By TODD RICHMOND, Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has raised more than $13 million in three months for a recall election, a jaw-dropping feat that easily shattered the fundraising record he set last year.
Walker became the target of a recall election after he pushed through legislation last year eliminating most public union workers' bargaining rights. His showdown with labor leaders and their Democratic allies made him a celebrity in Republican circles and enabled him to rake in campaign cash at a pace never before seen in Wisconsin.
He set a record for fundraising for a state office last year when he pulled in $12.1 million. But that pales next to his fundraising so far this year. Campaign finance reports filed with state elections officials Monday show he collected $13.1 million between Jan. 18 and April 23. He spent $10 million over the period and had $4.8 million on hand.
A special state law allowing recall targets to raise unlimited amounts of money in their campaigns' early days helped Walker, but the pace of his fundraising underscores how beloved the governor is in conservative circles nationwide.
He attended a Christmas party thrown by conservative power broker Grover Norquist and raised money with Hank Greenberg, founder and former CEO of American International Group, at his Manhattan office. He was in Oklahoma last month, mingling with the corporate elite and top Republicans at a fundraiser co-sponsored by Koch Industries, the oil company led by billionaire brothers who are top backers of conservative causes nationwide.
According to the reports, Walker's largest donor was Diane M. Hendricks, who serves as executive vice president of Beloit-based American Builders and Contractors Supply Co. Inc. She gave the governor $500,000. She did not immediately return messages left through her company spokeswoman.
The next two biggest donors were Sheldon Adelson, chief executive officer of the Las Vegas Sands casino, and Richard DeVos, owner of the Orlando Magic basketball team and co-founder of the Amway Corp., a direct-sales company now under the Alticor company umbrella. Both gave Walker $250,000. A Las Vegas Sands spokesman didn't immediately respond to an email Monday evening seeking comment from Adelson. An email sent to Alticor seeking comment from DeVos also wasn't immediately returned.
Walker faces political agitator Arthur Kohl-Riggs in a May 8 Republican primary. Five candidates are running in the Democratic contest. The survivor from each side will face off in a June 5 general election. None of Walker's challengers has been able to keep up in the money race.
Kohl-Riggs reported raising just $2,045 and spending $479 from Jan. 1 through April 23. He had $1,565 on hand, giving him little chance against the governor. The two Democratic front-runners, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, didn't come close to Walker's totals.
Falk's report showed she raised about $977,000 and spent $884,859 between Jan. 1 and April 23. She had $118,062 on hand. Barrett's report showed he had raised $831,508 and spent $808,975 during the same span. He had $475,496 in the bank, more than four times as much as Falk but still millions behind Walker.
Both Falk and Barrett's campaigns issued similar statements accusing Walker of spending more time raising money than creating jobs in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Democratic Party spokesman Graeme Zielinski issued a statement calling Walker's money "breathtaking."
"It is true we will be badly outspent. It is also true that, at the end of the day, and until Walker makes it otherwise, money does not vote," Zielinski said. "The people vote. And it is the people of Wisconsin who will win victory over Scott Walker on June 5th."
State law allows recall targets to collect unlimited amounts of contributions from the day a group registers against them until the state Government Accountability Board schedules the elections. The first recall committee registered with the board Nov. 4. The board scheduled the elections on March 30, giving Walker's donors months to funnel unlimited dollars to his campaign.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.