The tweet went out from Washington, D.C., earlier this month, a fairly innocuous note from a blogger at the Christmas party of conservative power broker Grover Norquist.

"Gov. Scott Walker just left ATR/Norquist Xmas party."

It's no shock that a prominent Republican would attend a party hosted by Norquist and his organization, Americans for Tax Reform. Still, news that Walker was in the nation's Capitol was met with surprise back home.

That's because the tweet, from Slate political reporter Dave Weigel, was the first clue most Wisconsin political watchers had that their governor was out of state.

Walker just completed the single most lucrative period of fundraising for a candidate in state history. And almost half of the $5.1 million he raised since July came from beyond our borders.

But the governor has refused to keep the public informed as to his comings and goings. His presence in New York, or Texas or Washington has been learned after the fact and almost always tipped off by a blogger or a website listing.

The governor's staff says this level of transparency is acceptable; that requesting his campaign calendar is akin to asking about dinner plans with his family.

But critics say this is wrong. They contend it takes advantage of state law and obscures activities the governor might not want the public to know — namely that Walker, who has criticized his opponents for having out-of-state ties, is playing in the same pool. 

"He is not a private citizen," said Larry Sabato, a national political expert and director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "A governor is governor 24 hours a day for his or her entire term. He should alert the public when he leaves the state." 

One governor, two calendars

Walker, like Gov. Jim Doyle before him, keeps two calendars: one official, one personal (which includes campaign-related events).

Wisconsin law requires that politicians maintain some clearly defined — some would say rigid — lines between private and official actions. If a reporter calls a Capitol office with a political question, chances are the staffer with the answer will have to take a lunch break to call back.

Walker's administrative office maintains his official calendar, which includes meetings and trips to promote the state. It does not include trips the governor makes to fundraisers, non-official parties and other such political events.

The line separating such events, to most people, is nearly invisible. For example, the governor's trip on Nov. 10 to Phoenix to be the featured guest at the Goldwater Institute was on the official calendar. But Walker's trip to Orlando, Fla., for the Republican Governor's Conference at the end of November was not. 

Officials with the Wisconsin Democratic Party said they have been forced to use mostly out-of-state websites, news stories and press releases to track the governor's travel, which has quietly taken him to California, Arizona, New York, Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee, and Kentucky.

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Walker's campaign staff said they do not discuss the governor's campaign schedule. His administrative staff said they are prohibited by law from doing so.

The governor said he can do his job from anywhere, so he doesn't think his out-of-state travel is a big deal.

"We don't, nor has any campaign that I am aware of, from any governor, put out a list of every fundraiser and campaign stop that they make, whether it's in state or out of state," Walker said.

Other governors' practices

Walker's immediate predecessor was not known for his transparency, but when it comes to travel, Doyle was considerably more open.

While the former governor's staffers didn't always advertise out-of-state trips in advance, they would often give reporters notice once he left. And when asked about such trips, they typically delivered a rote response: "The governor is a popular national figure who is in 'X' to discuss 'Y.'"

"I lost track of how many times we heard about Doyle going out of state," said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, an organization that tracks money in politics. "If it was ever a secret, it was a poorly kept one."

This situation is not unique to Wisconsin. Governors and their travel have periodically caught the public's attention.

In 2009, Virginia Republicans went after Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine for keeping secret his travel record. Kaine was also serving as head of the Democratic National Committee at the time, a job that took him out of state often. 

"In the end, he had to disclose everything," Sabato said. "They always do. The bad publicity is worse than just letting people know where you're going."

Groups like the National Governors Association, the Council of State Governments and the National Conference of State Legislatures do not track rules regarding governor travel.

But a survey of surrounding states shows a variety of approaches. Iowa's laws are not much different than Wisconsin's. But according to the state's Democratic Party, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad keeps a relatively transparent calendar.

"There are plenty of things I could go after the governor on, especially related to transparency, but his calendar is not one of them," said Sam Roecker, Iowa Democratic Party spokesman. "We usually know when he leaves the state and where he's going."

It is a different story in Michigan, where Democratic Party officials said they often have to fight Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for access to even his official calendar.

"Our laws are even more broad," said John Tramontana, party spokesman. "Practically nothing is subject to the Freedom of Information Act."

Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics

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