Wisconsin's Scott Walker poised to bury recall foes in money chase

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker raised $4.5 million in a recent five-week period – vastly more than his opponents. The sum might scare off unions from spending big money in a potential recall election.

Steve Kinderman/Eau Claire Leader-Telegram/AP
Gov. Scott Walker outlines phase one of his 'Wisconsin Working' plan at Phillips Plastics in Eau Claire, Wis., earlier this month. He is facing a potential recall election.

Even though the election to recall Gov. Scott Walker (R) of Wisconsin is months away, it is already gearing up to be an expensive fight. 

Governor Walker has raised more in campaign donations to fight the recall effort than he did to win his seat less than two years ago. In fact, his fundraising advantage over unions leading the recall effort is so massive that unions are now questioning how much they should try to compete.

With other states including Indiana, Ohio and Florida gearing up for antiunion fights, some labor leaders are wary of dumping valuable resources into Wisconsin. 

The AFL-CIO “always expects to be outspent,” spokesman Jeff Hauser told The Hill, Capitol Hill's newspaper. But Wisconsin is indicative of a deeper problem, he added, because “the margin of being outspent is greater in 2012 than it’s ever been before.”

With big business pushing Republicans nationwide to take on unions – the primary opposition to their pro-business agenda – antiunion measures are getting substantial financial backing. In Wisconsin, the disparities are stark. 

In a filing with the state’s election agency Monday, Walker disclosed that he raised about $4.5 million in the five-week period running between Dec. 11 and Jan. 17. During the past year, between Jan. 1, 2011, and Jan. 17, 2012, he raised a total of $12 million.

Walker has been actively campaigning on his record and courting donors since it became apparent last year a possible recall election loomed. In the past five weeks he spent about $4.9 million, leaving about $2.7 million in his campaign coffers.

By contrast, in the same recent five-week period, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin raised $394,213. United Wisconsin, an organization affiliated with labor unions, raised $86,379.

The recall effort is a result of public anger that developed a year ago when Walker pushed through a bill that limited collective bargaining for many public-sector unions. Wisconsin voters successfully removed two Republican state senators from office in a recall election last summer. This current recall effort also targets Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state senators.

At the moment, Walker is benefiting from a loophole in Wisconsin election law that allows candidates to raise unlimited funds between the beginning of petition gathering and the deadline for the election board to authorize a recall election. Petition gathering began in November and the election board might not be ready to authorize a recall until March.

Under normal rules, donors are limited to $10,000 contributions and nonaffiliated groups are limited to $43,128.

About 45 percent of the $4.5 million Walker collected during the last two reporting periods originated from outside groups giving $250,000 or more.

WisPolitics.com, an online media outlet in Madison, reported that two contributions totaling $500,000 came from Texas billionaire Bob Terry, who was a major financier of Swift Boat Veterans For Truth, the group known for the attack campaign against Democratic Sen. John Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004.

Other major contributors include Sarah Atkins of TAMKO Building Products of Joplin, Mo.; Stanley Herzog, CEO of Herzog Contracting Corp. in St. Joseph, Mo.; H. Ross Perot, son of the presidential candidate; and Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein of Lake Forest, Ill., who are founders of Uline, a shipping supply company. In December, Walker helped Uline break ground on a new 640,000-square-foot facility in Hudson, Wis.

Walker raised $11 million for his inaugural run for governor in 2010, outpacing all his competitors. But about 93 percent of that money originated from in-state donors, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, a nonpartisan nonprofit in Helena, Mont., that tracks campaign contributions.

Democratic Party Spokesman Graeme Zielinski told the Wisconsin State Journal Tuesday that his organization realizes it’s “going to be outspent” but suggested that the opposition will have enough votes to recall Walker. 

“We’re bracing for that money stream, but money can’t vote. We are one million strong,” Mr. Zielinski said.

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