Fifteen wealthy contributors who support expanding the state’s school choice program gave $443,550 to Republican Governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans between mid-October and mid-January when legislative action to curb the program’s expansion stalled, a Democracy Campaign review found.
Campaign reports show 11 school choice backers gave Walker $417,000, including two contributions of $100,000 from investor Foster Friess of Jackson, Wyoming and hedge fund founder Bruce Kovner of New York. Other top contributors at $50,000 a pop include New York financier Roger Hertog, Bradley Foundation board member Dennis Kuester of Milwaukee and investor Rex Sinquefield of Westphalia, Missouri.
Republican legislators got $26,550 from school choice supporters between mid-October and mid-January, including $9,000 from San Franciscans William and Patricia Hume; $5,000 from Bradley Foundation board member San Orr of Wausau and SIG Financial Holdings executive Arthur Dantchik of Gladwyne, Pennsylvania; $3,750 from SPO Partners investment executive William Oberndorf of San Francisco; $3,500 from retired investor Virginia James of Lambertville, New Jersey; and $300 from Sam Adams Alliance board member Eric O’Keefe of Spring Green.
Topping the list of Republican legislators who got the $26,550 from pro-voucher donors were three senators – Pam Galloway of Wausau, Terry Moulton of Chippewa Falls and Van Wanggaard of Racine – targeted for recall this year who got $5,000 each. Six Assembly freshmen got between $1,000 and $1,800 each, including Howard Marklein, Travis Tranel, Evan Wynn, Roger Rivard, Mike Endsley and Warren Petryk.
The timing of the contributions mostly from well-heeled individuals outside Wisconsin is significant because October 18 is the last time legislative action occurred on a proposal – Senate Bill 174 – by Senate and Assembly Republicans who control the legislature to change a provision in the 2011-13 state budget passed last summer that they say mistakenly expanded the school voucher program to as many as 37 school districts rather than just Racine as intended.
The 20-year-old Milwaukee school choice program allows children to attend private and religious schools at a cost of about $131 million a year to state taxpayers.
Representative Robin Vos of Burlington, co-chair of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee and a sponsor of the stalled bill, said last summer “a deal’s a deal” of the agreement with Senate Republicans to limit expansion, and Walker spokesman Cullen Werwie said the governor would sign legislation to limit expansion.
But since the bill stalled in mid-October, Walker and three Senate Republicans have spent much of the time accepting unlimited campaign contributions from hundreds of wealthy special interests because they are now targets for recall. Since he signed his budget with the school choice expansion last summer, Walker has crisscrossed the country raising nearly $9.7 million – about half of it from outside Wisconsin.