Scott Walker’s State Campaign Has a National Focus
Raised $5.9 million but he isn’t up for re-election until 2018
Gov. Scott Walker’s state campaign committee took in a huge haul this year—$5.9 million from individuals and political action committees (PACs), a massive sum for a politician who isn’t up for re-election until 2018.
Walker is hoping, however, to be the Republican presidential candidate in 2016, and clues about his national campaign might be found in his state campaign finance reports, released earlier this month.
As in the past, Walker has tapped big and small donors outside of Wisconsin who cannot cast a vote for him in a state election. According to a Wisconsin Democracy Campaign (WDC) analysis, 90% of his donations during the first six months of 2015 came from outside of Wisconsin. And only three of his 17 donors who gave to the $10,000 limit are from Wisconsin, Roy Reiman of Greendale, Roberta Reiman of Milwaukee and Rita Stilin of High Bridge. The campaign returned one $10,000 donation, from Carol Troesh of Nevada.
“It’s a very odd report,” Matt Rothschild, WDC’s executive director, told the Shepherd. “Why would he need to raise $5.6 million [from individuals] to run for governor again when it’s very unlikely that he’s going to run for governor?”
Also on-trend is Walker’s high burn rate as he spends freely on consultants, lawyers, advertising and fundraising. He burned through $5.7 million in the first six months of this year—again, a big sum for a candidate who isn’t actively running for state office, and topping the $5.3 million he spent during the first six months of 2014, when he was running for re-election.
The biggest recipient of Walker’s largesse was the Republican fundraising outfit SCM Associates, which earned $2.5 million. Also drawing down big sums was Penguin Random House, which published Walker’s memoir, Unintimidated. Walker’s state campaign paid the publisher $97,735.20 for “solicitation expenses.” Personalized, signed copies of the book are going for $299 on Walker’s presidential campaign website.
Walker’s legal team, Biskupic and Jacobs SC, received $173,423.86 for “legal fees—compliance and administrative” work. Former Republican federal prosecutor Steven Biskupic and Michelle Jacobs were among the many attorneys fighting the John Doe investigation before the state Supreme Court. As of last year, Walker’s campaign spent more than $1 million on his attorneys attacking allegations of illegal campaign coordination.
Walker formally announced his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination on July 13 and his personal campaign website reflects that change in status. But prior to that announcement, two political groups were set up seemingly to aid his campaign.
Our American Revival was established in January. Walker’s reps say it’s an issue group organized under section 527 of the tax code that isn’t focused specifically on his candidacy, even though he’s featured prominently on its website. But Paul S. Ryan, a campaign finance expert at the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center, said that contrary to the Walker camp’s assertions, 527s are specifically set up to promote a candidate in an election.
“It’s as plain as day,” Ryan told the Shepherd.
In February, the American Democracy Legal Fund filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Walker was acting like a candidate for president even if he hadn’t yet officially declared his intentions and that Our American Revival was his unofficial committee. The group argued that Walker was reported to have been picking up checks in excess of federal contribution limits as he met with donors around the country.
But Our American Revival isn’t the only pro-Walker organization. In April, the Unintimidated Super PAC was set up by two close Walker aides—Keith Gilkes and Stephan Thompson. Super PACs can spend unlimited sums in elections, but they cannot donate to candidates or political parties.
Ryan said that Our American Revival and the Unintimidated PAC operate similarly. Both can take in unlimited donations from individuals, corporations, special-interest groups and unions, but they must disclose their donors. The disclosure deadline is this week, but the two groups are said to have raised $26 million this year, according to WDC.
Walker has also set up a presidential campaign committee, but hasn’t disclosed his donations yet. Individual donors can give up to $2,700 to his committee during this election cycle, far less than Wisconsin’s $10,000 maximum to state candidates.
Although federal campaigning may seem like the Wild West with few regulations, one thing that is clear is that Walker cannot coordinate with outside groups on their spending. Although the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently declared that state candidates can coordinate with special-interest groups on “issue” ads that don’t back a specific candidate, Ryan said that federal coordination rules are more strict and do regulate certain issue ads if they mention candidates.
“Neither [Our American Revival nor the Unintimidated PAC] can coordinate expenditures directly with the Walker campaign and if Walker directly or indirectly set either of them up, both Walker and the groups have violated the federal soft money ban,” Ryan said.
In addition, Walker cannot transfer money from his state account, use his state funds for his federal campaign activities or use, for example, his list of donors for his state campaign for his federal campaign, WDC’s Rothschild told the Shepherd.
“You’re not supposed to be able to use your state money for federal campaigns,” Rothschild said.
That said, the line between Walker’s state and federal campaigns seems to blur a bit on his latest state campaign finance report. His state campaign paid for staffers’ trips to Arizona, New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina—states with early primaries or caucuses—as well as California, Florida and Texas. Walker’s state campaign held fundraisers in Arizona, California, Florida, Illinois and Virginia. Billionaire hedge fund manager Paul Singer hosted a New York fundraiser for Walker as well, according to the Walker campaign’s report.
While Walker has kept many of his Wisconsin advisers, his state campaign paid former Mitt Romney fundraiser Drucker Lawhon $44,648.59 from February through May. When Walker hired the Washington, D.C.-based firm in February, Politico reported, “His new lead fundraising consultant, Jenny Drucker, was finance director at the National Republican Congressional Committee the past two election cycles and was the deputy director before that. She’ll be in charge of setting up the donor network, including the recruitment of bundlers, and getting the governor in front of new, wealthy prospects.” The report only referred to his White House bid, not his gubernatorial campaign.
Walker’s state campaign is also paying Texas fundraisers. Walker has worked with the Austin-based fundraiser Kate Doner in previous campaigns and he paid her company $41,427 in January. Doner wrote an infamous April 2011 email turned up in the John Doe investigation, which stated, “The Governor is encouraging all to invest in the Wisconsin Club for Growth. Wisconsin Club for Growth can accept Corporate and Personal donations without limitations and no donors disclosure.” Another Austin-based fundraiser, Lilly & Company, took in $20,575 this spring.
Walker’s campaign spokeswoman, AshLee Strong, didn’t respond to the Shepherd’s request to comment for this article.