Gov. Scott Walker has shattered Wisconsin's campaign fundraising records — and far outraised his opponents — with the help of big-money contributions from out-of-state donors, who helped the embattled GOP governor collect more than $12 million in just over a year as he faces a statewide recall effort.
Walker has brought in $12.1 million since the beginning of last year, with about $4.6 million of that raised during the most recent reporting period of Dec. 11 to Jan. 17, the date his opponents filed what they say was more than 1 million signatures on recall petitions against him.
"It's the most ever raised by anyone running for state office," said Mike McCabe of the election watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. "And he's just getting started."
Walker's fundraising blitz is not expected to slow down anytime soon due to a state law that allows officials targeted for recall to raise unlimited amounts of money until an election date is set.
Between Jan. 13 and Jan. 17 alone, Walker brought in $1 million from four out-of-state donors, including $250,000 from billionaire Texas home builder Bob Perry. The governor now has received $500,000 from Perry, one of the main funders of the controversial "Swift Boat" ads that targeted 2004 presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry.
Walker also received $250,000 from David Humphreys of Tamko Building Products in Joplin, Mo., another $250,000 from Sarah Atkins of Tamko, and $250,000 from Stanley Herzog of Herzog Contracting, also of Missouri.
Since Jan. 1, Walker has received donations from 17 individuals who took advantage of the lack of the state's typical $10,000 campaign finance limits. Those donors collectively have contributed about $1.6 million to Walker's campaign, accounting for 66 percent of the $2.4 million Walker has raised from individuals this year.
During the previous reporting period — July 1 through Dec. 10 — about 48 percent of the money contributed to Walker came from out of state, McCabe said.
"His reliance on out-of-state funders seems to be growing," McCabe said.
This time, of more than $4.1 million from individual contributions, about 61 percent came from outside Wisconsin.
Charles Franklin, visiting professor of law and public policy at Marquette University Law School, called Walker's fundraising numbers impressive and said they show how nationalized state politics have become.
"I think the Walker agenda tapped into a conservative policy agenda nationwide," Franklin said. "Walker has come to symbolize that agenda for activists and financial backers around the country."
Walker has already broken the previous state fundraising record of about $11 million, which he set during his successful 2010 run for governor, McCabe said. But that amount was raised during a four-year election cycle from January 2007 through December 2010, McCabe added.
Walker has spent millions on television advertising and reported having $2.6 million in cash left.
State election officials are reviewing an estimated 1.9 million petition signatures against Walker and five other Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and four state senators.
The money raised by Walker dwarfs that brought in by his opponents.
The Democratic Party of Wisconsin raised about $394,000 from Dec. 11 to Jan. 17. The party's largest donation was $40,000, and its second-largest $10,000.
Party officials pointed instead to the million signatures on petitions as a better sign of support.
Mike Tate, state party chairman, said the "recall by its very existence" shows citizens can fight the power of big money in politics.
During the same time period, United Wisconsin, the group that formed to recall Walker, raised $86,379 toward its recall efforts.
Walker's campaign also said it has strong grass roots support. Campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews predicted that millions in union money will flow into the state in the coming months.
"They are looking to hand-pick the Democrat that, if elected, would be responsible for doing their bidding and not work with the interest of Wisconsinites as priority No. 1 as Gov. Walker has and will continue to do," she said.