It can't be easy to get Scott Walker to take your phone call. Unless you are David Koch. Or at least someone Walker believes is David Koch.
A little under eight months ago, the idea of getting a personal call from a billionaire kingmaker was so exhilarating to the governor that he let himself get punked by some guy named Ian Murphy who runs an online news service called the Buffalo Beast.
Now that a drive to recall him from office is a certainty, Walker won't very likely be waiting for the phone to ring. He will soon be dialing up his richest supporters and making a pitch he has never been able to make before. Donate, pretty please, and give as much as you want.
Normally individuals can give no more than $10,000 to a candidate for governor. But a quirk in Wisconsin law lifts that limit for a period of time for targets of recall elections. Recall organizers will have 60 days to gather the more than 540,000 signatures needed to trigger an election. From the moment they file the necessary paperwork and begin gathering petition signatures to the time when an election is actually authorized, there will be no limit on what donors to the governor may give.
What just happened during the run-up to this summer's senate recall elections provides some indication of what to expect when Walker becomes the target. Normally individual donations to state senate candidates are limited to $1,000. But thanks to that quirk in state law, targeted senators received 368 contributions of more than $1,000 while petition signatures were being collected. Those donations averaged nearly $2,900 and totaled almost $1.1 million. The donors gave nearly $700,000 more than they would have been allowed to contribute if the normal legal limits had applied.
These above-the-limit donations went to senators in both parties. But because there were six Republican senators who ultimately had to stand before voters in a recall election and only three Democrats, more of the money went to the Republicans. Targeted GOP senators received 319 over-$1,000 donations totaling more than $981,000 while Democratic senators got 49 such contributions totaling just over $81,000.
Some of the donations were substantially higher than the normal limit for senate races. For example, Tamarack Petroleum owner Daniel McKeithan and his wife gave Milwaukee-area Senator Alberta Darling $31,500 and McKeithan also made $1,250 donations to Ripon's Luther Olsen and Dan Kapanke of La Crosse. Oconomowoc businessman Jere Fabick gave Fond du Lac's Randy Hopper $20,000 and gave Darling and Kapanke $15,000 each. Johnsonville Foods CEO Ralph Stayer gave Hopper $15,000. Darling also got $24,500 from Michael and Billie Kubly of the Charles E. Kubly Foundation.
You can bet Governor Walker will be getting a great many donations at least as large or even bigger during the holiday season.
The law that lifts campaign contribution limits for targets of recall elections makes no sense. State law restricts the size of campaign donations in an attempt to limit special interest influence over our government and prevent political corruption. Those purposes are no less important in recall elections than they are in regular elections. Letting recall targets operate outside the law that normally applies to campaign fundraising leaves us with winners of recall elections who are even more beholden to wealthy special interests than other elected officials already are.
The law allowing unlimited fundraising during recall petition drives can and should be changed. Legislation has been introduced as Assembly Bill 296 to do just that.
I'd love to see what odds the bookmakers in Vegas would give on Walker's allies in the Legislature passing this bill and the governor signing it some time in the next month.