Does it matter how rich Mary Burke is?

2013-08-27T11:15:00Z Does it matter how rich Mary Burke is?JACK CRAVER | The Capital Times |

It’s no secret that Mary Burke’s wealth is one of the main drivers of her likely candidacy for governor. With few identifiable political leaders, Democrats believe one of the best ways they can compete with Gov. Scott Walker’s fundraising prowess is to find a candidate who already has millions to her name.

So far the former Trek executive, whose money largely comes from the estate of her deceased father, Trek founder Richard Burke, appears to be the only one percenter up to the challenge.

While it’s clear that Burke, who has not had a fulltime job since stepping down as state commerce secretary in 2007, has enough money to dedicate her life to philanthropy, it is unclear whether her treasure is vast enough to match the funds from across the country streaming into Walker’s war chest.

Last month I asked the state Department of Revenue to provide me the amount that Burke has paid in state income taxes, beginning in 2006. The records indicate her state tax liability has steadily increased since that year, when she paid $35,082. The following year she paid $57,687. In 2008, the year her father died, the amount she paid jumped to $98,052, apparently because her stake in Trek increased after his death. In 2012, she paid $120,316 in state income taxes.

Beyond highlighting the fact that Burke is far richer than most of us, these figures are not very useful. The size of the bicycle baroness’ fortune is still anybody’s guess.

“Honestly, it tells us basically nothing about her income,” says Susannah Tahk, a UW law professor who specializes in tax law. “The tax code has in it literally thousands of special provisions (exclusions, deductions and credits).”

She explains further:

“These deductions, exclusions and credits mean that it is impossible to tell what someone's actual gross income is by looking at their tax liability.”

In Wisconsin, the tax rate for those with incomes north of $220,000 is 7.75 percent plus $15,070. If Burke paid that rate in full (and took advantage of no credits or deductions), her most recent taxes suggest an income of roughly $1.36 million. However, much of Burke’s income likely derives from investments, which is taxed at the lower rate of 5.4 percent. Furthermore, 30 percent of capital gains are excluded from tax entirely.

Thus, her income was almost certainly higher than $1.36 million last year and may have been significantly higher.

In an email response to questions about her wealth and taxes, Burke declined to provide more specific information about her income, saying only that if she runs for governor, she will look at what past candidates have released to the public to inform how much she discloses. In a statement, she emphasized that she was not always wealthy, and that she has been generous with her money since.

“When I was growing up my father was a small businessman with a family of 7 to provide for, so we grew up like most middle class families in Wisconsin,” she said. “I learned from my parents, it’s not what you have, it’s what you give that is important. I think those that know me best would say that what I give, and how I live, defines me a lot better than what I have.”

Indeed, Burke’s wealth will add little to her candidacy unless she’s willing to give generously to the campaign. And yet, even somebody who is pulling in over a million a year may very well have a hard time coming up with enough money to match Walker, who raised $3.5 million in just the first six months of 2013, a non-election year.

It is unlikely that spending on the 2014 election will reach the heights of last year's recall election, in which Walker smashed state records by spending nearly $40 million in the year before election day. But whatever he raises will likely be more than one wealthy individual can spend. 

That’s why Democrats repeatedly emphasize that a victory over Walker will take more than a rich candidate. It will mean a fundraising operation that brings in millions from donors around the state and country, similar to how Tammy Baldwin raised enough to beat Tommy Thompson in the 2012 U.S. Senate race. In that race, Baldwin spent over $15 million.


