Supersize contributions still flowing in
It’s been called a quirk in state law and even “an outrageous loophole.”
In fact, it was a deliberate change with unintended consequences.
The change, passed in 1987, temporarily allows unlimited contributions from individuals for recall-related expenses. For Gov. Scott Walker and five other Republicans, the window of opportunity for incurring these expenses was open from Nov. 15, when the recalls were launched, to March 30, when the Government Accountability Board certified the elections.
For Walker and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, the normal cap is $10,000 per person for a four-year election cycle. Through
May 1, Walker had snared 97 donations above this amount, state GAB filings show. These totaled just more than $5.5 million, or about $4.5 million more than this group of individuals could normally give.
Walker’s campaign has flagged a total of $11 million in contributions as “Recall,” according to a GAB analysis.
The law suspends usual limits for “the payment of legal fees and other expenses” incurred in connection with a pending recall, until the election is ordered. The ability to incur recoverable costs ended March 30, but the ability to accept unlimited donations did not.
“You are still under the law entitled to raise contributions in excess of normal limits if you use these for recall-related debts,” said Jonathan Becker, the GAB’s Ethics Division administrator.
Becker said there’s some question about whether incurred expenses that have been paid, as Walker’s have, still qualify as debts. But Walker’s campaign apparently believes they do qualify. He is continuing to receive donations in excess of $10,000 — worth more than $1 million since March 30
Walker’s campaign filings have labeled $13.5 million in expenditures as recall-related. That’s $2.5 million less than what he’s identified as recall contributions.
Kleefisch and the state senators facing recalls also benefited from contributions in excess of normal limits, while the Democrats vying for these positions have not. Indeed, three of the senators — Van Wanggaard, Terry Moulton and Pam Galloway, who has dropped out of the race — reported extra-legal donations in excess of their recall-related costs.
The three collectively received at least $71,500 in donations beyond the usual $1,000 limit for their offices. Under the law, the additional money can go only to recall-related expenses; otherwise it must be returned to donors or given to charity or the state school fund. But to date, the three senators have identified less than $30,000 in expenses.
“They’ve either got to reclassify expenditures as recall or disburse excess recall funds,” said GAB campaign auditor Richard Bohringer. “We’ll be following up with them on that.”
But Becker said the language allowing extra-large donations is so broad, he finds it unlikely any plausible expense would be struck down as inappropriate.
A Democrat-backed bill to turn off this campaign finance spigot died a quiet death in the GOP-controlled Legislature’s most recent session.
But the 1987 change was backed by the state Elections Board, the predecessor of the GAB, which deemed it “not significant.”
At the time, the change was seen as helping state Sen. Gary George, a Democrat who racked up debt fighting a recall. It passed as part of that year’s state budget, with bipartisan support, including from a Democratic assemblyman named Tom Barrett.
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