March 12, 2011- On the day that the bill passed the Wisconsin Assembly effectively ending 50 years of collective bargaining in Wisconsin and eviscerating the ability of public unions to raise money through dues, a new front opened in the battle for the future of Wisconsin families.
Bagpipes blaring, hundreds of firefighters walked across the street from the Wisconsin Capitol building, stood outside the Marshall and Ilsley Bank (M&I Bank) and played a few tunes — loudly. Later, a group of firefighter and consumers stopped back in at the bank to make a few transactions. One by one they closed their accounts and withdrew their life savings, totaling approximately $190,000. See a video clip. After the last customer left, the bank quickly closed its doors, just in case the spontaneous "Move Your Money" moment caught fire.
The sedate, old fashioned M&I Bank on the Capitol Square has gained some notoriety in recent weeks. Oddly, a tunnel in the M&I parking garage links to the capitol basement. Dubbed the "rat hole" to the Walker palace, the tunnel was used by Governor Scott Walker to ferry lobbyists into the capitol building to hear his budget address during a time when the capitol was in a virtual lock down in defiance of a court order and after Sherriffs has quit the building refusing to be a "palace guard."
Now the bank is getting caught up in the controversy again. Word is beginning to spread that M&I is one of Walker's biggest backers. Top executives at M&I Bank have long been boosters of Walker. M&I Chief Executive Dennis Kuester and his wife gave $20,000 to Walker in recent years. When you package individual and PAC contributions by employers, M&I is number one — at $57,000 dollars. The firm apparently uses a conduit to bundle much of its money to Walker. Flyers, webpages, and Facebook sites have popped up encouraging WI consumers to boycott Walker campaign contributors and "Pull the Plug on M&I Bank." Other banks whose employees have donated large sums to Walker, such as Associated Bank and North Shore Bank may also be seeing their customers soon.
Joe Conway, President Madison Fire Fighters Local 311, explained to CMD that the action was totally spontaneous, but that "economic transparency" was going to be a big theme in the fight ahead. "Groups will be sending letters to Walker's major donors giving them the opportunity to support the teachers, firefighters and police in their community." Conway is well aware that new polling shows that 74% of Wisconsin families support collective bargaining rights for public workers.
Two of these letters are already in the mail to M&I Bank and Kwik Trip. "The undersigned groups would like your company to publicly oppose Governor Walker's efforts to virtually eliminate collective bargaining for public employees in Wisconsin. In the event that you cannot support this effort to save collective bargaining, please be advised that the undersigned will publicly and formally boycott the goods and services provided by your company," the letter says. "However, if you join us, we will do everything in our power to publicly celebrate your partnership in the fight to preserve the right of public employees to be heard at the bargaining table."
The letters are signed by the heads of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association, the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 311, Madison Teachers Inc., Dane County Deputy Sheriffs Association and the Madison Professional Police Officers Association.
Just the Beginning
Walker's list of campaign contributors is already in wide circulation on websites like "Scott Walker Watch" and fast-growing Facebook pages like "Boycott Scott Walkers Contributors". These grassroots efforts are backed up by solid names and numbers extracted from the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) database, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that tracks money in politics.
The WDC data shows that Walker's major contributors include a diversity of national and state-based firms including Koch Brother Industries, AT&T, Walmart, John Deere Tractor, Johnsonville Brats, Miller/Coors, Kwik Trip, Sargento Cheese, and SC Johnson & Sons (producers of Windex, Glade, Pledge etc). The letter writing effort is being undertaken not to put people out of work, but to encourage workers to let their bosses know it is time to reconsider their support for Walker's newly revealed radical agenda.
Sam Hokin, a Wisconsinite and small businessman who started the Facebook page in the early days of the protest, put the strategy bluntly: "The only thing the Republicans care about is money. The only way you can touch them is through their revenue. They don't care about signs and protesters. They don't care about the opinion of the majority of the people in the state, their bottom line is money." Unions, pension funds, cities and counties and average consumers bank at these banks and support these firms by buying their products and services. They have tremendous clout in Wisconsin's small economy.