Despite being called unusually high, the fines for exceeding the set campaign contribution limit would hardly dent Gov. Scott Walker’s $36 million gubernatorial campaign budget.
Walker’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign was fined $28,150 for accepting contributions beyond the individual contribution limit Jay Heck, Common Cause executive director, said. The campaign was penalized for accepting contributions over the Government Accountability Board $10,000 limit, which Heck said was unusual.
These penalties are nothing compared to the large amounts of money campaigns can raise, Heck said. Walker’s campaign raised and spent $36 million in the 2014 gubernatorial campaign and a $28,150 fine is less than 1 percent of the total campaign funds, Heck said.
“The fines are like a small mosquito that lands on your ear and doesn’t bite you,” Heck said. “It doesn’t hurt campaigns very much.”
Michael Haas, GAB elections division administrator, said campaign audits are conducted to regulate campaign finance limits and corporate contributions. Walker was penalized as a result of what these audits found, Haas said.
The GAB is responsible for overseeing financial contributions to political campaigns, Haas said. It places fines on individual contributions of $10,000 or more and other violations.
“The audits themselves are common,” Haas said. “After a calendar year, we will conduct audits of campaign committees to find potential violations.”
Heck said from GAB’s perspective, Walker’s campaign fines amount to a substantial amount. The $10,000 limit was effective for campaign contributions in the 2014 election, but the Legislature doubled individual campaign contribution limits to $20,000 for all campaigns after 2014, Heck said. This means that individuals can now contribute more without being penalized.
Barry Burden, University of Wisconsin political science professor, said campaigns usually just accept fines and pay the fee. Walker’s campaign is still raising and spending money for the next election cycle, Burden said.
Burden said campaign finance violations are seen in both Republican and Democrat political campaigns. He said Republicans tend to do better at getting corporate contributions and Democrats do better receiving union contributions.
“In general, campaign finance laws have become more lenient in the past four or five years,” Burden said. “The GAB will have less to enforce because there will be less regulation.”
Burden said the campaign fine does not affect taxpayers because campaign staff wages offset the penalty fees.
Heck said Walker’s campaign will just pay the fine because it is not much of a burden. Most campaigns want to get this sort of publicity out of the news, Heck said.
“Believe me, [Walker] is not feeling much pain at all,” said Heck.