MADISON--Citizens from across Wisconsin have been calling the Center for Media and Democracy to complain about robo-calls they received pushing Scott Walker's agenda against public workers. The robo-calls have been bought and paid for by a shadowy Washington, DC-based group that calls itself the "League of American Voters" (LAV).
As the Center has reported previously, LAV has one employee, a failed politician from West Virginian named Bob Adams, and is the pet project of FOX "analyst" Dick Morris, a pollster who was fired in disgrace in 1996 for conducting phone calls with the President while conducting business with a prostitute serving his foot fetish at DC's Mayflower Hotel. After Morris' falling out with Democrats in the aftermath of the scandal, he became a frequent talking head on FOX and a serial author of books bashing Democrats. The latest book he is pushing is one that praises the reactionary positions of some of the politicians elected last year, like Walker: "Revolt! How the Governors Are Changing American Politics ... Permanently." His pulp pieces are peddled on LAV's website as rewards for donations.
Wisconsin residents are complaining about the misleading script LAV is using in its effort to prop up Walker. Here is the text, according to one of the recipients of the unwanted phone call paid for by the one-man shop Morris helps direct:
"This is an important legislative alert from the League of American Voters:
(cue angry mob noise)
Angry rhetoric, ugly threats, intimidation even violence.
That's not the Wisconsin way (cue the patriotic music) but it's what is happening right now in Madison with Big Government Unions trying to protect their lavish tax-payer funded benefits, the most generous benefits in the country. Now they're holding Wisconsin kids hostage. Saying they'd rather wreck Wisconsin schools than compromise because for them it's not about education it's about money and power.
But Governor Scott Walker is taking on the Government Unions telling them it's time to share in the economic sacrifice every Wisconsin Family is making.
Walker's responsible common-sense plan will keep our schools the best in the nation and protect Wisconsin tax payers from a budget catastrophe.
Call Governor Scott Walker today and tell him you're with him and to stand strong.
This call was paid for by the League of American Voters."
The script is misleading on several counts:
- Claims of "violence." It claims the demonstrations have been violent, but the Dane County Sheriff and Madison police that helped manage the crowds of 100,000 people or more have publicly praised the peaceful nature of the demonstrations and have noted that no one was arrested for violent acts. Indeed, the circuit judge asked to rule on a constitutional challenge to Walker's efforts to limit the demonstrations noted that:
'Demonstrators' is not a word that should be used in a vein of disrespect. The people that have testified, and lots of people like them, the nurses, the teachers ... those are professions that, generally speaking, attract law-abiding and professional individuals. There are also attorneys, prison guards, firefighters, ironworkers ... those people were exercising a basic constitutional right, an important one, and one that is unique in the world, although some [countries] are starting to catch up ... But those prison guards, firefighters, and police officers, they risk their lives every time they punch in. There should be no disrespect when we talk about demonstrators.
- Claims of "lavish" benefits for workers. The benefits Morris' apparatus is talking about are basic health insurance and retirement plans, and there is no evidence that workers' health insurance and pensions is "lavish" by any stretch of the imagination. As the Pew Center for the States reported based on a comprehensive study: Wisconsin is a "national leader in managing its long-term liabilities for both pension and retiree health care." As noted by the Huffington Post, according to the Pew study, Wisconsin had about $77 billion in total pension liabilities in 2008 but those liabilities were 99.67 percent 'funded,' giving Wisconsin one of the four-highest of such ratios in the nation."
- "Lavish" health insurance claim by LAV, which fought FOR Extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans? LAV also fails to tell recipients of its robo-calls that, despite the health of the state employee pension plan--the Wisconsin unions representing these workers have agreed to make more contributions to the fund, but Walker has refused their financial concessions. LAV's call fails to tell the truth to callers that Walker has refused to accept the union's acceptance of all of the financial terms of his demand, except for provisions that undermine workers' rights to collective bargaining. As for the health insurance benefits, state employees can participate in group health insurance plans that help defray the costs of life-saving treatment and preventative care, which is hardly a lavish benefit.
- LAV opposed health insurance reform. Of course, since LAV opposed efforts to reform health insurance last year and is working to repeal it, perhaps LAV believes having any employer-based health insurance--which is the way most Americans can qualify for affordable health insurance--is "lavish." For the record, public employees in Wisconsin, like employees of most private corporations, can choose from an HMO plan or "preferred provider" plan or fee-for-service coverage, depending on what they can afford and need. The claim that this is "lavish" or "extravagant" shows just how out of touch Morris and his point man, Adams, are. The Center challenges Morris and Adams to disclose their total compensation from all sources of income and the details of their health insurance plans, premium costs, and how their health care costs are paid, before making any further claims that the health insurance nurses and teachers and sanitation workers is extravagant.
