Report: Recall election most expensive race in Wisconsin history

The Wisconsin recall election for GOP Gov. Scott Walker has become the most expensive contest in state history, a nonprofit watchdog group said Sunday.

The Center for Public Integrity (CPI) said more than $63.5 million had been spent by Walker, his Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and outside groups ahead of Tuesday’s vote. The tally, which includes funds spent since November 2011, topped the 2010 gubernatorial contest, which held the previous record of $37.4 million.

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Removing Walker from office has become a priority for Democrats and labor groups after the governor pushed through a measure to limit public workers’ collective bargaining rights. Republicans have rallied to Walker’s defense, with both sides presenting the contest as a preview of the November election.

Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said the vote would be a “dry run” for Democrats ahead of November. Polls show Walker with a slight edge on Barrett, but Democrats are making a strong push this weekend to close the gap. Former President Clinton visited the state on Friday to stump with Barrett.

Out-of-state sources have funded both sides heavily in the contest, CPI said. Barrett has received about 26 percent of his $4 million in donations from sources outside of Wisconsin, while Walker has received two-thirds of his $30.5 million haul from out-of-state. Both campaigns have been aided by strong spending by super-PACs and other outside groups.

Labor unions have spent heavily to defeat Walker. The report says that the nation’s three largest public unions, the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have directed at least $2 million to anti-Walker efforts. 

Walker, for his part, has been aided by conservative businessmen including casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and billionaire David Koch. The Republican Governors Association received a $1 million contribution from Koch in February, according to CPI.

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