then there were none. In light of new revelations that Robert Gerald
Lorge (R-Bear Creek) has been accused of being an alleged child
molester, it appears Republicans have gone from token opposition to
Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) to practically no opposition.
The question, of course, is why? After all, itís not like there
isnít some room for policy differences between the Democratic
senator and the leading politicians from the other party. But after
six more years of casting votes, Kohl has gone from facing B-level
candidates to third-party fringe candidates.
According to one published report, some Republicans are blaming
Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), head of the National Republican Senate
Campaign Committee. She tried to recruit former Gov. Tommy Thompson
to run to the exclusion of all else, and the state party followed
suit. Others would blame the state party for not recruiting someone
in the last six years. Still others put the blame on Thompson, or
former Senate candidate Tim Michels, or even State Sen. Glenn
Grothman who flirted with running right at the end.
But really, to understand the reason Kohl is running without
opposition we need to look at the unstated "Rosebud" of
Kohlís political career: campaign finance reform.
Campaign finance reform is usually associated with the other guy:
the more acerbic and less popular Sen. Russ Feingold. However,
Feingold really is just following in Kohlís footsteps. Kohl is the
all-time master of making donated money look evil.
When Kohl first ran in 1988 he was a late entry into the race. He
did not enter the race until June 1, while his opponents had all
been campaigning since October.
Late as he was, his timing was perfect. The Democratic primary
was over the succession to William Proxmire, who retired with the
reputation for not spending any money to win re-election repeatedly.
The mood among Democrats was for a non-politician immune to the
Democratic strategist Bill Christofferson tells me nobody can
claim sole authorship of the senatorís catch phrase. However
"Nobodyís Senator But Yours" still resonates with the
voters as a defiant statement of independence 18 years later. It
accomplished two tasks simultaneously: It inoculated Kohl from the
charge of trying to buy the election and it immediately made any
money raised by his opponents suspect.
By late June the first polls were in and Kohl was skyrocketing.
Congressman Jim Moody was chased from the primary before the
nomination petitions were signed and Kohl dispatched former Gov.
Tony Earl, Ed Garvey and Secretary of State Doug LaFollette to win
the Democratic primary.
Kohl successfully tapped public sentiment and established himself
as a man who cannot be bought. But campaign finance reform also
prevented his opponents from raising the money necessary to beat
Kohl and his own personal wealth.
A former governor like Tony Earl should have been able to attract
a wide donation base, and he did, but the donors were limited in
what they can give. At the time of the last campaign finance report
before the primary, Kohl had spent $2.1 million. Former Governor
Earl spent $431,719.
Want a bit of irony? Today Earl serves on the board of Common
Cause, an organization dedicated to the cause of campaign finance
After beating his Democratic rivals, Kohl crushed state Sen.
Susan Engeleiter who literally chastised him with a fruitcake in
probably the goofiest political campaign moment in Wisconsin
Engeleiter may have run a better campaign had she not had to
pause after her primary victory to raise more money. However, she
too, was limited in what she could raise, and never was on equal
footing with the wealthy, self-funding Kohl.
In the two elections since then Republicans could not find a
candidate capable of fighting Kohl on an equal footing financially.
As a result, state Sen. Bob Welch and Rawhide Boys Ranch founder
John Gillespie were the sacrificial lambs instead of Gov. Tommy
Thompson, Lt. Gov. McCallum, Assembly Speakers Scott Jensen and
David Prosser, Congressman Mark Neumann and others.
This time around Republicans were unable to find anybody, and the
one-person running with the Republican label, Lorge, has now become
a liability to the party. Meanwhile, sitting out this race (in
addition to the ones already mentioned) are Congressmen Mark Green
and Paul Ryan, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former
Waukesha County Executive Dan Finley, any of whom couldíve
provided a serious challenge except for one thing: money.
But which of the possible candidates would have been willing to
run against Kohl if they werenít faced with the heavy restrictions
of campaign finance reform? What would have a Ryan or a Walker
candidacy looked like if they were able to campaign on an equal
footing with Kohl?
Thanks to campaign finance reform, weíll never know.
(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at http://wigdersonlibrarypub.blogspot.com
and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)