The Biggest Corporate Welfare

Scott Walker — supposed conservative — has become just the latest politician to dole out a few hundred million in corporate welfare:

Last year, two New York City hedge fund owners purchased the Milwaukee Bucks, a down-at-the-heels N.B.A. team. The new owners smiled, took a victory lap around this handsome lakeside city and laid down their terms.

We’ll keep the Bucks in Milwaukee, the owners said, if the public foots half the cost of a $500 million arena. (The owners spoke of their “moral obligation” to the city and pledged $100 million toward their arena, with the remainder coming from other private funds.) N.B.A. officials acted as muscle for the owners and warned that if Wisconsin did not cough up this money within a year’s time, the league would move the team to Las Vegas or Seattle.

These opening feints were right out of the professional sports owner handbook. From start to desultory end, Milwaukee offered a case study in all that is wrong with our arena-shakedown age.

Gov. Scott Walker signed a bill Wednesday to subsidize the arena, which could cost the public twice as much as originally projected. Echoing the owners’ arguments, the governor proclaimed that the arena, a practice complex and a promised “entertainment district” would spur a renaissance for downtown Milwaukee and attract tourists. Income taxes paid by the pro athletes, the governor said, would fill local coffers.

The governor is repeating the standard mantra of stadium extortionists everywhere. It is categorical nonsense. Twenty years of economic research has shown that the economic benefits of stadiums are somewhere between non-existent and slightly negative. Sports teams mostly affect how people spend their money, not if. It is true that that taxes paid by the athletes would pay for a stadium … in a century.

The ability of extremely rich men who own extremely successful business to extract hundreds of millions in public welfare from cash-strapped cities and states is baffling. The lack of benefits of stadium building has been known for years, but sports teams, including my Braves, are still able to work this scam to perfection.

In reality, the power should flow the other way. Sports teams benefit from being in big cities way more than the big cities benefit from having sports teams. Do you think the Yankees would be making hundreds of millions of dollars if they moved to Louisville? They still got a billion dollars in subsidies for their stadium. Would the Milwaukee Bucks, sans subsidies, make more money in Vegas or Seattle than they do in Milwaukee? I doubt it. Seattle just gave up a basketball team and Las Vegas has … um … a lot more than a sports team going for it.

The most recent baseball team that moved was the Montreal Expos. That move benefited the Expos way way more than it benefited Washington. They went from an empty stadium and minimal revenue to a full stadium and overflowing coffers. Sports teams should be begging to play in the big markets, not holding them for ransom.

There are two problems that underlay the subsidies to sports. The first is plain ordinary corruption. It’s not just sports stadiums; cities invest tens of millions into “big projects” that are going “stimulate the economy” and “revitalize downtown”. When I was growing up in Atlanta, we heard those same arguments dragged out for Underground Atlanta, World of Coca Cola and the Olympics. Yet, somehow, it didn’t work. The area around the Olympic Stadium (later Turner Field) was still a dump. Sports teams have an advantage in terms of visibility and the ability to give guaranteed luxury seats to powerful politicians. But fundamentally, this shakedown goes on every day. And sports teams have become very skilled in doling out cash to local community groups and working lobbyists so that they can ride that well-greased track.

The problem that is more specific to sports teams is a basic prisoner’s dilemma. Everyone knows that cities would be better off not caving into the demands of sports teams. But the cities and states are afraid of losing their teams to other cities and states that give in. They could say “no” but it only works if everyone else does too. What you would need is for state and city governments to sign onto a compact: no city or state will subsidize a sports stadium … ever.

That won’t happen, of course, because politicians love this. Scott Walker is far, far from the only politician doling out this particular brand of corporate welfare. The political class love it because they get to claim credit for keeping a sports team in town and building a huge stadium. They love it because it sounds good to say your going to stimulate the economy, even if the stimulus never happens (see Obama, Barack). They get wined and dined by rich team owners and corporate sponsors.

It’s a win-win. The only people who lose are the taxpayers and, really, who cares what those plebs think?

Walker Vindicated … Again

Color me surprised:

Dealing Gov. Scott Walker a victory just as his presidential campaign gets underway, the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a sweeping decision Thursday ruled the governor’s campaign and conservative groups had not violated campaign finance laws.

The ruling means the end of the investigation, which has been stalled for 18 months after a lower court judge determined no laws were violated even if Walker’s campaign and the groups had worked together as prosecutors believe.

