As both parties prepare for efforts to recall the leader of the state, Gov. Scott Walker and his potential opponent stand with the ability to raise an unlimited amount of funds to campaign during the run-up to the recall season.
With the start of the petitioning process on Nov. 15, the cap on individual contributions to candidates in a gubernatorial campaign will be lifted for 60 days, said Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause in Wisconsin.
Heck said normally gubernatorial candidates cannot receive more than $10,000 during the entire election cycle, or in Walker’s case, from 2010 to 2014. However, under state law, the cap is lifted during the 60-day period when signatures for a recall are being collected
According to a statement from the Government Accountability Board, the normal limitations will still apply to all contributions higher than the legal fees incurred in the recall and any other costs included in the defense or challenge of the order for a recall.
Once the signature period ends and an actual recall election is called, the normal cap on fundraising limits is back in place. Any funds generated during the 60-day period that do not go to paying legal fees or the other fees incurred during the petition effort can be used in the election campaign, donated to a charity or the common school fund, or returned to the individual contributor.
Heck said the loophole will open the floodgates for a candidate’s campaign fundraising effort as donors are able to give any amount of funds to support the campaign. He said he would not be surprised if both sides combined raised some $50 million to fund their candidates.
Heck said a situation where a candidate is allowed to receive an uncapped contribution is rare at any level of government. He said the national attention garnered during last spring’s collective bargaining protests suggests both Walker and his undetermined opponent stand to receive large contributions from national donors and special interest groups.
“This recall is uncharted territory,” Heck said. “We’ve never had a recall election statewide like this, and the national implications are huge.”
In an email to The Badger Herald, University of Wisconsin political science professor Barry Burden said while a candidate does need a reasonable amount of funds to be a contender in the race, money does not always determine the victor in an election.
He said oftentimes the candidate who spends the most wins the election, but generally this is because he or she also possesses the more appealing qualities that serve to attract more donations and votes.
While Walker is unpopular with a large portion of Wisconsinites, he said the governor could be at a financial advantage because of the unlimited amount of money he can receive from individual donors.
“I’m sure Walker would rather not be [up for recall],” he said. “But on the other hand, it’s an opportunity to raise money with no limit.”
Burden said the biggest concern surrounding recent elections has been the major influence of outside groups, which in the summer recall elections were large players in the campaigns, spending far more than the candidates but without disclosing their donors.
Due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Heck said corporations and unions are not limited in the amount of money they give to political action committees and can help fund the development of outside advertisements which attempt to ruin the credibility of one candidate without legally citing an allegiance to the other.
Heck said he does not understand why the lifting of the cap is still in place for recall elections and believes it should be removed.
“If money would corrupt in a general election, it can certainly corrupt in a recall election,” Heck said.