Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign began the year with nearly four times as much money as the sprawling Democratic field after out-fundraising his potential rivals by more than two-and-a-half times last year.
Walker raised $7.2 million last year compared with the $2.6 million cumulative haul of the eight Democratic candidates who filed campaign reports with the state Ethics Commission on Tuesday. A ninth candidate, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, announced his campaign last week and didn’t report any fundraising in 2017.
Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, and Milwaukee businessman Andy Gronik reported raising more than a half million dollars, though much of that came from personal loans.
Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin president Mahlon Mitchell raised nearly $400,000, with three quarters of that coming from union political action committees, including $192,000 from the international firefighters union based in Washington, D.C.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers raised the most in individual donations with $312,000, including 2,452 individual donors. Walker received contributions from 18,024 different donors.
Walker reported having $4.2 million in his campaign account to start the year, more than 10 times his closest Democratic challenger, former Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Matt Flynn, and far more than the total $1.1 million the eight campaigns reported. The Democrats’ coffers at the end of the year ranged from Flynn’s $305,000 to $17,000 for Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma.
Walker’s fundraising total lagged the $8.6 million his campaign raised in 2013, just before his last re-election campaign, when he ended the year with $4.6 million.
UW-Madison political science professor Barry Burden said Walker’s fundraising total is somewhat lower than he expected given individual contribution limits have doubled to $20,000 since the 2014 election, Walker’s national profile was elevated during his short-lived presidential run and he became chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
At the same time, some of the Democrats’ totals are meager by comparison, Burden said. He pointed to former Wisconsin Democracy Campaign executive director Mike McCabe, who reported having about $22,000 in his campaign account at the beginning of the year, and Vinehout as being at risk of falling out of contention based on their fundraising totals.
“No matter who the nominee is they’re likely to be blown out by (Walker’s) fundraising in the general election,” Burden said.
Walker campaign spokesman Nathan Craft said Tuesday’s fundraising reports showed “the Democrats are not even on the same level of playing field as the Governor and Wisconsin Republicans.” He noted Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch had $1.4 million at the end of last year.
“Our record of reform is resonating in every part of Wisconsin, and we’re ready to keep moving the state forward,” Walker said in a statement. “We’re building the resilient grassroots campaign that we know will propel Wisconsin Republicans to victory in November.”
Mike Browne, deputy director of liberal advocacy group One Wisconsin Now, said the Democratic fundraising total shows “a fair amount of enthusiasm” on the Democratic side given the candidates have been fundraising for six months or less, while Walker’s total “suggests the shine is off the Scott Walker brand a little bit.”
“You can’t say anybody lost the Democratic primary today because there’s a lot of time to go,” Browne said. “All of them seem to have found people willing to put their money where their mouths are.”
The last Democrat to run against Walker, Madison School Board member Mary Burke, raised $1.8 million the year prior to the election, including $400,000 she gave herself.
Democratic strategist Joe Zepecki, who worked on Burke’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign, said campaigns that have been up and running for a few months should have at least $100,000 cash on hand “to get into the next phase of this campaign with vigor.”
“If you don’t have that six figures today it becomes awfully tough to try to have that conversation with the voters,” Zepecki said.
Zepecki said he expects some of the candidates who filed reports Tuesday won’t ultimately be on the Aug. 14 primary ballot, but no candidate “so far outpaced the field financially that (there’s) going to be a call for people to head to the exits.”
Gronik, Wachs and former Rep. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, kicked in the most self-funding, with Roys entering the race in the last few weeks of December and putting in $96,200 of her own money plus another $15,900 from her Assembly campaign committee.
Wachs loaned his campaign $271,000 and took in another $33,155 from his Assembly campaign.
Gronik, whose $450,000 contribution made up more than 80 percent of his total fundraising, previously said he didn’t want to entirely self-fund his campaign. On Tuesday, he said his contributions so far demonstrate his commitment to ousting Walker “by putting skin in the game.”
“I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I wouldn’t do,” Gronik said in a statement. “In the last six months, I’ve asked Wisconsinites to show their support and invest right along with me. And obviously, hundreds of them got on board early because they know that the same establishment candidates won’t beat Walker.”
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Gronik had $98,000 in his campaign account to start the election year. Spokesman Brandon Weathersby noted Gronik’s social media followers, which as of the beginning of the year totaled more than the other Democratic contenders. He also said his contributions from 59 Wisconsin counties and 27 states are “proof that there is real momentum for an outsider like Andy.”
Of Gronik’s fundraising total excluding his self-funding, 53 percent came from out-of-state donors, compared with 38 percent for Walker.
Among the Democrats, Mitchell had the largest percentage of out-of-state contributions (58 percent), followed by Gronik, Roys (33.7 percent), Flynn (14.8 percent), Vinehout (14.7 percent), Evers (6.5 percent), Wachs (5.1 percent) and McCabe (4 percent).
McCabe reported raising about $80,000 plus a $25,000 loan from himself and his wife. He spent a large chunk of that amount, leaving his campaign with about $21,000 heading into the new year.
McCabe has pledged not to take individual donations of more than $200 and cumulative donations of more than $1,000 from a single person. Asked on Twitter if he will change that strategy given his fundraising levels, McCabe replied, “Gotta stand on principle on this.”
“I consider those huge donations that state law allows to be legal bribes,” McCabe said. “Can’t in good conscience take them.”
2017 gubernatorial fundraising
Eight Democratic candidates and Gov. Scott Walker reported 2017 fundraising totals.
Candidate Total raised Amount self-funded (includes transfer from other campaigns) Donors Available cash at end of 2017
Tony Evers $340,191 $28,175 2,452 $115,062
Matt Flynn $350,511 $40,347 392 $304,972
Andy Gronik $554,408 $450,000 682 $97,827
Mike McCabe $104,494 $25,454 719 $21,159
Mahlon Mitchell $395,809 $0 778 $247,581
Kelda Roys $147,671 $113,204 117 $151,033
Kathleen Vinehout $112,347 $19,581 728 $17,047
Dana Wachs $555,265 $304,155 972 $162,826
Scott Walker $7.2 million $0 18,024 $4.2 million