Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017 12:21 am
A political party worth joining
It’s a daylong, outdoor political festival run by a coalition of Wisconsin progressives who believe in “putting the party back in politics.” Held in Madison every September, Bob Fest is like a “state fair” of politics, not only featuring give-’em-hell speechifying and hot populist issues – but also terrific edibles from a dozen food trucks, bottomless kegs of great local beers, lively music, dozens of activist booths, games, political humor, a farmers market and ... well, fun.
The idea behind Bob Fest is to have a political event that people actually want to come to. Plus, not only is admission free, but Bob Fest is also proud to be corporate-free, rejecting any funding or ads by corporate interests. It’s a volunteer-run festival of, by and for regular people, and it pays for itself each year by passing the bucket and getting staff support from The Progressive, the feisty, populist-spirited magazine founded 107 years ago by Sen. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette.
Yes, Fighting Bob Fest is named for La Follette, a truly great U.S. Senator who was renowned for battling the corruption of American politics by corporate money. In fact, when he was Wisconsin’s governor a century ago, La Follette passed a law banning corporations from making donations to political candidates – a law that is still in effect.
However, corporate interests today use front groups in a political ploy to bypass such bans and dump millions of dollars into their chosen candidates – including Wisconsin’s current governor.
Some magicians perform mind-boggling magic tricks, such as levitating themselves, apparently with no hidden force lifting them up. But remember, the key word in “magic trick” – is trick. Scott Walker, for example, is quite the political trickster. This right-wing extremist became so unpopular in his first term as Wisconsin’s governor that he faced a recall election in 2012. Yet he seemed to rise in front of our very eyes, magically lifting himself above the public’s anger to avoid defeat. How’d he do that?
As reported by The Guardian newspaper, some 1,500 secret emails, court testimonies and financial records were uncovered, revealing that Walker had a hidden lifeline of corporate cash hoisting him up. Despite a Wisconsin law specifically prohibiting corporations from funding political candidates, millions of those banned dollars were pumped into the governor.
The trick is that the corporate checks were sent to supposedly-independent political outfits that, thanks to the Supreme Court’s ridiculous Citizens United decree, are allowed to take unlimited campaign funds without disclosing the names of the corporate donors – provided that the independent groups do not in any way coordinate their electoral efforts with the campaign of the candidates they want to elect.
Even if obeyed, this farcical rule essentially sanctions organized corporate corruption, but Walker and company didn’t even try to obey it. Rather the governor asked everyone from the Koch brothers to Home Depot to Donnie Trump to funnel checks to the “independent” political groups backing him. He wrote personal thank-you notes to the donors, and even had his media strategist handle the ads for both his campaign and the groups.
Scott Walker, his front groups and his corporate donors aren’t a magic act – they’re debouched thieves, stealing our democracy to impose their plutocracy over us. They’re mocking the law and the people. That’s the importance of bringing us mockees together in big events like Bob Fest – where 10,000 Wisconsinites gathered last year in the fighting spirit of La Follette, determined to stop the corporate governor’s cynical end run. To learn more about Fighting Bob Fest, go to
Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist and author.