One reason Jeb Bush probably won’t raise all the money in 2016 is the existence of very large conservative donor networks that exist beyond the familiar clubby atmosphere of the former 2004 W. rain-makers who seem to dominate “Establishment” circles. The largest and most conspicuous, of course, is the Koch Donor Network, which reportedly aims at raising $900 million towards placing a special friend in the White House.
It’s not clear at this point if the Kochs and their allies intend to spend much of that money during the nomination contest. But if they do, reports Bloomberg Politics‘ Julie Bykowicz, Scott Walker’s probably first in line to become the beneficiary.
Charles Koch, she says, is personally very fond of Rand Paul, but he’s not, as events at the Koch Donor Network’s annual Palm Springs gathering this year indicated, very popular in KochWorld write large. But these folk have a visceral bond with Walker that was forged by Americans for Prosperity’s very direct involvement in his political career, even before his first election as governor:
On a sunny Saturday in September 2009, with Wisconsin in the throes of Tea Party fervor, conservative starlet Michelle Malkin fired up a crowd of thousands at a lakefront park in Milwaukee with rhetoric about White House czars and union thugs and the “culture of dependency that they have rammed down our throats.”
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican candidate for governor, casually attired in a red University of Wisconsin Badgers sweatshirt, stepped to the podium to amplify the message. “We’re going to take back our government,” he shouted, jabbing the air with a finger. The attendees whooped and clapped. “We’ve done it here, we can do it in Wisconsin and, by God, we’re going to do it all across America.”
In a way, the event was Scott Walker’s graduation to the political major leagues. The audience had been delivered up by Americans for Prosperity, a Tea Party organizing group founded by Charles and David Koch, the billionaire energy executives whose fortune helps shape Republican politics.
The connection became even more intense during the initial wave of demonstrations against Walker’s proposals to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees:
Walker began battling with public employees soon after he was elected, submitting a budget in February 2011 that cut public pensions and sharply limited the collective bargaining rights of many state employees. Koch reinforcements quickly arrived.
A bus caravan of Walker’s friends at Americans for Prosperity disgorged thousands of supporters, carrying signs saying “Your Gravy Train Is Over … Welcome to the Recession” and “Sorry We’re Late Scott. We Work for a Living” into the mass of union activists gathered at the steps of the capitol. It all played out for a cable network audience, with pundits pointing to Walker as the new tip of the spear in a long Republican fight against the labor unions that have helped elect Democrats over the decades.
The AFP’s support wasn’t just a big pep rally. After the governor won the budget battle and his opponents began their effort to recall him, the group deployed hundreds of volunteers to knock on doors and call into voters’ homes to spread Walker’s message that his pension cuts and union reforms were helping solve the state’s budget crisis. The group bought television and digital ads echoing the “It’s Working!” theme—a phrase Walker also frequently used.
Nobody knows right now if these connections will pay off big for Walker in a highly contested nomination battle with so many different players. But he’s certainly got the emotional connection to the money people, and if he can continue to burnish his “electability” credentials, the money spigots will almost certainly be opened for him.