- "They're holding Wisconsin kids hostage... ." This claim is egregiously misleading and inflammatory. Wisconsin teachers who are defending their right to participate in a union are in no way holding kids hostage or "saying they'd rather wreck Wisconsin schools than compromise," as LAV prevaricates. On the contrary, the teacher's union has been very clear that teachers here would agree with Walker's financial demands that take more money out of their paychecks so long as they are not forced to give up their basic right to organize, petition, and negotiate.
- The real story on Wisconsin kids. Walker through his every action has made clear not only that he will not compromise (as he bragged on the prank "Koch" call) but also, through his budget, that he is the one who wants to wreck Wisconsin schools. His budget slashes the budgets for Wisconsin school children--as noted by Channel 3000, Walker's bill: "is a 5.5 percent decrease in allowed revenue limits per-pupil beginning in fiscal year 2011, which amounts to an average of $550 per student [and his] proposed budget includes a revenue decrease that comes on top of a statewide $834 million reduction in general equalization aid over the biennium, rolling out as a $390.5 million cut in year one and $358.9 in year two." His budget also tries to undermine the public education system in the state by providing major subsidies for for-profit primary and secondary education to the detriment of a public school system that is ranked third highest in the nation in the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT scores). If LAV cared at all about school children in this state, instead of just invoking them as rhetorical device, it would be raising concerns about Walker's refusal to compromise and his efforts to devastate public education. But, LAV is not concerned about that--it is focused is on helping a politician allied with the reactionary fringe in this country hold his ground, bust unions, and privatize (corporatize) public education.
- "It's about money and power." It is about money and power--for Walker's allies and radical agenda. For the ordinary people affected by LAV's political agenda and Walker's, it's about having the money to make ends meet and having the power to exercise basic rights, including the right to be in a union and have an opportunity to bargain for fair working conditions and a living wage for hard work.
- LAV wants Wisconsin workers to "share in the economic sacrifice" but in December it wanted tax cuts for the richest Americans. LAV's robo-calls misleadingly omit the fact that the teachers' union has agreed to the financial concessions Walker demanded from these public employees. Moreover, LAV fails to tell the people it is calling how it objected to the richest Americans sharing in "economic sacrfice" just three months ago, when it was demanding that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest (which were initially passed on a temporary basis before Bush squandered the federal budget surplus) be extended.
- Protecting Wisconsin from a "budget catastrophe?" Walker's budget is a catastrophe--for working families in Wisconsin. It would slash school budgets, close public hospitals, deny life-saving care to people in the state who have lost their jobs or their homes. Instead of choosing to ask corporations in the state to "share in the economic sacrifice," Walker's proposals thus far cut taxes for businesses in the state, slash public services, and then would create a boondoggle agency with nearly a $100 million budget for business cronies through a new "business development corporation." How many teachers and nurses could serve the people of Wisconsin with this $100 million? Thousands. Instead of addressing the catastrophic and immoral choices in Walker's proposed budget, LAV blindly adopts Walker's political rhetoric instead.
Given LAV's foxy connections, it is not surprising that LAV would be running screeds that echo the agenda of FOX's "analysts." The bottom line is that LAV's robotic calls robotically repeat the party line and attempt to grossly mislead recipients. What can you do about it?
- Call 1-877-769-7312, right now. You can call LAV's answering service right now to ask that LAV never call you again. Its number is answered by a robotic answering service that will place callers on a "Do Not Call" list. You can do this now and share the number with all of your friends and neighbors so you never have to hear another pack of lies from LAV on your home phone again. And, if LAV does call you ever again after your request, it can be subject to fines for violating federal law so make a note of the date of your request and keep this link handy to file a federal complaint.
- Call any radio station that airs LAV's ads. Getting on the do not call list will not stop LAV's misleading radio ads, but you can call any station that airs their scripts and complain--squeaky wheels can get grease.
- Contact the Government Accountability Board. The GAB may assert that it cannot regulate robo-calls or ads like these outside of an election cycle, but you can ask that GAB issue regulations to require the disclosure of any spending for robo-calls and ads like LAV's in the state and that it issue new rules to require the disclosure of the top five donors to organizations engaging in such activities.
- Contact CMD to share any new script you hear on the air from LAV. The Center wants to know what LAV is saying so its claims can be checked against the facts and reality. Contact the Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lisa Graves is Executive Director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which includes PRWatch.org, SourceWatch.org, and BanksterUSA.org. She formerly served as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Legal Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice, as Chief Counsel for Nominations for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and as Deputy Chief of the Article III Judges Division of the U.S. Courts.