Money Talked in Wisconsin

I know conservatives call any discussion of the bacchanalia of billionaire spending deployed to save Scott Walker “spin” or “whining;” we’re supposed to accept it was a sober, once-and-for-all referendum on the welfare state and unions and shuffle off to the dustbin of history as the “job-creators” of America prepare to shower the nation with the blessings of minimum wage, no-benefit jobs. But as the numbers are slowly assembled, it looks like Team Walker had just short of a 3-1 margin going into June 5. Here’s TPM’s Eric Kleefeld:

“It’s a moving target, and we continue to track the money,” said Mike McCabe, executive director of the campaign finance watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. “It’s gonna be well into July before we can put a final price tag on the race, because post-election reports filed by the candidates aren’t filed until July 5.”

So far, at least $66 million in spending has been accounted for in the recall races that took place Tuesday, for the gubernatorial recall, the lieutenant governor race and four state Senate races, said McCabe. “Based on what we’re seeing, we expect that the total is going to be in the ballpark of $80 million or more, by the time everything is accounted for. And then if you combine that with spending in last year’s recalls, the overall recall election spending in 2011 and 2012 is gonna be between $125 and $130 million.”

“We’re in a new era of madness, if you ask me,” McCabe said.

However, the campaign spending that has been tracked so far only goes up through the May 21 filings, McCabe said. Of that amount that has been accounted for, Walker spent $29.3 million, and Barrett spent only $2.9 million. Walker was aided by the fact that the state’s campaign finance law allowed him to take in unlimited contributions starting from the time when recall petitions were first circulated in November 2011, up through when the election was officially triggered in late March 2012.

On top of that, Republican-allied groups spent $18 million, and Democratic groups spent $15.5 million, for a total of about $66 million.

The final weeks of the campaign naturally saw a huge burst of activity. Based on the observed pace of television advertising, McCabe estimates that an extra $14 million or more was spent, though the true figures will not be known until July.

So we’re looking at a $47 million-$19 million advantage for Walker’s forces prior to May 21, and I don’t think they lost their edge between then and June 5.

Was this the only reason Walker won? Probably not. But anyone who thinks it didn’t matter at all is either dishonest or delusional.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.