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Behind the rhetoric: The in-state, out-of-state campaign money debate

Gov. Scott Walker and recall challenger Tom Barrett have traded accusations about out-of-state money in the race. Gov. Scott Walker and recall challenger Tom Barrett have traded accusations about out-of-state money in the race.

Gov. Scott Walker and recall challenger Tom Barrett have traded accusations about out-of-state money in the race.

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher May 22, 2012

How much is the rest of America tuned in to the Wisconsin recall elections?

The amount of out-of-state money pouring in -- more of it, so far, aiding Gov. Scott Walker than challenger Tom Barrett -- has caught notice 1,300 miles west in the Treasure State.

"Clearly, what's going on in Wisconsin is well above the norm," said Denise Roth Barber, managing director of the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which is based in Helena, Mont.

It’s well known that Walker has raised far more than Barrett, even as the Republican governor decries money from "big government union bosses" in Washington and Milwaukee’s Democratic mayor accuses Walker of being "beholden to out-of-state special interests."

But let’s cast aside the rhetoric and take a closer look at the money coming in from outside of Wisconsin ahead of the June 5, 2012 elections.

One note: More money is being raised and spent every day, so we focused our look at contributions and spending as of April 23, 2012, when the latest regular campaign finance reports were due to the state Government Accountability Board.

(You can compare candidates and groups side-by-side in an interactive graphic created by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that covers contributions dating back to Jan. 1, 2011. It will be updated as more reports are filed.)


We’ll start with money contributed to the candidates, including Barrett and his three main challengers in the May 8, 2012 primary: former Dane County executive Kathleen Falk, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout of Alma and Secretary of State Doug LaFollette.

Since some unions heavily backed Falk, looking at the candidates as a group provides a better picture of money raised in pursuit of removing Walker from office.

Walker raised the most money and had the highest percentage of money coming from outside of Wisconsin.

Candidate Total raised Pct. from out of state Walker $25.3 million 57 percent Falk $993,845 48 percent Barrett $831,510 13 percent LaFollette $118,088 3 percent Vinehout $93,999 10 percent

In the 2010 governor’s race, Walker raised just 7 percent of his funds from outside of Wisconsin, compared with 13 percent for Barrett, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Over the past 10 years among gubernatorial candidates who raised at least $100,000, those collecting the largest proportion from out of state were the late Ed Thompson, a Libertarian and brother of former Gov. Tommy Thompson, in 2002 (23 percent of $453,000); and former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle in 2006 (21 percent of $7.17 million).  

So the percentages for Walker -- and Falk -- far exceed those.

In the recall, Walker’s largest out-of-state contribution was $500,000 from Bob Perry, owner of Houston-based Perry Homes. The largest overall contributors were the Wisconsin Republican Party ($537,601) and Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks ($510,000).

(In a film that surfaced in May 2012 and become campaign fodder, Walker told Hendricks in January 2011 that his strategy against unions was "divide and conquer.")

Walker has been able to raise unlimited contributions from individuals and groups since the first petitions seeking the recall election were filed in November 2011. He can continue collecting unlimited contributions for the recall until they total the amount of recall expenses he incurred as of March 30, 2012, the day the state ordered the recall election, said Reid Magney, spokesman for the Government Accountability Board.

Barrett, meanwhile, didn’t enter the race until the day recall election was ordered by the board. He has received a number of $10,000 contributions -- the usual limit for state candidates.

Barrett has claimed that 60 to 70 percent of Walker’s contributions came from outside of Wisconsin; that’s on target only if you consider just the $13 million Walker received in 2012. Two-thirds of Walker’s money came from out of state during that period. But overall, as we noted, 57 percent of contributions to Walker since January 2011 came from out of state.

Walker has stressed that most of his contributions are small, saying 76 percent of them were $50 or less. We found he’s essentially correct. To put it another way, 73 percent of his $25 million came from donations of $50 and less.

We wondered whether the size of the average contribution to Walker is larger than that to Barrett, given that Walker has collected six-figure checks. We found that is not the case.

Candidate Average in-state contribution Average out-of-state contribution Walker $142 $115 Barrett $141 $112

Political parties

The Republican Party of Wisconsin, which claims it has made more than 2 million voter contact calls since January 2012, raised nearly twice as much money as the state Democratic Party. And a larger proportion of it came from out of state.

According to The Washington Post, the state Democratic Party is angry that the national party hasn’t made a similar major investment in the recall.

