In the upcoming recall election against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin faces the first ever gubernatorial recall in the state, and only the third gubernatorial recall in the country’s history. Next to the presidential campaign it will likely be the biggest, most expensive race in the country, costing $100 million or more — and that’s just for one state, compared to the whole country.
In last year’s state Senate recalls, when six Republicans and three Democratic incumbents were put on the ballot — with control of the 33-seat chamber officially up for grabs — nearly $44 million was spent on those nine races, between the candidates, their political parties, and the various third-party ad groups on both sides.
So how much will it be worth everyone’s while, with the whole governorship itself, plus four additional Republican state Senate seats, all on the line?
TPM asked Walker campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews whether the campaign had any estimate of what the total spending on the race might be.
“You know, that’s a good question, and I can honestly say no,” said Matthews. “I mean, because there are just kind of a number of factors that are gonna play into it - the Democratic primary, and how, I guess it’s not a question of if the national public employee unions are gonna get involved, but the extent, how much.”
Similarly, activists on the pro-recall side are uncertain, and are blaming Walker’s own backers for the big money that’s about to come in. But they also have some rough idea of a dollar figure.
“Well I don’t think that we know yet. We’ve certainly seen the out of state support for Walker already,” said Lynn Freeman, communications director of the recall activist group United Wisconsin, referring to the governor’s ability to raise unlimited funds out of state before the recall is officially launched. However, among people involved in the recall effort, Freeman told us: “The speculation I’m hearing is two or three times what was spent last year.”
In other words, around $100 million, or possibly even more. By contrast, only $37.4 million was spent on the regularly scheduled 2010 gubernatorial race — and this was a record-breaker at the time. (There was also another $19 million spent on the races for the state legislature.)
So could the spending numbers for the recall really get that high?
“There have been a few people somewhat casually I think throwing out $100 million as a figure, which would be phenomenally large for a Wisconsin Governor’s race,” said Charles Franklin, a visiting professor of public policy at Marquette University Law School. “But you look at the recalls last year, and that seems well within range. One governor is worth more than eight or nine senate seats. And so you would think if it just scaled up, a hundred million is not out of the question.”
On the other hand, Franklin said, there is a counter-argument: “The difference was last summer there were no other races going on around the country, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity cost in spending your money in Wisconsin versus somewhere else. The difference is this year there are a lot of other races. So to groups on both sides of the aisle there will be a bit of consideration: Whether the next million you spend, is that best spent in Wisconsin, or best spent somewhere else? And that’s my best argument for why the spending might not be that much higher.”
Just recently, Walker was able to raise $4.5 million in just over a month. He has raised $12 million since January 1, 2011, and has over $2.6 million on hand. Already in full campaign mode, he has been spending lots of money on TV advertising, campaign organization, and other expenses.
Very importantly, Walker has been taking advantage of a key aspect of the state fundraising law for recalls — that until the election is officially triggered, the targeted incumbent can bring in unlimited donations. As a result, he has been able to bring in donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time, from donors such as Texas businessman Bob Perry, who financed the Swift Boat Veterans For Truth campaign of 2004, which spread false information about Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry’s war record.
In an interview over the weekend, Walker stood by his donors, when he was questioned about the large sums coming from out of state: “They appreciate people who follow through on their commitment, follow through on their promises, do what they say they’re going to do and that care more about the next generation than they do their next election.”