By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Wisconsinites on Monday got their most detailed look yet at the river of campaign cash flowing through the state.
Gov. Scott Walker has raised $13 million since Jan. 18, more than doubling the $12.1 million he raised last year.
“It’s a very, very short campaign, but yet huge amounts of money get spent, so I don’t know that anything would surprise me anymore,” said Mike McCabe, director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonprofit that tracks campaign spending, speaking before the Walker campaign announced its totals.
With primaries on May 8, those involved in the upcoming recall elections of Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state Republican senators have until midnight Monday to submit campaign finance reports to the Government Accountability Board, or GAB, the state election agency, detailing their campaign contributions and expenditures through April 23.
Walker’s fundraising prowess was a key question on experts’ minds.
State law allows politicians facing a recall effort to raise unlimited money until an election is ordered.
So, until the end of March, when GAB certified the drive to recall the embattled governor and called a June 5 general election, Walker’s campaign contributors could give him as much as they wanted — enabling, for example, Houston home builder Bob Perry to donate $500,000 to the Walker campaign.
“I’m sure (the Walker race is) going to dwarf other state elections” around the country, said national campaign finance expert Frank Askin, who teaches at Rutgers Law School in New Jersey.
Walker’s campaign said the governor’s record was driven in large part by strong grassroots’ support and “bold reforms.”
“Because of the overwhelming support for the governor, we can continue to speak to voters about how Gov. Walker plans to move Wisconsin forward, while Democrat opponents plan to take Wisconsin backwards to higher taxes, record job loss and massive deficits,” said Walker spokeswoman Ciara Matthews.
The $13 million came from a total of 125,926 contributions — 96,292 of those at $50 or less, representing 76.4 percent of the overall number of contributions, according to the campaign.
America’s eyes have been trained on Wisconsin politics since February 2011, when Walker proposed systemic changes to collective bargaining for most of the state’s public union employees, including increased employee contributions to pension and health-care plans, and eliminatated collective bargaining for all but cost-of-living salary increases.
The upcoming recalls are just the latest chapter in that story.
Last summer’s recalls targeted nine state senators for their roles in the collective bargaining saga, three Democrats who left the state to stall a vote on Act 10, the collective bargaining bill. Two of six GOP senators lost their seats.
Candidates, political committees and interest groups spent $44 million in those nine races, according to the WDC.
In the latest money chase, Walker far outdistanced his potential Democratic challengers, but the front-runner Democrats raked in plenty of inside and outside money in their bid to knock out Walker.
“Wisconsin used to be known as one of the great clean money states,” said Jonathan Krasno, a campaign finance expert who teaches political science at Binghamton University in New York. “It’s no longer that. The system has really broken down now.”
Campaign reports weren’t due until midnight, but some details from campaigns and interest groups trickled in throughout Monday, with some candidates previewing their reports last week.
The campaigns of the two Democratic front-runners, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, announced their candidates raised $750,000 and $1 million, respectively.
Barrett on Monday evening updated his numbers, reporting that he raised $830,000 over the period, with $475,000 on hand. Barrett has been in the race for a month.
Falk and Barrett face state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma and Secretary of State Doug La Follette in the upcoming primary.
Falk, who has pledged to veto any state budget that doesn’t restore collective bargaining powers, has garnered much of her support from the state’s major unions.
Wisconsin’s largest teachers union, the Wisconsin Education Association Council, donated $40,826 to the Falk campaign and $742,224 to the Wisconsin for Falk political action committee.
“It’s been an unbelievably successful showing of the strong grassroots movement my campaign has earned,” Falk said of her campaign collections thus far.
Barrett’s report detailed report was not available as of Monday evening.
Walker has a primary of his own, although his opponent, political activist Arthur Kohl-Riggs, has raised $2,045 — less than .015 percent of Walker’s haul.
Kohl-Riggs, though, has said he is not a “protest” or “fake” candidate like those the Republican Party of Wisconsin openly has fielded to run as Democrats to ensure that Democrats have a primary in each of the races.
Walker, as the person targeted by the recall effort, was the only gubernatorial candidate allowed to collect contributions above the state’s contribution caps, including a $10,000 limit on individuals contributing to a gubernatorial campaign.
That has enabled him to be on the airwaves for months touting the benefits of the reforms he has pushed.
Still, Krasno said, the law of diminishing returns is in play in politics.
“The first 10 times I see a commercial, maybe I’m moved by it,” he said. “But the next 100 times I see it? I’ve zoned out.”
Recall elections are being held in four state Senate districts, including for the seat vacated by Sen. Pam Galloway, R-Wausau. Republicans are running state Rep. Jerry Petrowski, of Marathon, in her stead.
According to the GAB and the Associated Press:
- Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald’s, R-Juneau, campaign said he has raised $230,000 and has $430,000 on hand. His opponent Lori Compas, a Fort Atkinson Democrat who faces a “fake” or “protest” candidate in next week’s primary, said she has raised $100,000 and has $85,000 on hand.
- The report for GOP Sen. Terry Moulton, of Chippewa Falls, report wasn’t yet available Monday evening, but his opponent, former state Rep. Kristen Dexter, D-Eau Claire, reported that she had garnered $102,000 and had $47,000 on hand.
- Petrowski‘s campaign raised $86,512.91 and ends the first quarter with $78,819.16 on hand. His opponent, state Rep. Donna Seidel’s, D-Wausau, report was not yet available.
- Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, raised $130,657.26 and has $191,033.13 on hand. His opponent, the former state senator also from Racine John Lehman’s report was not available.
- Kleefisch’s campaign raised $540,562.20 and finished the quarter with $424,855.94 on hand. Her Democratic opponents Mahlon Mitchell and Ira Robbins‘ reports were not yet available.
Ryan Ekvall contributed to this report.