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Out-of-state donors buoy Walker

By Bill Lueders

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Among some true believers, Scott Walker is not just governor of Wisconsin. He is America’s governor.

Most of the money now pouring money into Walker’s gubernatorial campaign coffers comes from people who live in other states, newly released campaign finance filings show.

Of the $3.5 million received by Walker in the first six months of this year, almost $2 million came from out of state. This continues a trend that began when Walker first announced sweeping changes to the collective bargaining power of most public employees, prompting historic protests and an unsuccessful recall attempt.

Consider: When Walker first was elected in 2010, he raised and spent about $11 million. Of this, less than 10 percent came from donors in other states, according to the state Government Accountability Board’s online database.

Between Feb. 12, 2011, the day after Walker’s announcement, and June 6, 2012, the day after the recall election, his campaign took in $35.9 million. Of this amount, $21 million, or 59 percent, came from outside Wisconsin.

And of the $6.9 million Walker has raised since the recall, almost two-thirds flowed from out of state. The campaign has been able to continue spending and even sock away $2.2 million cash on hand.

“That’s pretty impressive, without him even having an opponent,” said Joe Heim, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. “He’s got a bigger national image than most people realize, especially among individuals and groups that fund Republican campaigns nationally.”

Walker, who faces re-election next year, frequently is mentioned as a potential Republican presidential contender in 2016. And while federal rules forbid the use of money raised for a state office such as governor to seek federal office, Heim sees a connection between the two campaigns.

“If Walker wins in 2014 substantially, it strengthens his position,” Heim said. Conversely, a squeaker win against a lesser-known opponent “would diminish his image nationally.”

Asked about the high level of out-of-state contributions, email attributed to Walker deputy campaign manager Jonathan Wetzel said, “We’re grateful for the enormous grassroots support the campaign has received to help Gov. Walker continue to move Wisconsin forward.”

In a recent press release, Walker’s campaign noted that 80 percent of the donors who helped it raise $3.5 million so far this year gave $50 or less. It did not mention that these donors, though numerous, accounted for just 22 percent of the total amount.

In fact, half the governor’s receipts during this time came from people who gave $1,000 or more. This includes more than 70 people who gave $10,000, the maximum allowed per election cycle under state law. (A bill that would double this limit to $20,000 passed the state Assembly and is pending in the Senate.)

Heim said donors to Walker’s campaign, even those who live in other states and cannot vote for him, feel they have “a vested interest in his policies,” which they hope will “spread throughout the country.”

Warren Stephens, the chairman and CEO of an investment banking firm in Little Rock, Ark., who gave Walker a $10,000 contribution on June 24, affirms this.

“Well, it’s pretty simple,” Stephens said. “(Walker) seems to be doing things that governments need to be doing. Frankly, I think he’s kind of on the front lines of that as it relates to other states.”

Stephens said he does not normally give money to candidates in other states, adding that his company does not do business in Wisconsin. He finds it fascinating to watch Walker “take on the challenges that he has and, you know, survive.”

The two men haven’t met, but they have spoken by phone. That was after Stephens last year took advantage of the suspension of usual contribution limits for a recall race and cut Walker a $100,000 check.

“He called me to thank me,” Stephens recalls. “I thought that was very nice of him.”

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