By Scott Bauer
Madison — Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday he had fulfilled his campaign promises and would raise and spend as much money as it took to defend himself in the recall effort launched against him this week.
“The bottom line is I did what I said I would do a year ago,” Walker said at a news conference after he signed a bill allowing an income tax check off to benefit the Special Olympics. “I said I would put forward a budget, make structural changes without raising taxes, honestly balancing the budget for generations to come.”
While Walker talked during the campaign about making public workers pay more for their health insurance and pension benefits, he did not campaign on the proposal he ultimately introduced that did away with nearly all their collective bargaining rights.
He said the changes were necessary to give schools and local governments the flexibility they needed to deal with cuts in state aid necessary to balance a $3.6 billion budget shortfall.
That measure generated massive protests and made Wisconsin the center of a national fight over union rights. It also led to nine recall elections against state senators this summer, in which two Republican incumbents lost, and motivated the effort to recall Walker that began Tuesday.
Opponents who helped organize the recall say Walker was disingenuous during the campaign about his true intentions to go after organized labor and for that he deserves to be removed from office.
Walker repeatedly has said no one should have been surprised by his collective bargaining proposal and he continued to stand by it in the face of the recall.
“By making our fundamental reforms we avoided massive layoffs of public employees and we avoided massive property tax increases,” Walker said. “We fulfilled promises we made to people in this state. Not everybody may agree with that, but the bottom line is we did what we said we were going to do when we were campaigning.”
State law allows Walker and other targets of recalls to raise unlimited amounts from the time the recall is started until the election is ordered. That period could stretch well into next year for Walker, while any opponent who emerges would be constrained to raising no more than $10,000 from any single donor.
Recall organizers have until Jan. 17 to collect more than 540,000 signatures to force an election. Recall efforts also were started against Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four Republican state senators, all of whom also now are free to raise an unlimited amount.
Walker said Wednesday he intended to raise as much money as he needed to get his message out, but he didn’t know how much that would be.
“We’ll spend our money getting the message out, but we wouldn’t have to spend a penny of that if there weren’t recalls,” Walker said. “This is not something we brought on.”
The Government Accountability Board, which is in charge of reviewing the signatures and ordering an election, is expected to seek more than the 31 days allotted given the enormity of the task. That delay, along with expected legal challenges, could push the period that recall targets can raise unlimited funds into March or later.
That gives Walker a “big leg up,” said Mike McCabe, the director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which monitors campaign spending. McCabe said he expected Walker to take full advantage of the law.
The money he raises before the recall election is ordered must be incurred on expenses related to the recall itself.
Walker launched his first campaign ad Monday and said that more would be coming.
An estimated $37 million was spent in last year’s governor’s race that Walker won, which is a record for a governor’s race up to that point. In this summer’s Senate recall elections, $44 million got spent.
If there is a recall election against Walker, spending could top $80 million but McCabe said he didn’t want to guess how high it could go.
“That sounds outlandish but based on what we experienced this summer it would no longer surprise me if we saw spending that high,” McCabe said. “This is the main event. This summer’s recalls were king of like proxy elections.”