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(32) Comments

  1. DowntownTruth
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    DowntownTruth - September 03, 2013 1:01 pm
    you do have a good point...Herb Kohl also got to where he was because of his family handing it to him so why would we think of Burke any differently than Herb? by the way, it is really easy to spend plenty of time shining up the 'ol resume in college (as Herb did) when it is only about your own ego knowing that if you can chew gum and not somehow find a way to become unrelated to the business owner you will be just fine working for the family biz.
  2. DowntownTruth
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    DowntownTruth - September 03, 2013 12:57 pm
    using your point, if Burke isn't 'beholding' to special interests, then is she 'beholding' to her father instead? and if you are insinuating that she would spend a chunk of her own money large enough to compare in any way to what the political system will raise for her to run against Walker you clearly don't understand what you are talking about. I mean, how much out of state money came in to support Barret in the recall effort?
  3. DowntownTruth
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    DowntownTruth - September 03, 2013 12:18 pm
    Just to be 100% clear on this, anyone who ever hinted at playing the 'evil, wealthy capitalist' card EVER before is a total hypocrite if they don't also demonize Burke's wealth as well just because of her political beliefs. Then again, based on how her wealth was "earned" perhaps we should wonder if her father also told her what to believe politically. Finally, let's all be sure to overlook her lack of experience (remember, you whined about Walker in this regard) and also the fact that she comes from family money...just paint her as a 'strong independent woman' instead...clearly that will be part of the playbook.
  4. TheRestOfTheStory
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    TheRestOfTheStory - August 28, 2013 10:47 am
    What is difficult to understand is where you got this impression from. Almost the entire community has decried the use of big money in politics. It sounds like you are seeing only one side of the Party equation here and that's called paranoia.
  5. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - August 28, 2013 10:28 am
    What is difficult to understand is how is the millions and millions of political cash spent by WEAC and AFSCME is good, and all other wealth is bad. How does that work?
  6. Fflambeau
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    Fflambeau - August 28, 2013 4:58 am
    It is a sad commentary, but also a truism, that you need money, lots of it to get elected to office. We need a better system to rid ourselves of this pernicious evil (doing away with excessively long campaigns, as the Brits do; providing free television and radio coverage for candidates, etc.). It can be fixed. Burke isn't the problem. The problem preceded her. Just look at the Making of the President series when JFK ran against Hubert. Hubert has zero chance because he couldn't match the Kennedy spending machine.
  7. B-Man
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    B-Man - August 27, 2013 5:23 pm
    Run, Brett, Run.
  8. Weirdwise
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    Weirdwise - August 27, 2013 4:57 pm
    "Does it matter how rich Mary Burke is?"

    Yes! If she wasn't rich she wouldn't be a viable candidate. Same answer for Herb Kohl, Ron Johnson, Mark Neuman, Eric Hovde, etc.

    $ gets you a seat at the table, but you need more than that and some luck (good timing) to win.

    Her thin personal resume and Trek's outsourcing manufacturing are going to get hammered ad nauseum, creating doubts about her among blue collar and small town WI voters - the same middle that bought the notion that public employees maybe had it a little too good.

    If she is the best the Democrats can come up with, Walker has to be happy. They can make the race about her, not just a referendum on him. Much like the Obama Romney showdown. How did that work out for the challenger, despite a vulnerable incumbent?
    Report Abuse
    ABDGRFN - August 27, 2013 2:41 pm
    Are you nav in disguise today......................................
  10. paulwesterberg
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    paulwesterberg - August 27, 2013 12:09 pm
    Yes, with the Citizens United ruling allowing unlimited unregulated political spending candidates who are outspent 3-1 don't stand a chance of wining. They might as well just pass a law allowing votes to be bought for $1 apiece and new legislation for $1 per word.

    We have the best government money can buy.
  11. UWbadgers16
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    UWbadgers16 - August 27, 2013 12:05 pm
    Of course it doesn't matter how rich she is. Not if she's a Democrat at least.
  12. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - August 27, 2013 11:37 am
    ignoring you lack of understanding of citizens united (you are better then that Richard).

    If we could eliminate all outside spending and actually control donations in meaningful way...the rich would have a MASSIVE advantage.

  13. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - August 27, 2013 11:35 am got it
  14. justice for all
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    justice for all - August 27, 2013 11:11 am
    Would you rather have a governor that is beholding to special interest or someone that is not beholding to special interest that puts the constituents first?
  15. justice for all
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    justice for all - August 27, 2013 11:08 am
    When Herb Kohl ran for U.S. Senate was he give the same scrutiny? She has degrees in business from Georgetown and Harvard. She was head for the Department of Commerce and ran for school board and won. I am sick of the double standard that I have heard since her name came up. Enough!
  16. DivideConquer
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    DivideConquer - August 27, 2013 10:46 am
    Yes, I am sure she cared deeply for all the people that worked in the manufacturing in both Waterloo and Whitewater who suddenly found themselves unemployed because her and her family decided they could make more money if they moved their bicycle production to Taiwan and China.
  17. Cornelius Gotchberg
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    Cornelius Gotchberg - August 27, 2013 10:40 am

    " crow the fact that some Dems in the Senate can be wealthy and Democratic at the same time."

