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Paul Ryan's rock star status brings campaign cash – even to opponent

By   /   July 17, 2012  /   2 Comments

By Ryan Ekvall │ Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan hasn’t been in a close race in a decade but continues to take in the lion’s share of Wisconsin’s congressional campaign contributions.

That’s good news for Ryan, a Republican, and the Republican candidates he supports. It’s also good news for opponents who have capitalized on Ryan’s national reputation for tight-fistedness, where federal budgets are concerned.

Federal campaign finance reports for Wisconsin’s congressional candidates show they raised a cumulative $3.6 million in the second quarter. Ryan, who outraised all other Wisconsin congressional hopefuls, took in just under $1 million in the second quarter, leaving him with a war chest — “arsenal” might be the better word — of $5.4 million.

“The message I am hearing from voters is that they demand leaders who are willing to address the challenges we face as a nation. They want the president’s health care law repealed, the crony capitalism halted, and our tax code reformed,” said Ryan in a statement. “Voters are fed up with the endless borrowing, spending, and taxing in Washington and want to get back on a path to prosperity.”

Ryan’s been on a path to political prosperity of his own. Since drafting a budget hailed by conservatives, Ryan has stepped onto the national scene, his arrival highlighted by his GOP response to President Barack Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address. More recently he’s appeared with presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney and Gov. Scott Walker at campaign rallies in Wisconsin. His name has been floated as Romney’s potential VP candidate.

All of that explains his remarkable magnetism as a fundraiser, and that $5.4 million war chest allows Ryan to play a larger role in national politics. Last quarter, Ryan gave $280,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee, a PAC dedicated to increasing the number of Republicans in Congress. This election cycle alone, his leadership political action committee, Prosperity PAC, has contributed more than $400,000 to Republican candidates — including $10,000 each to Wisconsin U.S. Reps. Sean Duffy, of District 7, and Reid Ribble, of District 8.

“That is a strategy typically used by ambitious politicians who want to curry favor with other politicians in their party,” said John McAdams, political scientist at Marquette University in Milwaukee. “It can be a strategy for seeking higher office by building up goodwill which might get you endorsements somewhere down the line or maybe a higher position in the Legislature — although chair of the Budget Committee seems like Ryan’s dream job.”

But there are two sides to every coin. Ryan’s national rock-star status among Republicans brings the whiplash from Democrats calling out Ryan’s policies. Rob Zerban, Ryan’s Democratic challenger in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District, raised $355,643 in the second quarter, making him the top Democrat among Wisconsin congressional candidates. Zerban now has $557,522 cash on hand.

Boosted by Ryan’s notoriety on the left, Zerban has received tremendous support from outside Wisconsin. His top 35 contributions come from outside the Badger State; only two of his top 50 contributions come from within Wisconsin’s borders. More than 80 percent of Zerban’s total fundraising comes from out of state, according to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks campaign fundraising and expenditures.

Sixty percent of Ryan’s contributions come from out of state, according to OpenSecrets, and he has received donations from all 50 states.

Zerban’s campaign did not respond to Wisconsin Reporter requests for comment.

“Nationwide there’s a fair amount of ideological money,” McAdams said. “You always saw that when Jesse Helms (a five-term former U.S. senator) was running in North Carolina. The same principle applies to Ryan. Ideological rock star on the right and a bogeyman on the political left, which means lots of people all over the country would be inclined to write Ryan a check or his opponent a check.”

The duo spent nearly $1 million combined last quarter; Ryan’s campaign accounted for nearly 75 percent of that. Since gaining office in 1998, Ryan has won re-election by a 2-1 margin every two years, even though the district voted a Democrat for president in the previous four elections.

“Congressman Ryan has offered specifics to the economic challenges we face and as a result, he has received support from Wisconsinites as well as others around the nation,” wrote press secretary Kevin Seifert in an email.

Other fundraising results

Ribble raised $401,690 and spent $127,182 last quarter and has $1 million cash on hand. His opponent, Jamie Wall raised $240,358 and has $542,206 in his war chest.

Democratic candidates for the Madison-area congressional primary — which is expected be more competitive than the general election — show state Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, raising nearly twice as much as state Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D-Madison, in the second quarter.

Pocan raised $248,634 in the second quarter, spent $140,589 and has $453,915 cash on hand. Roys raised $128,248, spent $110,985 and has $190,120.

Campaign finance reports show a third of Pocan’s fundraising efforts come from PACs — mostly from organized labor. That has drawn criticism from Roys.

“In his time in the Assembly, Mark became the proud bag man, raising big checks from whomever was willing to write them,” said Roys’ campaign manager Rick Coelho in a statement. “You can’t change the status quo when you are so eagerly participating in it.”

Pocan’s campaign took a more conciliatory tone responding to the assertions.

“These attacks misrepresent Mark’s long record of progressive accomplishments,” said Dan McNally, Pocan’s campaign manager in an email. “Rep. Roys should sign the clean campaign pledge signed by our campaign so we can talk about our records and the issues facing Wisconsin Families.”

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  • Jim

    Okay, so Ryan has way more money than his facist opponent. Why is this reporter trying to make it look more ominous than it is?


  • Mary

    I agree with Jim. The bottom line is who will win the vote of the people. Hopefully Ryan prevails!