Waiting For Walker: Governor Is Building His National Donor Network

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Feb 06, 2015 11:02 AM
Waiting For Walker: Governor Is Building His National Donor Network

Mitt Romney is out, but it seems Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will reap the rewards more than Jeb Bush. Walker has shot to the top of the heap in Iowa, and he’s now leading in New Hampshire. Guy asks:

Can he sustain that over the long slog of a campaign? Or will people look back at his successful opening act as a flash in the pan? Time will tell. For now, though, Walker's appeal seems to have expanded farther afield than his own backyard. We're eleven months away from primary season -- insert requisite clichés about "eternities in politics," etc. here -- and Scott Walker is on top in Iowa and New Hampshire.

If he does run, Gov. Scott Walker will need cash to stay afloat–and it seems he’s slowly building a national donor network for that purpose. He already has a political action committee called Our American Revival. In all, Walker could build one of the largest fundraising networks in the Republican Party. His small-donor file rivals that of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) (via WaPo) [emphasis mine]:

In the intense jockeying to win the 2016 money primary, former Florida governor Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are moving aggressively to lock down financial backers nationwide. On their heels is Walker, who has a 50-state network of wealthy contributors and small donors far more expansive than might be expected for a Midwestern governor and former Milwaukee county executive.

Walker’s thick donor file is the byproduct of a contentious effort to recall the governor in 2012 after he pushed through a law curtailing collective-bargaining rights for many public employees.

In all, Walker raised almost $83 million for his three statewide races in the past four years — an eye-popping sum for a governor of a modest-size Midwestern state. Of the nearly 300,000 people who gave to his campaigns, three out of four donated $75 or less, according to people familiar with the figures.

“He has a mammoth small-donor list,” rivaled only by libertarian-leaning Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), said Ron Weiser, a former finance chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Walker’s extensive fundraising network could help him pull in the kind of money that has eluded past Midwestern candidates such as then-Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), who ended his presidential bid in 2011 partly because of worries that he could not raise enough.

The political committee — which is being run by Rick Wiley, a former Republican National Committee political director — was set up under a section of the tax code that allows it to accept unlimited personal, corporate and PAC donations. The group is seeking to raise enough money to finance Walker’s travel and pay for a staff, but Walker is not expected to make a big fundraising push until later in the year.

Right now, his focus is on strengthening his ties to the big donors whose backing will be essential to financing a 2016 bid. GOP strategists say the top candidates will need to bring in at least $75 million just to get through the first three primary states.

Yet, the Republican Governors Association finance chair, Fred Malek, is cited in the Post piece as saying that Walker will certainly raise enough to compete for the nomination.

Still, Team Bush is quietly saying that their financial juggernaut will bring about the apocalypse for any would-be challenger; the former Floridian governor has 60 fundraising events planned over the course of the next few months, according to Politico

The article also mentioned that while Walker supporters know they probably won’t be able to pocket as much money as Jeb, the key is having enough cash for the early-voting states. Mr. Walker plans to be in New York towards the end of the month for a fundraising circuit of his own. In all, Mr. Walker has been crisscrossing the country trying to poach donors from other heavyweight networks within the party:

Walker allies are confident that they’ll have plenty of money to be competitive even if they can’t match Bush. The key, they say, is to collect enough money to be viable in the early-voting states — through March 1, 2016. If they can pull off a few initial victories, a gush of money will follow, they predict.

Since his reelection in November, Walker has traveled to Palm Springs, San Francisco, Denver, Nashville and Lakewood, New Jersey – Gov. Chris Christie’s terrain — to schmooze with donors.

After he returns from London next week for a trade mission, Walker is heading to New York City from Feb. 18 to 20 for a fundraising swing. Details are being finalized, but sources familiar with his plans say Walker will go to the Sunshine State during the first weekend in March to visit with major donors. This is Bush country, of course, as well as home to Sen. Marco Rubio, another potential challenger.

Walker associates say he’s also eyeing donors in Texas, home to Sen. Ted Cruz and former Gov. Rick Perry.

He’s also developed key relationships with many big Republican donors. Investment banker Warren Stephens, an Arkansas co-chairman for Romney in 2012, gave about $100,000 to Walker’s recall campaign. The two have spoken on the phone several times but never met in person. Stephens said he is uncommitted in the presidential race but likes what he’s seen of Walker.

Some of the top donors to Walker’s gubernatorial campaigns are members in good standing of the Koch network, including Wisconsin roofing billionaire Diane Hendricks, who has given nearly $530,000 over the years to Walker and is expected to support his campaign if he runs for president.

...

Walker has also worked hard to make inroads with the party’s deep-pocketed Jewish donor community. Sheldon Adelson gave $650,000 to the Republican Party of Wisconsin in October to help Walker’s reelection. During the recall, when Walker could briefly collect unlimited sums, Adelson gave him $250,000.

In other words, Walker has potential…a lot of potential.

At the same time, Gov. Walker and his team should know that the left is probably going to go after him pretty hard. For goodness sake, they’re saying he’s too “Midwestern” to be president. Over at National Review, Michael Auslin reminds us that Scott Walker–if he should become the 2016 Republican nominee–shouldn’t ignore the progressive attacks against him. That was Romney’s biggest mistake; he let liberals define him before and never really pushed back against the attacks on his wealth and business career. The end result: a rich, white man who really doesn’t care about me:

Here lies revealed the pathology at the core of modern progressivism. Progressives believe that winning can come only from dividing, from alienating and isolating non-mainstream groups. There is no “America” in this view, just racial categories, special interests, and economic classes, all of which are interchangeable levers to be plugged in when necessary for electoral victory. It’s Marxian in its spirit, less about an American people than narrowly self-interested splinters that can be manipulated by a ruling elite.

Sadly, this is a view that can only feed on itself. It has no room to grow, no ability to see beyond its self-imposed limits. It cannot provide an optimistic view of the future, because it cannot see how to transcend the divisions it reifies (and celebrates) to engender something larger.

Ultimately, this is because the progressive vision does not embrace freedom at its core, but rather the technocratic imposition of expertise. There is no real role for the American citizen, other than as the bill payer for socially transformative programs (all of which must be defended without question) and the electoral source of legitimacy for the elites, to whom he turns over the keys to society.

Conservatives, however, ignore the genius of the progressive strategy at their peril. Progressives pretend to defend a united American society while portraying anyone truly interested in empowering citizens as a threat to the larger community as well as to minorities, the working class, pro-choicers, etc.

The GOP regularly falls into the trap of letting the progressive Democrats define the national conversation and then trying to claw its way back to parity. Scott Walker should not make the same mistake.