Wisconsin GOP maxed out credit card, goes into debt to save Walker
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Wisconsin Republican Party maxed out credit card, racked up $600 in monthly interest as it tried to save Scott Walker
MADISON - The state Republican Party fell so far behind financially in recent months that it missed payments to insurers and racked up nearly $600 a month in interest on a maxed-out credit card, according to a draft of an internal report.
The review, commissioned by U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and other top Wisconsin Republicans in the wake of statewide losses in 2018, also showed the party was "recklessly reliant" on consultants, some of whom made more than $500,000 doing routine work for the party.
In a final version of the report released Monday, GOP leaders also concluded the party and statewide campaigns fell short with women by including very few in their 2018 campaigns.
"On our side, one cannot look at the number of women hired as Party staff or included in high level campaign messaging and strategy sessions and make a straight-faced argument that we’ve done enough to include a group that represents approximately 52% of the vote," the report says.
The analysis of the 2018 general election — when every Republican seeking a statewide office lost their races -— shows a party seeking to improve its communication with volunteers, its appeal to voters who aren't white and male, and its policies on spending money.
Wisconsin Republicans were urged in the report to work closely with President Donald Trump's re-election campaign and find new ways to encourage voting for Trump while also making the party appealing again to independent voters, who didn't stick with Republicans in 2018.
'The report is brutally honest'
"The post-election assessment was the first step in making necessary improvements to the RPW structure and operations following the disappointing losses of all our statewide candidates in 2018," Johnson wrote in the report. "Appropriately, the report is brutally honest."
Mark Morgan, former executive director of the state party, did not respond to a request for comment.
Courtney Beyer, spokeswoman for the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said the party has entered the 2020 election cycle "broke, comically dysfunctional and fighting amongst themselves."
Beyer said Democrats "already have dozens of organizers on the ground mobilizing for victory in 2020.”
Some of the details included in the draft report obtained by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did not appear in the party's final product — including details about credit card spending. The report also did not name consultants and party officials declined to identify them.
A Journal Sentinel review of the party's last filing with the state's Ethics Commission before the 2018 general election shows the party paid 10 consultants and one pollster $289,104 between Sept. 1 and Oct. 22.
Some consultants “had few, if any, discernible job responsibilities or expectations of deliverables,” the report says.
Johnson criticized statewide campaigns relying heavily on consultants in a recent interview with the Journal Sentinel, but the new report provides more details about the extent of the party’s financial problems and areas upon which the party plans to improve.
“The most immediate concerns facing the RPW are the cash flow problems and the debt we face,” the report says.
The report does not describe the size of the debt, but party spokesman Charles Nichols said it reached more than $350,000 after last year’s election.
The party’s most recent campaign finance report shows a debt of about $142,000 at the end of March.
The party's financial situation could be improving, however. In April, Wisconsin billionaire Diane Hendricks gave the party $500,000, according to campaign finance records.
The party is getting on top of the issue, but “rather startlingly, continues to learn of additional and ongoing obligations,” the report says.
The report is meant to steer the party in a new direction after Gov. Scott Walker and every other Wisconsin Republican running for statewide office lost in November.
Johnson, whose Senate term runs through 2022, has become the de facto head of the state party now that he is the only Republican to hold statewide office.
GOP state convention is Saturday
The report comes as Johnson and other party leaders head to Oshkosh on Saturday for the party's annual state convention — a meeting of Republicans around the state that, for the first time in nearly a decade, will be held as the GOP recovers from losing every statewide office on the ballot in 2018.
The report concluded the state party was “essentially outsourced” to Walker’s campaign and was “a top-down bureaucracy, disconnected from local activists (and) recklessly reliant on outside consultants.”
The report also offers praise for Walker, noting he helped bring in large sums for the party during his time as governor.
The reliance on consultants caused the party’s debt to go up and prevented it from building “a farm team of future staff and young party leaders,” the report says.
Party officials also ignored local activists and sometimes treated them rudely, it says.
Walker, in a statement, did not address questions about the report's findings but said the party "will need to continue to find ways to engage the grassroots in Wisconsin" to win in 2020.
Toward the end of last year’s campaign, the party funneled $4 million toward Walker’s unsuccessful re-election bid, the report says. That was more than the party could bear financially.
“Credit card use, already excessive, became heavier in the final weeks of the cycle, to supplement spending on behalf of the gubernatorial campaign,” the report says.
“When cash flow problems started to occur, the credit card was used to supplement spending, which continued after the election. This resulted in a balance well over the card limit, which continued to rack up nearly $600 a month in interest charges as the balance went unpaid for months.”
The party for a time could not cover day-to-day expenses, like those for printing, and was late to pay insurers. The credit card debt was recently paid off, but other large bills remain, the report says.
Loss of independent voters
The report also concludes that losing support among independent voters compared to past elections may have had more to do with the statewide losses than turnout among Democrats did.
"Wisconsin Republicans have enjoyed significant advantages with independent voters since the 2010 cycle. Those advantages were lost in 2018," the report said.
At the same time, the party seeks to "make it safe" to publicly support Trump — especially in the heavily conservative counties surrounding the city of Milwaukee where the president has lost support in recent years.
"The old adage that ‘signs don’t vote’ is true. But because the left has developed a strategy of bullying and intimidation, we live in a time when people are afraid to publicly acknowledge they support President Trump," the report said. "Yard signs can be a useful tool in building support by showing folks that it’s OK to come outside."
Between 2014 and 2018, Walker's winning margins declined most in Waukesha and Ozaukee counties — two of the state's most-Republican areas. In 2016, they are the same counties Trump trailed farthest behind Mitt Romney's 2012 totals.