MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's polarizing governor is fighting attempts to recall him with money from out-of-state donors, who helped him bring in more than $12 million since last year.
An Associated Press analysis of campaign finance reports Republican Gov. Scott Walker filed Monday showed 61 percent of the $4.1 million he raised during the five-week reporting period came from out of state.
Many of the contributions came from big donors, including $250,000 from conservative Texas financier Bob Perry and a total of $750,000 from three people in Missouri. More than half of Walker's money came from people who donated $20,000 or more, such as Michael Bidwill, president of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, who gave $25,000.
Walker's furious fundraising comes as Wisconsin election officials continue to review an estimated 1.9 million signatures collected to recall the governor, lieutenant governor and four Republican state senators.
The recall effort was spurred by anger over Walker's first year in office, in particular a law he pushed through that effectively ended collective bargaining rights for most public workers.
The $12.1 million Walker has raised since January 2011 breaks the previous record for fundraising by a candidate for state office in Wisconsin. Walker set the earlier record when he raised $10 million on his way to victory in 2010.
Walker's latest efforts take advantage of a state law that allows targets of a recall to ignore the usual $10,000 per-donor cap and raise unlimited amounts until an election is set. Walker has been traversing the country raising money and speaking at gatherings of conservatives from Texas to New York and Tennessee.
"We haven't seen anything like this before," Mike McCabe, director of the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said Tuesday. His group's analysis of Walker's latest fundraising totals, which covered Dec. 11 through Jan. 17, showed that 33 donors gave between $20,000 and $250,000 for a total of $2.3 million.
Walker's campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said the level of donations shows Walker's message is resonating with voters.
"These donations will allow us to fight back against this baseless recall and ensure Gov. Walker can continue to lay the foundation for a more successful Wisconsin and keep government working on the side of taxpayers," she said.
Recall organizers raised just a fraction of what Walker did.
The Democratic Party and United Wisconsin, which worked together on the petition drive, reported raising $480,000 collectively since Dec. 11. Walker raised $4.5 million over the same five-week period, while Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch raised $102,000.
Two Democrats, former Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk and state Sen. Tim Cullen of Janesville, have announced they will seek their party's nomination to take on Walker. A number of others are considering running.
Unlike Walker's donors, most of those funding Democrats — 67 percent — live in Wisconsin.
Democrats, who are bound by the state's campaign donation limits, have said they don't expect to keep up with Walker's fundraising.
"We will be outspent three or four to one," state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said.
McCabe, with the Democracy Campaign, said Walker will have a "commanding" financial advantage over any challenger. Walker has repeatedly said he is going after out-of-state money because he anticipates national organized labor groups will spend heavily in support of the candidate Democrats eventually chose.
McCabe predicted that outside groups will come in on both sides, but Walker will maintain his financial advantage.
"There's no question," he said. "I don't think any Democratic candidate can possibly catch up."
Walker has spent $9.8 million over the past 54 weeks, with much of it going toward television advertising that started the night before those gathering signatures on recall petitions hit the streets. He reported having $2.6 million in cash left.
Some of Walker's biggest backers are well-known conservatives.
Bidwill is a frequent donor to Republican candidates across the country. Perry, a Texas home builder, helped pay for the Swift Boat Veterans ads that attacked Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign. Perry has a total of $500,000 to Walker's campaign.
The three others who gave Walker $250,000 each during one week this month were Missouri residents David C. Humphreys and his sister Sarah Atkins, both of Tamko Building Products, and Stanley M. Herzog of Herzog Contracting.
Members of the Humphreys family are some of the largest Republican donors in Missouri.
David Humphreys, who contributed $125,000 last year to the expected gubernatorial campaign of Missouri's Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, made news last fall by asking for his money back after Kinder admitted he frequented an Illinois strip club while he was a state senator in the 1990s. Kinder did not return the money but ultimately decided against running for governor.
Associated Press writers Troy Thibodeaux in New Orleans and David Lieb in Jefferson City, Mo., contributed to this report.