After blaming his inability to compete in the governor's race on the amount of money Gov. Jim Doyle was raising, Scott Walker has now conceded what most politicos already knew: It wasn't Doyle's warchest, it was Mark Green's that forced Walker out. And it all goes back to a State Elections Board decision that allowed Green to transfer in $1.3-million from his Congressional campaign account.
From a WisPolitics interview with J.R. Ross:
Ross: Looking back big picture at the $1.3 million transfer and the Green organization, especially with the Bush-Cheney campaign from 2004, was there anything you could have done to win this nomination, to run the campaign you wanted to run to raise the money you needed to raise to win this nomination and compete against Jim Doyle?
Obviously there are always things you can do better. But I think you hit the nail on the head -- those two things: Graul’s involvement with the Bush-Cheney campaign organization and more importantly the $1.3 million that Green transferred was really the fundamental difference.
Green's transfer from his House campaign account, amassed over several reelection cycles when he had no serious challenge but continued to milk the Washington special interests, took advantage of a big inequity in state law. It's tempting to call it a loophole, but the provision was there by design, not oversight, so inequity is a better fit.
It was not unprecedented. Tom Barrett, then a Milwaukee Congressman, did the same thing in the last governor's race, transferring in $750,000 over the protests of his opponent, Jim Doyle (and yours truly, who was working for Doyle.) At the time, Barrett transferred in more than Doyle had in the bank, but Doyle went on to win the primary anyway.
Doyle challenged the transfer with the State Elections Board, arguing that even if Barrett could legally transfer money, he should not have been able to transfer hundreds of thousands of dollars from federal political action committees which were not registered in Wisconsin and could not legally give to a candidate for governor. The board unanimously sided with Barrett. Republican appointees were in a screw-Doyle mode and liked the prospect of a bloody Dem primary. Democratic appointees didn't want to look like they were taking sides, although some of them were in a screw-Doyle mode, too.
In January 2005, the Elections Board tried to block Green's $1.3-million transfer by passing an emergency rule to outlaw such transfers, but Green transferred his money -- which included $500,000 to $800,000 in PAC money, depending on who's counting -- the day before the board met. Then the Republican majority on a legislative committee overturned the rule anyway.
But now the law has been changed, too late to help Walker.
What's wrong with allowing such transfers?
Barrett and Green both offer textbook examples, one in each party.
The law allowed a member of Congress in a safe seat, who may not even have a challenger, to collect and hoard vast sums of money from Washington special interest groups, who want access and influence with the member but couldn't care less who the governor of Wisconsin is. After several cycles, that amounts to a significant amount of money, much of it raised from sources that are either illegal or not available to a state candidate to access.
It makes for a very uneven playing field.
In this case, it ended a primary campaign six months early.
The Elections Board promulgated (great word) a new rule
in September that prohibits such transfers, so Green's will presumably be the last.
Biggest potential loser: Rep. Paul Ryan, the Janesville Republican, who reported $1.5-million in the bank at the end of 2005. He may be waiting for a U.S. Senate seat to open up, for which he could legally use the money. But unless there is a flip-flop by a future Elections Board or legislature, he can't use it to run for a state office.
It has long been illegal to use state campaign funds to run for federal office, under federal law. Now the same principle applies in both directions, as it should.