Party Total raised Pct from out of state Republican Party $3.26 million 38 percent Democratic Party $1.69 million 33 percent

Wisconsin interest groups

Two Wisconsin-based groups that have spent money independent of the candidates in an effort to unseat Walker got most of their money from Wisconsin donors.

Interest group Total raised Pct from out of state Wisconsin for Falk $4.46 million 31 percent United Wisconsin $539,330 29 percent

Since the latest regular campaign finance reports were filed with the state, other Wisconsin groups have also become involved in the race. They include the We Are Wisconsin labor group and the Greater Wisconsin Committee, both working to oust Walker.

Out-of-state groups

Two groups based outside of Wisconsin that aren’t required to disclose the sources of their money have made expenditures on Walker’s behalf.

Group Headquarters Recall expenditures Republican Governors Assn Washington, D.C. $4.88 million Americans for Prosperity Arlington, Va. $2.7 million*

*Wisconsin Democracy Campaign estimate

The Republican Governors Association, which has run TV ads against Barrett and Falk, is the biggest-spending group in the recall, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks money in politics. The governors association makes its expenditures through the Right Direction Wisconsin political action committee.

Americans for Prosperity, which works closely with tea party activists and has been funded by the conservative Koch family, is not required to report its expenditures, said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. But he said his organization has estimated the group’s expenditures based primarily on TV ads it is running.

The most recent regular reports show the total raised by the four Democrats, the Democratic Party and the two anti-Walker groups is $8.7 million. Since groups such as We Are Wisconsin and the Greater Wisconsin Committee have only recently gotten involved, their spending isn’t yet clear. But so far Walker’s claim that "tens of millions of dollars" from out-of-state union interests is being spent against him has not come to pass.

McCabe said he believes some groups opposed to Walker didn’t spend a lot earlier in the race because, even though Walker spent huge sums, polls showed him roughly even with Barrett.  

Both Walker and Barrett have said they expect much more out-of-state money to be spent and some observers agree.

Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin, which lobbies to curb big-money contributions, said he expects more out-of-state money will go to Barrett before the election but not on the scale of out-of-state money aiding Walker.

Heck said donors outside of Wisconsin are motivated to give, depending on their political persuasion, because they want to see Walker’s reforms replicated or squelched in other states. The recall is also a "mini-barometer" on the presidential election and the result could give a "psychological boost" either to President Barack Obama or likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney, he said.

The candidates are required to file within 24 hours reports of any donations of $500 or more that they receive.  

The next full campaign finance reports are due May 29, a week before the election.

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Our Sources, video of Scott Walker campaign speech in La Crosse, May 5, 2012, video of Tom Barrett campaign speech in Stevens Point, May 5, 2012

La Crosse Tribune, "Candidates come to town," May 5, 2012

Stevens Point Journal, "Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett visits Stevens Point," May 5, 2012

PolitiFact Wisconsin, "Behind the rhetoric: Why Scott Walker was able to raise unlimited funds," May 7, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Democrats file 1 million signatures for Walker recall," Jan. 18, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, interactive graphic of gubernatorial recall contributions, May 1, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Spending on Walker recall already surpasses previous record," May 2, 2012

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Walker raises $13 million since January," April 30, 2012

Interview, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe, May 9, 2012

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, contributions exceeding $1,000 to Scott Walker campaign, Jan. 18, 2012 through April 23, 2012

Republican Party of Wisconsin, video (at 8:20) of Gov. Scott Walker speaking on primary election night, posted May 9, 2012

WGBA-TV, video of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett speaking on primary election night, May 8, 2012

Interview, National Institute on Money in State Politics managing director Denise Roth Barber, May 10, 2012

Interview and email interview, National Institute on Money in State Politics researcher Kevin McNellis, May 14, 2012

Interview and email interview, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board communications director Reid Magney, May 14 and 15, 2012

Scott Walker campaign, "Grassroots donors fuel Walker fundraising" news release, April 30, 2012

Republican Party of Wisconsin, "Republican volunteers cross 2 million voter contacts" news release, May 9, 2012

The Washington Post, "Wisconsin Dems furious with DNC for refusing to invest big money in Walker recall," May 14, 2012

Interview, Common Cause Wisconsin executive director Jay Heck, May 15, 2012

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Behind the rhetoric: The in-state, out-of-state campaign money debate