The vast rightwing conspiracy took a big dose steroids this fall, and we are seeing the results all over the country in local elections where insidious national forces come to play.
If you had any doubt about the shadowy role of national rightwing money in state and local elections, check out the New York Times yesterday: "To Koch Group, No Election is Too Small."
Or listen to NPR this morning: "From Social Welfare Groups, A River of Political Influence."
The Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity pours money into a mayoral race and city council elections in Coralville, Iowa, as well as local tax referenda in small towns and cities in Kansas, Ohio, and Texas, the Times reports.
A rightwing "social welfare" group runs ads smearing a state supreme court justice, in order to tip the balance of power in favor of polluters on the Michigan Supreme Court, according to an investigation by NPR and the Center for Responsive Politics.
Such secretive issue groups increased their federal political spending more than 80 fold between the 2004 and 2012 election cycles, NPR and the Center for Responsive Politics report.
And the right dominates that massive cash infusion. In the 2012 elections, conservative groups were five of the six nonprofit entities that spent $10 million or more on political ads.
Nowhere is the experience of having your state and local community hijacked by rightwing money more vivid than in Wisconsin.
Ever since the blow-up of 2011, Wisconsinites have watched in horror as our state is transformed according to a national rightwing playbook.
Teachers and public employees come under attack. A great public school system is gutted by historic budget cuts. An unsuccessful voucher program pioneered in Milwaukee is taken statewide -- over the vociferous objections of the local communities that got the vouchers -- so tax dollars now cover private school tuition for thousands of families, a majority of whom never even sent their kids to public school.
Up north, a mining company has been fighting to overcome state environmental rules and local control to ram through its plan for a massive, polluting mine in a sensitive watershed.
The list goes on: voter ID, concealed carry, transvaginal ultrasound. You name it, Wisconsin got it over the last couple of years.
If you want to know what new, awful policies are coming down the pike, all you need to do is read Wisconsin Reporter, the rightwing media outfit that began covering the Wisconsin capitol in -- you guessed it -- 2011, while regular news organizations saw staff cuts and a decline in state news coverage.
To read Wisconsin Reporter is to shudder.
When Wisconsin Reporter's Matt Kittle wrote a piece this year about groups calling for Wisconsin's top-rated, fully funded public employee pension fund to be privatized and gutted, it was an ominous sign.
But the rightwing takeover of both news and local politics is not just a policy issue. It's personal.
Nasty, personal attacks -- like the dirty ads against candidates in what were once cordial, neighborly races (well described in that NPR piece) have a coarsening effect.
So do increasingly nasty rightwing blogs.
I attended an Americans for Prosperity seminar for rightwing bloggers in Milwaukee last year, where rightwing talk radio personalities Vicki McKenna and Brian Schimming explained to a bunch of basement bloggers that they should use ridicule and derision to make their points.
This kind of aggression pays off.
It intimidates and cows the other side.
And, by getting out in front of stories -- especially stories that might be damaging -- the right gets to set the terms of debate.
Take the recent revelations of a new, five-county John Doe investigation in Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Reporter has been all over the story -- breaking the news that the same network of conservative groups who have so infiltrated our state (and with whom it is allied) are targets of the Doe.
Pumping out stories on the investigation, Wisconsin reporter has been busy scooping the rest of the state media, at the same time it derides the investigation as politically motivated and "an abuse of prosecutorial power."
Meanwhile, the rest of the Wisconsin press corps is behind the curve.
Granted, reporting on a top-secret John Doe investigation is hard. From a reporting standpoint, it helps a lot to have personal connections to the investigation's targets.
The John Doe investigation that dogged Governor Scott Walker through the recall election ultimately resulted in six convictions and sent several of Walker's closest aides to prison for stealing funds and other campaign violations.
The sheer sleaziness of the revelations from Walker's time as Milwaukee County Exec were so lurid, many hoped they would cost Walker the election -- or even put the governor himself behind bars.
But shortly after Walker beat the recall effort and remained in office, the Milwaukee Country D.A. announced he had not connected Walker to any wrongdoing, and closed the case.
Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski lost it, and sent out a career-ending tweet comparing Scott Walker to noted Wisconsin cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer.
It was a depressing end to the most dramatic chapter in Wisconsin political history. And Wisconsin Reporter was there to rub it in.
Graeme Zielinski is a favorite target for the group. They bash him within seconds on Twitter, every time he raises his head.
And Zielinski is not the only one. That snarky tone has gone viral.
So I wondered what I was in for when I met Matt Kittle in person for the first time recently, on a WisconsinEye panel about educational reporting.
He was cordial and friendly, and surprisingly agreeable as we talked about vouchers and public schools. He agreed when I made a point about the bad test scores in Milwaukee voucher schools, and about poverty being a big driver of poor academic performance. He even nodded as we talked about the damage to teacher morale of the attack on collective bargaining rights.
And then he slipped this in: in many communities, he said, convicted felons are teaching in classrooms and there is nothing local school districts can do to get them fired.
You have to hand it to the right -- they are coordinated, disciplined, and good at what they do.
No one can accuse the so-called liberal media of discipline or coordination.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Mike Tate has been pushing columns by liberal Capital Times editor Paul Fanlund excoriating progressives who want a primary in the next governor's race.
Progressive blogger Jud Lounsbury attacks Tate's candidate, Mary Burke, for outsourcing jobs to China.
Meanwhile, the rightwing machine rolls on.
It might not be Democrats or progressives who push the Koch-funded rightwing machine out of our local communities, our media, or our elections, but just sheer citizen disgust.
In Iowa, at least, voters have been rebelling against the Americans for Prosperity influence on the Corallville city council race.
People don't like out-of-state interests taking over community issues. But the right is busy digging in deep in local communities, and it will take a lot of grassroots energy to combat all that money, power, and snark.
Photo: Flickr user Richard Hurd, creative commons licensed.