This is the infamous “John Doe” investigation where government agents basically had an ongoing far-reaching investigation that involved, essentially, harassing Walker’s supporters and any other conservatives within reach with midnight raids, gag orders and endless investigation:

In international law, the Western world has become familiar with a concept called “lawfare,” a process whereby rogue regimes or organizations abuse legal doctrines and processes to accomplish through sheer harassment and attrition what can’t be accomplished through legitimate diplomatic means. The Palestinian Authority and its defenders have become adept at lawfare, putting Israel under increasing pressure before the U.N. and other international bodies. The John Doe investigations are a form of domestic lawfare, and our constitutional system is ill equipped to handle it. Federal courts rarely intervene in state judicial proceedings, state officials rarely lose their array of official immunities for the consequences of their misconduct, and violations of First Amendment freedoms rarely result in meaningful monetary damages for the victims.

Investigators would conduct armed police raids on the houses of Wisconsin conservatives. They seized computers, phones and as many documents as they could get their hands on. They then issued gag orders preventing the targets their neighbors what was going on. All this because of supposed violation of campaign finance laws; laws we now know were not broken.

You can read more from the WSJ:

For the past few days, I’ve been talking to the targets of the task force of Milwaukee Democratic prosecutors, the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board and Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz. Their experiences, on the record here for the first time, reveal the nasty political sweep of an investigation that invaded privacy with surveillance of email accounts, raided homes with armed law enforcement, and swarmed individuals with subpoenas demanding tens of thousands of documents while insisting on secrecy.

Gabriel Malor shows just how empty this investigation was:

The theory of the prosecutor’s case was that conservative groups had illegally coordinated with candidates for office by means of issue advocacy. Applying well-settled principles of election law, the Wisconsin high court holds that this goes too far because “[d]iscussion of issues cannot be suppressed simply because the issues may also be pertinent in an election.” The courts have long treated express advocacy—that is, speech directly supporting a candidate for election—as wholly separate from issue advocacy—that is, speech about political issues. The court explains that, insofar as the Wisconsin statute purports to regulate issue advocacy the way that it does express advocacy, it is overbroad and vague under both the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Wisconsin’s own Article 1, Section 3.

Read the whole thing. The judges were brutal on the prosecutors saying their investigation was “unsupported by reason” and “employed theories of law that do not exist in order to investigate citizens who were wholly innocent of any wrongdoing”. This isn’t just saying there’s no evidence; this is saying the investigation was a complete travesty designed entirely to harass Wisconsin conservatives.

The Democrats had a lot riding on this. Just a few months ago, they were writing smug posts on how the John Doe investigation was going to crush Walker’s Presidential campaign. Now the investigation is in ruins, their slimy tactics open for the world to see.

I am honestly amazed by what we’ve seen in Wisconsin. Vicious election fights. Recall elections. The legislature fleeing the state. An aggressive intrusive useless investigation from the people who’ve spent the last decade vilifying Ken Starr for his “politicized investigations” that … um … produced thirty felony convictions.

And all of this just to get one governor. What the heck?

The Fear of Walker

It is currently March of 2015. The next presidential election is safely 20 months away. For the moment, Hillary Clinton is the presumed front-runner for the Democrats. She hasn’t declared yet because she knows the allegations of corruption and incompetence will come pretty quickly. Her hope is that she can ride her current popularity through the inevitable shitstorm. The shorter that ride is, the more likely it is to end at 1600 Pennsylvania.

(A big shoe dropped this week when it was revealed the Clinton was using her personal e-mail to conduct State Department business in violation of State Department rules. More will come.)

The Republican field is still in flux but Scott Walker is emerging as a potential candidate. Walker has a good chance since he’s conservative enough to rally the base but has also won three elections in a blue state.

So how do you react to this if you’re a Democrat?

You panic.

A couple of weeks ago, Rudolph Giuliani made a silly statement about Barack Obama. Walker refused to comment on it. This was not evasion; this is Walker’s style. He prefers to avoid political bullshit and concentrate on policy. During the debates for his last election, his opponent tried to goad him into some kind of outburst and Walker refused, sticking to the boring trivia of, you know, running the state.

Nevertheless, the media exploded when he refused to condemn Giuliani’s remarks. Similar accountability is never applied to Democrats. Hillary Clinton will not be asked to denounce everything said by Al Sharpton or Robert Reich or Bernie Sanders. But apparently if Walker refuses to denounce a fellow Republican for an unofficial remark, it’s the end of the world.

Then, of course, you have the union thing. The WaPo ran a piece on Walker’s union-busting, conveniently forgetting that the legal changes were entirely about public employee unions. (Since the article was written, the Wisconsin legislature has passed a “right to work” law. I’ve written about that before.)

