Matthew Rothschild, executive director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, is concerned over big money dominating the direction of our democracy and over President Donald Trump, who, he said, is the most fascist-leaning president he has seen in his lifetime.
But Rothschild is also hopeful because more than 100 Wisconsin communities have passed a resolution favoring a constitutional amendment declaring that corporations do not have the same rights as citizens. And he is hopeful because the youth are marching against gun violence, citizen action groups are rising up and because a future Supreme Court decision could lead to redistricting prior to the November general election.
Rothschild, a progressive who often weighs in on state and federal issues as a guest on Wisconsin Public Radio, gave a presentation to over 80 people April 26 at the Hayward Veterans Center, an event organized by the local grass roots citizens group Up North Engaged.
The majority of Rothschild’s presentation hit a dire tone, especially aimed at Republican influencers. For instance, he said that down in Madison Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate had passed over 100 bills removing local control.
He cited several “billionaire donors,” who have given generously to Republican candidates in the state, especially Walker, such as Richard Uihlein, a business owner, giving $5 million to support Walker’s presidential bid; Diane Hendricks, who gave $500,000 to oppose Walker’s recall; and Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson.
Walker and the Republican-controlled government, he said, had earned an almost perfect scorecard for the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC), an association of manufacturers, service businesses and chambers of commerce.
But Rothschild did not spare the liberal left, as he also cited big donors on the left, such as the Uihlein sisters and financier George Soros. Our democracy, he said, should not be a battleground of largest donors on the left and right but rather a reflection of the will of the people.
“We don’t have a democracy in American anymore. We have an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery,” he said, quoting former President Jimmy Carter.
Besides the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision allowing unlimited dollars to political action committees (PACs), he decried 2015 changes to Wisconsin campaign finance law that lifted caps on political parties and direct contribution to candidates for many statewide offices to $20,000, even when the federal law limits contributions to presidential candidates to $2,700.
The political reality in America, he said, is that the “majority doesn’t rule” but the top 1 percent who contribute the majority of the campaign dollars, does rule and has the majority of the influence with politicians.
Another threat to democracy, he said, is President Trump, who has attacked the judiciary and the free press and institutions such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).
Rothschild said he wasn’t a fan of Bill or Hillary Clinton, who, he said, along with Trump, represent a “monetized aristocracy” that President Thomas Jefferson warned would be a threat to democracy.
In the past, he said, liberals and progressives often have used the “fascist” label on those they don’t agree with, but up until Trump took office, Rothschild said, he never used that term. But Trump, with his “ultra-nationalized message,” represents the closest move to fascism he has seen in his lifetime.
Rothschild added that former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, who served under President Bill Clinton, is sounding an alarm about fascist movements around the world and in the United States. She has warned that countries with a long history of democracies have suddenly become fascist, such as Chile in the 1970s.
He also expressed concern about the emergence of corporate media being used as a platform for a political party, citing the Sinclair Broadcast Group recently requiring all of its TV anchors to recite the same speech warning against “biased and false news” — a particularly Trumpian message.
On the positive side, he said, is the rise of Republicans who are critical of Trump, such as U.S. Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake of Arizona and conservative and Republican commentators who have been critical of Trump’s behavior.
He also said much of the corporate media has been aggressively reporting on Trump and correcting the record when the president does not tell the truth.
During the question-answer session that followed, Rothschild was challenged to acknowledge that in the Wisconsin U.S. senatorial race incumbent Senator Tammy Baldwin (D) also is being supported by large outside donations and that not all of the huge donations are going to Republicans. Rothschild agreed that was the case.
Concerning the Wisconsin redistricting case before the U.S. Supreme Court, he said there is a 50/50 chance of overturning Wisconsin’s redistricting. If the court finds the districts were unlawfully gerrymandered, he said, it would be a major victory for democracy.
Asked about the merits of a Constitutional Convention that over 25 states have voted to hold and needs 33 or 34 to be held, he cited concerns that the convention would not be limited to any agenda and could result in losing constitutional rights that are now guaranteed.
Before he concluded, Rothschild also was critical of Wisconsin’s photo ID law that, he said, led to some people not voting, especially the elderly and poor (who are known to vote for Democrats). He claimed that real intent of the law was “voter suppression.”
He encouraged attendees to register others to vote and encouraged young people to participate at the ballot box.