The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

How Scott Walker spent $90,000 a day to lose an election

Scott Walker is back to being governor of Wisconsin after his presidential campaign ran out of money. (AP/Scott Bauer)

This story has been updated.

When Scott Walker dropped out of the presidential race late last month because he could no longer afford to continue, many of his fundraisers and supporters were stunned. They couldn't believe the candidate had burned through so much money so quickly.

Walker's campaign raised $7,379,170 between July 1 and Sept. 30, according to federal paperwork filed on Thursday. And during that time, they spent $6,393,957 and had bills for $161,133. Given that Walker's campaign lasted just 70 days — from July 13 to Sept. 21 — that means each day cost more than $90,000.

When Walker dropped out of the race, the campaign had nearly $1 million left, although that money will likely go toward paying ongoing contracts, leases and other expenses that can continue even when a campaign stops.

So how does a campaign spend that much money that quickly? For Walker, money went toward a payroll of more than 80, generous paychecks for top staffers, dozens of consultants and vendors who were paid tens of thousands of dollars, and elaborately staged campaign events. For a candidate who bragged on the campaign trail about finding deals at Kohl's and packing sack lunches to save money, the reports show that the campaign spent lavishly even as fundraising dollars began to disappear.

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The campaign's payroll for those three months totaled nearly $2 million in salaries, taxes and benefits. Additionally, the campaign engaged dozens of consultants and vendors who were collectively paid more than $800,000. Walker's campaign was known for paying more than many of its rivals, and at least 20 employees were paid at least $30,000 in less than three months. Walker's two college-age sons, Matt and Alex Walker, were both on the payroll but were among the least-compensated staff members, making less than $5,000 each. Five employees earned more than $50,000 in salary and benefits during that three-month period: Campaign manager Rick Wiley received nearly $52,000. Political director Matt Mason, $61,000. Communication director Kirsten Kukowski, more than $58,000. Treasurer Kate Lind, $57,730. General counsel Jonathan Waclawski, $57,600.

The campaign also spent hundreds of thousands of dollars setting up campaign stops and fundraisers. Even simple town-hall events in small towns featuring a stage, bright lights, a backdrop of flags and a sound system playing music. The campaign paid more than $126,000 to one firm alone, D.C.-based Harbinger LLC, to provide "event production consulting." The campaign would use video and photos from these events on Walker's social media platforms, on the campaign Web site and in promotional materials. The campaign had a full-time photographer on staff and also spent more than $100,000 on video production services.

The campaign spent more than $130,000 on rented office space in Wisconsin, plus thousands more in utility and janitorial costs. The campaign also rented an office in the Des Moines suburbs, costing $6,000 per month. The campaign spent nearly $10,000 on office furniture. It also spent more than $40,000 buying office equipment from Friends of Scott Walker, a group that supported the candidate's state races, and nearly $15,000 on equipment from Our American Revival, a political nonprofit that predated the campaign.

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Walker's expenditures fill dozens of pages and include line after line of routine campaign expenses: commercial flights for him and his staff, meals at Subway and Panera, hotel rooms, rental cars and catering. There are more than 20 receipts from Casey's General Store, a popular gas station and convenience store in Iowa, and a half-dozen Dunkin' Donuts receipts from East Coast trips. There are three bills for chartered flights, totaling more than $20,000, although Walker's goal was to always fly commercial. And then there were the hundreds of thousands on dollars spent on strategists, consultants, pollsters, direct mailing, telemarketing, digital ad campaigns and fundraising.

Tom Evenson, a longtime aide to Walker who was his personal assistant on the campaign trail, pointed out that the federal report also contains a lengthy list of all the donors who believed Walker could be the next president and donated to his campaign.

"Governor Walker is grateful to the tens of thousands of supporters who believed in his conservative vision and became a part of his effort," Evenson said in a statement Thursday evening. "While the outcome is obviously not what we had hoped for, the fact that 92 percent of the contributions Governor Walker received were for $100 or less reflects strong grassroots support for his vision of taking the power out of Washington and returning it to the people. Too many Americans worry that our nation is heading in the wrong direction, but Governor Walker is hopeful the eventual Republican nominee will champion an optimistic conservative vision that both inspires and offers a clear choice in 2016."

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