Thus far, a couple of warning shots. Nothing major. But this weekend, it got really stupid. First Jezebel, then the Daily Beast, then every left wing blog on the planet ran an article claiming that Scott Walker had stopped Wisconsin universities from reporting sex crimes. That report turned out to be total crap:

The post, published Friday, cited a report from Jezebel that wrongly interpreted a section of the state budget to mean that all assault reporting requirements were to get cut altogether.

In fact, the University of Wisconsin system requested the deletion of the requirements to get rid of redundancy, as it already provides similar information to the federal government, UW System spokesman Alex Hummel told The Associated Press on Friday.

The fail here — apparently involving a reporter who wrote a recent ill-informed hit piece on Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept — is amazing. They ignored that sex crime reporting is a federal requirement and can not be overridden by a state. They didn’t bother to call Scott Walker’s office or the University of Wisconsin to confirm it. They didn’t apply any degree of skepticism. They went right to some bizarre idea that this was macho posturing by a Republican candidate.

The thing is, there is substance to go after with Walker. He’s set to sign a right-to-work law after saying it wasn’t a priority. He has changed his position on immigration. He just cut $300 million from the State university system. And after balancing Wisconsin’s budget, he enacted an ill-advised tax cut that could plunge the state right back into debt. Maybe you like those policy decisions; maybe you hate them. But criticizing him for those policies would at least be substantive.

I have no idea why they are going after him for this garbage except that … they have to demonize Scott Walker. Not just for practical reasons, but for emotional ones. To the Democrats, any Republican president seems demonic. And nothing is more demonic than a Republican candidate who could win.

Another Walker Probe

This is interesting:

Americans learned in the IRS political targeting scandal that government enforcement power can be used to stifle political speech. Something similar may be unfolding in Wisconsin, where a special prosecutor is targeting conservative groups that participated in the battle over Governor Scott Walker’s union reforms.

In recent weeks, special prosecutor Francis Schmitz has hit dozens of conservative groups with subpoenas demanding documents related to the 2011 and 2012 campaigns to recall Governor Walker and state legislative leaders.

Copies of two subpoenas we’ve seen demand “all memoranda, email . . . correspondence, and communications” both internally and between the subpoena target and some 29 conservative groups, including Wisconsin and national nonprofits, political vendors and party committees. The groups include the League of American Voters, Wisconsin Family Action, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Americans for Prosperity—Wisconsin, American Crossroads, the Republican Governors Association, Friends of Scott Walker and the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

One subpoena also demands “all records of income received, including fundraising information and the identity of persons contributing to the corporation.” In other words, tell us who your donors are.

The President of the Wisconsin Club For Growth states that there have been dawn raids on political entities where computer records and files have been seized. And they are demanding the names of donors that groups are not legally obligated to reveal.

The subpoenas don’t spell out a specific allegation, but the demands suggest the government may be pursuing a theory of illegal campaign coordination by independent groups during the recall elections. If prosecutors are pursuing a theory that independent conservative groups coordinated with candidate campaigns during the recall, their goal may be to transform the independent expenditures into candidate committees after the fact, requiring revision of campaign-finance disclosures and possible criminal charges.

The thing that make me skeptical, as the article goes on to mention, is that this has happened before. A previous investigation alleged that Walker had used his office as Milwaukee County Executive to campaign illegally. That three-year investigation was used by Walker’s recall opponent to slime him but produced only a handful of charges against a few staffers. It looks like the Democrats are using the same playbook — throw out a huge investigation so that Walker’s 2014 opponent can portray him as corrupt. And that they might intimidate Republican donors makes it all the sweeter.

We’ll see what comes out of this. I suspect the investigation will, like the previous one, drag out through the election, find some small violations and proclaim victory. But it’s yet another sign of how frustrated the Left is getting. They really thought that Wisconsin was some kind of turning point in American politics. It was … for conservatism. And they’re still hoping mad about it.

Walker Wins Again

Another setback for the unions:

A federal appeals court on Friday upheld Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious law stripping most public workers of nearly all of their collective bargaining rights in a decision hailed by Republicans but not undoing a state court ruling keeping much of the law from being in effect.

The decision marks the latest twist in a two-year battle over the law that Walker proposed in February 2011 and passed a month later despite massive protests and Senate Democrats leaving for Illinois in a failed attempt to block a vote on the measure.

There are a huge number of related lawsuits involved in this, including the state court ruling that the law couldn’t be applied to schools and local government employees. I suspect, at some point, this will come under one umbrella before SCOTUS.