    Perhaps we ought define "some?"

    Please note that 7 of the richest 10 (70 %)and 11 of the riches 15 (73.3 %) congresspeople (at the national level) have a "D" after their name.

    To most folks, that flies past 'some' and embraces 'most.'

    Small wonder no one's straining their milk to amend the tax code, something for which your conservative BFF has always advocated.

    FYI; my only offshore accounts are on Weber Lake (Anderson TWSP, Iron County) & Lake Superior's Saxon Harbor Beach.

    The Gotch
  18. razor
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    razor - August 27, 2013 10:21 am
    By the way, Brett Hulsey is a great one to criticize some one's speaking ability. He has done nothing but make a fool of himself since being elected to the state legislature.
  19. razor
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    razor - August 27, 2013 10:15 am
    Money can do the trick and the more of it the better. Perhaps Judy Faulkner, the Epic founder and an avowed liberal, will pour some of her millions into Mary's campaign so that we can get Walker out and our democratic legislature back. Between their two bank rolls they could give the Koch brothers a good run.
  20. wrkrbee1
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    wrkrbee1 - August 27, 2013 10:06 am
    Burke and Romney are essentially the same with regards to money, but Romney is evil?
  21. RichardSRussell
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    RichardSRussell - August 27, 2013 10:05 am
    The amount of money in politics is obscene. We should be looking for candidates who are highly qualified, not those who are highly loaded.

    The sooner we can get a Constitutional amendment to roll back the Supreme Court's misbegotten Citizens United decision, the sooner we can return control of democracy to the people instead of the richies and the corporations.
  22. jowms
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    jowms - August 27, 2013 10:04 am
    Fee people know her and she hasn't been to Dem events to become known.
  23. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - August 27, 2013 9:46 am
    You can try to demonize the rich all you like. The simple fact is that they are carrying the burden of the Federal tax bill and donating substantial amounts to charity. That is all of the rich left and right.
  24. epic
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    epic - August 27, 2013 9:15 am
    I have not seen a politician yet (Dem, Repub or other) that genuinely cares about others. Politicians are motivated by power, influence, and gaining wealth. We saw a clear example of "political empathy" when the Affordable Care Act (as written) included members of congress and their staffers, but abruptly changed. Through slight of hand and some executive branch magic, we find that Treasury will pay the Obama Care tab for these trough feeders. If Mary Burke wants to help others she can keep writing checks or she can team up with Brenda Konkel and let the homeless bunk in their homes.
  25. Lancer
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    Lancer - August 27, 2013 8:54 am
    I've never heard Mary Burke speak.

    Brett Hulsey has supposedly said that Ms. Burke has the charisma of a turnip.

    A turnip will not beat Walker no matter how much money she has.
  26. timbo
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    timbo - August 27, 2013 8:51 am
    “Even when they say it’s not, it’s always about money.”

  27. PapaLorax
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    PapaLorax - August 27, 2013 8:42 am
    Of course not...only rich republicans are democrats are caring thoughtful people.
  28. TheRestOfTheStory
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    TheRestOfTheStory - August 27, 2013 8:34 am
    Sorry TT, rare is the key word. For the rich, if not tax breaks, the attitude seems to be 'What's in it for me?'. Most Repubs posting on this forum seem to crow the fact that some Dems in the Senate can be wealthy and Democratic at the same time. As if this were a foriegn concept. I.E., if you're wealthy you must be Republican. It is not only rare that some wealthy are in it for the common people but completely inscrutable as a fact to the Right.
  29. tomtom33
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    tomtom33 - August 27, 2013 8:24 am
    It still isn't.
  30. concerned_citizen
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    concerned_citizen - August 27, 2013 8:13 am
    the fact that she's wealthy - and yet still cares about others
    is what is freaking some people out

    that didn't used to be so rare
  31. epic
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    epic - August 27, 2013 8:12 am
    Money helped Herb Kohl. Money didn't do anything for Caroline Kennedy ("Like, you know, like, like, you know.")
  32. Norwood44
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    Norwood44 - August 27, 2013 7:52 am
    How rich was William T Evjue? This is click pandering in the extreme.
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