Still Waiting For State Democratic Party Leadership To Listen To The Grass Roots

Fixing the problems of money hijacking our democracy will not be done with money.

By Tom Crofton
The Commoner Call (1/14/19)

The leadership of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) is traveling the state to discuss the recent elections. Unfortunately the lessons the grassroots have learned are not on the agenda. The listening sessions are advertised as a chance to get feedback from the activists, but are really a chance for the activists to listen to the leadership. We have heard the message before, “raise more money”.

Those of us who have run grassroots campaigns in rural areas know how hard it is to get donations from rural people. Our leadership instructs us to find the well-off, part-time residents who are able to pony up hundreds or thousands per contact instead of wasting time talking to folks who  have little to offer. This makes great business sense but does very little to organize non-voters and to develop an understanding of issues that will resonate with the electorate.

Highly paid consultants take over the media purchases and do not use local resources. Our area has many small radio stations that will help candidates make their own radio commercials for free. This is ignored by the big money guys.

Huge amounts of slick mailers are produced that fill the waste baskets of voters. This just ends up pissing them off. They rarely offer detailed ideas for solutions to the problems of the people because the consultants are not interested in changing the system that supports them. The trade-off for going big is to avoid the most controversial issues so as to not annoy the donors; and money becomes the biggest issue of all.

The most effective movements are not campaigns, they are face-to-face human interaction based on local issues that develop bonds of community the money folks have zero comprehension of.

But we shouldn’t argue with success, if there is any. But there’s the rub. The vote totals of the high-powered, big money campaigns are no different than the people-powered ones; using the methods of the Republicans turns us into them.

The leadership does not want to hear that:

  • The DPW intentionally did not create a fair non partisan redistricting board in 2009 when it had undivided control of the State, because it wanted to gerrymander in its favor.


  • The DPW does not want single payer health care because it (and/or its candidates) take money from the for-profit health care industry.


  • The DPW does not want an empowered rural presence in the State, but it does want rural people to knock doors and give money.


  • The DPW does not want to have public financing for candidates in lieu of individual fundraising because it would lose control.
An alternative issue-based strategy would develop a real platform for candidates to run on, and would include the financial support to educate the public on its benefits including:
  • Establish a ten year plan to transition all state operations away from fossil fuels and assist local governments to do the same.
  • Develop pilot programs to make public buildings, including rural schools, energy independent in a distributed energy generation plan that uses local resources to power and heat the buildings. The use of local renewable energy sources would create jobs, increase the tax base,  and save money; while lowering imported energy costs and provide a new revenue stream for education while transitioning from fossil fuels.
  • Develop a state wide campaign for single payer health care that clearly explains the health benefits and cost savings. This requires an education campaign to break right wing propaganda about the difference between premiums and taxes, and the difference between health care (a human right) and health insurance (which we do not need).
  • Create a public finance program for campaigns that replaces private contributions, saves money, and reduces the forever campaign season that has emerged.
  • Establishing an Iowa style non-partisan  redistricting commission.
  • To assist the local parties the State should use its fundraising abilities to fund permanent offices anywhere two Democrats stand up to say they want to operate one.


  • To assist candidates the party should operate a literature and sign making operation to cut out the consultants currently sucking up the gravy.


  • To assist candidates the state should create modern media operation to use information technology effectively throughout the state. To develop a stronger membership the party should use its field people as community organizers to get to know the non-voters in their neighborhoods and to build interest in working directly for change instead of asking for bi-annual votes.
And the latter is the key to it all. The most effective movements are not campaigns, they are face-to-face human interaction based on local issues that develop bonds of community the money folks have zero comprehension of. They require a permanent presence and a willingness to get down in the dirt and the weeds.
Fixing the problems of money hijacking our democracy will not be done with money. The funds we acquire need to be used to create a permanent support network for the grassroots to thrive.
Are you listening?
Tom Crofton ran for Wisconsin Assembly in 2008, winning the primary; Richland County Board three terms, and the Assembly in 2016. Organized the Carpenters for a Democratic Union in Madison and the Rural Caucus of the DPW. A retired carpenter currently raising grass-fed beef and very concerned about the climate crisis, health care, and blue collar issues.
(Commoner Call cartoons by Mark L. Taylor, 2017. Open source and free for non-derivative use with link to )