cash. Still, something strikes him as not quite fair about the way out-of-state millions could change the political calculus in his back yard.
“We’re just up here doing our own thing,” Brown says. “But I guess we’re the front line of this debate the nation is having about what is the proper role of government.”
In the end, Brown figures, “people throw money at politicians because there’s an incentive — they’re going to get something back. Take away the incentive — limit government’s role — and then there won’t be the nice little extras the politicians can do for you if you make a contribution.”