WisconsinWatchdog.org marked Republican Governor Scott Walker's presidential announcement with an article that made no mention of the economic struggles Wisconsinites have endured under his tenure and praised Walker campaign chair Michael Grebe without disclosing its conflict-of-interest connection to him.
While many members of Wisconsin's media have warned of Walker's “extreme” politics, “polarizing character” and disappointing economic record, WisconsinWatchdog.org cheered the governor's presidential campaign announcement in a July 13 article that praised his recall election survival and touted his successful crippling of unions. Watchdog.org said Walker is “once more on the precipice of history, set to bring his big government-reform message to the national stage.”
WisconsinWatchdog.org also made little mention of Walker's shaky economic record in its discussion of his qualifications to become president. The article praised him for enacting damaging tax cuts and dismissed widespread criticism that he drained the state of revenue by parroting the state Republican party's argument that the tax revenue “came from the hard-earned money of Wisconsin taxpayers, and it belongs to them.”
As local Capital Times reporter John Nichols told Media Matter's Joe Strupp, “The Wisconsin economic story is not a particularly good story. Wisconsin trails a lot of neighboring states in economic vitality; its job growth is not particularly good.”
WisconsinWatchdog.org previously tried to distort Walker's economic record by relying on a methodologically flawed report produced by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The “Rich States, Poor States” report by ALEC has been called "snake oil" by The Iowa Policy Project and labor advocacy group Good Jobs First for its promotion of deregulation and reliance on cutting public services. Business Insider's Joe Weisenthal called the maps in ALEC's report “a joke” because they ranked strong states like New York and California at the bottom of the list, and said, “ALEC is ranking states based on each state's level of deregulation and awarding the most deregulated states, but the outcomes seem to have very little bearing in where companies actually want to launch and do business.”
Bloomberg's more objective state ranking index, the Economic Evaluation of States, places Wisconsin in 38thplace using indicators like home prices and wage growth. Even by his own measure, Walker's record on job creation has come up short. His campaign promise to bring 250,000 new private sector jobs by the end of his first term "failed miserably" according to former mayor of Minneapolis R. T. Rybak, writing in an op-ed for The Hill. Fewer than 150,000 jobs were created during Walker's first term.
The governor's strong stance against raising taxes in the face of deficit spending created a budget fight that delayed his presidential candidacy announcement. While neighboring Minnesota has raised taxes and seen economic growth, Walker's continued push for spending cuts had members of his own party rebelling against his budget, which passed with the largest legislative Republican opposition so far in his tenure.
The Walker budget that finally passed last week included controversial and possibly economically harmful changes. Chief among these are a $250 million-dollar cut to higher education, provisions to weaken tenure protection at state schools, elimination of wage protections for construction laborers working on state projects, and the replacement of a provision that said workers must be paid a “living wage” with wording that says workers must only be paid “minimum wage.” Current minimum wage in Wisconsin is projected to remain at $7.25 per hour until at least 2018.
WisconsinWatchdog.org's support of Walker comes as no surprise -- the website formerly known as the Wisconsin Reporter has a long history of defending him. During the “John Doe” investigations into possible campaign finance violations during Walker's 2010 and 2012 campaigns, WisconsinWatchdog.org ran more than 180 articles pushing back against his critics.
As part of the Franklin Center's Watchdog.org media group, WisconsinWatchdog.org operates aspart of a collective of state-based media outlets that use funding from the likes of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers to push conservative views and misinformation into state policy conversations. The Franklin Center also receives funding from the Bradley Foundation, which is run by Walker's campaign chairman, Michael Grebe. Though WisconsinWatchdog.org's article mentions Grebe, his position, and a reprints a quote from the Weekly Standard praising his experience, it never discloses Grebe's position as president and CEO of the Bradley Foundation.