By Kirsten Adshead | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON – Gov. Scott Walker took 54 personal days, not including weekends, through the first 10 months of 2012, a Wisconsin Reporter analysis shows.
Walker, who earns $144,423 a year plus benefits as governor, has raised record amounts of campaign money in his first two years in office.
And the Wisconsin Reporter review indicates that much of his “personal” time was spent out of state on fundraising or campaign-style trips.
“Governor Walker’s not the first governor to keep up a very ambitious political travel schedule, but I have to say he’s taken it to a level we haven’t seen before,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks election-related spending.
Asked several times to answer questions regarding the governor’s schedule, the governor’s communications staff responded Friday afternoon with a short email from Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie, “Much of the personal time was spent on the recall. Most Wisconsin citizens did not expect the Governor to face an election half way through his term.”
Werwie did not immediately respond to a follow-up question asking how many paid vacation days the governor’s benefit package allows.
Sunshine Review compiles information on Wisconsin state employees’ benefits, including paid time off, here, but the information is from 2010, and it’s unclear whether that information pertains to the governor’s office.
In determining that Walker had taken 54 personal days through the end of October, Wisconsin Reporter included any day in which the governor worked less than 90 minutes on official state business but marked the rest of the day as “personal.”
For example, several days were marked “personal” except for an early morning staff call.
But not included as a personal day was any day in which the governor worked more than 90 minutes.
That excludes, therefore, multiple days when Walker may have worked as little as two hours on official business, or days when he worked only a half-day.
McCabe said the governor’s schedule speaks to a larger issue.
“… We have a Congress that raises money year-round,” he said. “It’s nonstop. It’s day in, day out. We have state legislators who never stop fundraising.
“It not only takes them away from the job that they’re elected to do, but it also has a huge impact on what issues get discussed and what agendas get advanced,” he said.
What the governor is doing
The governor’s calendar gives no details on what Walker does during his “personal” time, and his staff has been mum on the issue.
But comparing his schedule to other information sources, it’s clear that much of Walker’s personal time is spent on more than hanging out at his Wauwatosa home with his wife and sons.
According to the website, Walker hosted a “Romney Victory Inc.” event on July 11 in Washington, DC.
Walker’s calendar shows he had off July 9-12, except for a few phone calls before the National Governors Association meeting July 13-15 in Williamsburg, Va.
Walker also had “personal” time scheduled at the same time as a June 30 event, called a “reception with Paul Ryan and Scott Walker” at the Lake Geneva home of Vincent and Patricia Kolber.
He attended an event sponsored by the conservative Faith & Freedom Coalition during the Republican National Convention in August in Tampa, Fla., a YouTube interview shows.
And Walker took a personal day also on April 17, the same day he was in St. Louis at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, accepting the Harlon B. Carter Award.
Walker also has been criticized for detailing his policy plans outside of Wisconsin, before sharing his goals before people back home, including remarks he made following a speech Nov. 16 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in California.
“The governor is a striking example of an elected official who is very distracted by campaigning and fundraising at a time when he should be focused on governing,” McCabe said. “But this is not a problem that’s unique to our governor.”
Indeed, if the extent of Walker’s time off seems atypical, well, it has been an atypical year.
Walker is the only Wisconsin governor to face a recall, which was held June 5, fueled by anger over the changes he pushed through that curtailed collective-bargaining for most unionized public employees.
Walker also is the only governor in the country to ever survive a recall election.
Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, said regardless of a person’s opinion of whether the recall election should have been held, the effect was that Walker had to raise money and campaign at a time when normally he’d be able to focus on state business.
This also was a presidential election year, and Walker’s favored role in conservative circles made him a popular guest at events around the country.
“I think it’s an unusual circumstance,” Heck said. “It is a lot of time that a governor, any governor, would be taking off to work on a partisan political activity. But, again, (the situation is) unprecedented.”
Wisconsin Reporter attempted to obtain a copy of former Gov. Jim Doyle’s schedules from the time he was governor for comparison.
But the Legislative Reference Bureau staff said they didn’t have Doyle’s schedules, and the Department of Administration said the governor’s office would have the former governor’s calendars archived.
Walker’s office, however, did not immediately respond to repeated requests for Doyle’s calendars, even to say if the schedules had been archived.
Doyle wasn’t known among reporters as a paragon of transparency.
But McCabe said the former governor was more open about his travel plans that Walker has been to-date.
“There should be transparency about where the governor is traveling and under what circumstances the governor is traveling,” he said.
Does it matter?
McCabe blames the high cost of elections for the fact that fundraising, not just for Walker but for many other lawmakers, has become a full-time job.
Candidates, political parties and interest groups spent $81 million on the gubernatorial recall, according to McCabe’s group.
And spending for the 2012 election, nationally, reached $6 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The problem with lawmakers, be it Walker, members of Congress or the Legislature, spending so much time fundraising, is that constant campaigning not only distracts from governing, but shapes governance as well, McCabe said.
Much of Wisconsin is rural, he noted, but he said rural problems get pushed to the side because most campaign funds come from urban areas.
“Politicians can’t make any money talking about rural issues,” he said.
Heck said that, although Walker may be getting a lot of attention from conservative circles, too much travel, in the eyes of voters, can be a risk.
“The lure of national limelight can sometimes be dangerous for politics who don’t mind their homefires,” Heck said. “Just ask Tommy Thompson.”
Thompson, the former four-term governor, left his post to work in the President George W. Bush administration.
In November, Thompson lost his bid for U.S. Senate to Democrat Tammy Baldwin, in part, Heck said , because voters believed Thompson’s attachment to Wisconsin had waned.
Walker’s victory in the recall was due in part to people who disagreed with the recall election in principle, regardless of whether they like the governor.
“He’s not going to have that kind of leeway in 2014,” Heck said. “Voters are going to look at his performance.”
As a result, Heck said, “I would be surprised to be honest with you if Scott Walker does not spend more time in Wisconsin in the next two years and less time traveling around the country, no matter how popular he is with conservatives. And if I was his adviser, that’s what I’d advise.”
Contact Adshead at [email protected]
— Edited by Kelly Carson, [email protected]