Sheldon Adelson won’t have Newt Gingrich to write campaign checks for anymore, so the Las Vegas billionaire has found a new politician to lavish with money love: Scott Walker.
Adelson, whose $20 million in super PAC donations kept Gingrich’s sinking presidential campaign afloat through the long months preceding the former House speaker’s decision to face reality and quit the competition, is now one of the embattled Wisconsin governor’s biggest donors.
Walker, who faces a recall election June 5, is fighting for his political life in a state where close to 1 million citizens signed petitions that forced the governor to face the voters. The Wisconsinite’s political star has become so tarnished that his only hope for prevailing is to overwhelm the opposition with massive spending.
And Walker has turned to Adelson and other out-of-state millionaires and billionaires, as well as corporate special interests, to keep himself in the running. Adelson’s response? A $250,000 check to the Walker campaign, which was allowed to raise unlimited funds during the period when the recall was qualifying.
On Monday, Walker’s campaign reported that the governor raised an unprecedented $13 million in the quarterly reporting period that ended in late April.
That’s not just more money than any Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate has ever before raised in a single quarter. That’s more than any Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate has ever before raised in an entire campaign.
Walker’s total fundraising for the recall race — $25 million — equals the amount of money that all the candidates combined spent in the 2010 Wisconsin gubernatorial race, which until now was the most expensive in Wisconsin history.
Where’s all that Walker money coming from?
Folks like Adelson. He’s one of several dozen millionaires and billionaires, most of them from outside Wisconsin, who have been the definitional backers of Walker’s campaign. In the last spending report by the governor, a mere 33 donors accounted for roughly half of all the money Walker had raised. This time, according to the advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, 39 “mega donors” giving in excess of $10,000 each, accounted for $2,430,000 of Walker’s haul.
And there aren’t that many billionaires in Wisconsin.
• 63 percent of the money raised by Wisconsin’s governor in the last quarter came from other states. Of the $13 million reported, at least $8,376,195 came from out of state. Another $418,746, delivered in the form of unaccounted or unidentified transfers of money, is likely to have come from out of state.
• 74 percent of the donations Wisconsin’s governor has received came from residents of other states, with Floridians providing more than $1 million and Texans, Californians and New Yorkers providing roughly similar amounts.
But these numbers only tell a part of the story. Walker, who frequently complains about supposed spending by “big labor” to defeat him (even though unions have yet to launch a major television advertising campaign that is critical of the governor), is also the beneficiary of announced “independent” campaigning by the Republican Governors Association (which just accepted a $1 million check from billionaire David Koch and plans to spend $3 million to buy pro-Walker advertising before the recall), Americans for Prosperity (a Koch brothers-funded group that has already spent $1.5 million to assist Walker) and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce business lobby (which is in for $2 million).
Various “Club for Growth,” “Right-to-Life” and corporate front groups are spending more on Walker’s behalf.
Walker needs the help. His latest report reveals that, of the $25 million his campaign has taken in, as much as $21 million has already been spent.
Yet most polls show the governor struggling to get to 50 percent against his prospective Democratic challengers in the June 5 recall election. And despite Walker’s complaints about “big labor,” the truth is that his massive television advertising and direct mail campaign has not been challenged.
That will change after the May 8 Democratic primary nominates a candidate against Walker.
There is no question that the governor will enter the record books when it comes to campaign fundraising and spending in Wisconsin.
But that entry could well be as a footnote to the one headlined: “Only governor of Wisconsin to be recalled and removed from office.”
John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. firstname.lastname@example.org