But the bigger confusion concerned Citizens United. It turns out, of course, that not a dollar that made its way into the Walker or Barrett campaign would have been kept out had Citizens United gone the other way at the Supreme Court. Citizens United related not to contributions to candidates' campaigns, but to contributions by corporations and unions to organizations that made independent expenditures. In Wisconsin, Walker outraised Barrett by $30 million to $4 million. This occurred in part because Walker raised money for months before he knew who his opponent would be. Also, Wisconsin law, both before Citizens United and after, allows a governor to raise unlimited contributions for such a recall effort.
Barrett had to raise money for the Democratic primary fight and then raise more in the short period before the recall vote, with lower limits on the maximum size of his contributions, also as set by Wisconsin law. Were a Republican effort made to recall a Democratic governor in Wisconsin, the exact same limits for both the governor and the recall opponent would have been in place, favoring the Democratic incumbent. The outside party expenditures favored Walker by $15 to $5 million without counting the union money, and favored the recall effort by $25 million to $15 million, with the union money included.
In other words, the outside expenditures favored Barrett and the recall, after including the union contributions. The unions spent a lot of money before the Democratic candidate was known, to gather the roughly one million signatures that were sufficient to generate the recall election and then to help their preferred candidate in the Democratic primary (who lost). It is entirely artificial to include only union money in the one month after Barrett was nominated.
Greg Sargent, a left-wing columnist for the Washington Post, admitted that the Walker/Barrett funding disparity had its roots in state law:
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