MADISON, Wis. - Republican Scott Walker wants supporters of his campaign for governor to join his "brown bag movement" to show how serious he is about cutting government waste and spending.
Someone ought to tell his campaign about it.
Walker's campaign has spent thousands of dollars on food and beverages, including at high-end restaurants, even as it launches a public relations blitz to promote his claim that he's so frugal he packs his lunch every day, an Associated Press review found.
The campaign's bills for Walker's meals, campaign meetings that included meals for Walker, his staff and others, and food and drinks for fundraising events amount to at least $24,500 since mid-2008.
By contrast, the campaigns of his GOP primary rival Mark Neumann and Democratic opponent Tom Barrett spent some money on food and drinks for fundraisers but virtually nothing on meals for themselves and their campaign meetings. Both entered the race later than Walker.
The thousands spent on meals contradicts Walker's central campaign message espoused through a new Web site www.brownbagmovement.com, which he promotes in his first television ad.
On that site, Walker boasts about packing his brown bag lunch every day and proclaims, "We can't afford to go out to lunch because Wisconsin's government is out to lunch." His supporters can also buy Scott Walker Brown Paper Lunch Bags ($7 for 5) promoting his anti-tax philosophy.
But campaign finance records show Walker's campaign had no problem affording multiple meals for the candidate, his aides, their supporters and others at restaurants and events across the state.
Walker campaign spokeswoman Jill Bader broadly defended the campaign's spending as appropriate and denied any hypocrisy. At the same time, she would not answer questions about specific bills, such as why the campaign spent $2,182 for "meeting expenses" at Ruth's Chris Steakhouse in Middleton in October or $805 at Timmer's in West Bend the same month.
The campaign rang up bills of $244 at the Bay City Smokehouse in Green Bay, $230 and $193 at Carrabba's Italian Grill in Greenfield, $230 at the Capital Grille in Washington, D.C., and $149 at the Waterfront in La Crosse, among others. The campaign also paid bills of more than $30 apiece seven times at the Ambassador Hotel in Milwaukee.
The campaign also paid for Walker's meals at Subway locations 15 times in a four-month span, and spent a total of $1,070 at Johnny V's Classic Cafe in West Allis over 30 separate occasions, records show.
Bader said campaign staffers routinely meet at Johnny V's, where Walker likes the oatmeal. And she said it's appropriate for Walker to be reimbursed for meals while he campaigns.
"Of course, we spend money for food on campaign fundraising events, Scott doesn't have the time to pack a lunch for everyone and not everyone likes ham and cheese on wheat," she added, referring to what Walker often packs for lunch.
Jay Heck, director of Common Cause in Wisconsin, who has tracked Wisconsin campaigns for years, called the level of spending on meals "highly unusual." He said spending a lot on some fundraising events makes sense because they bring in more money, but campaigns typically want to be as frugal as possible otherwise to save for advertising.
"Either they have so much cash that they don't know what to do with it all, or they are wasting a lot of it," he said after reviewing AP's findings. "Either way it does not square with the tightfisted brown bag lunch guy Walker is trying to portray himself to be."
Bader called that criticism absurd.
AP's review of campaign finance disclosure reports tallied expenses from July 2008 through Dec. 31, 2009, that were listed as reimbursement for Walker's meals, restaurant bills listed as meeting expenses and to feed volunteers, and the cost of food and beverages for fundraising events. For the campaign meetings, it is not clear who attended.
Some of the campaign's most expensive tabs, in many cases $500 or more, came to pay for food and beverages for fundraising events. Walker's rivals reported similar expenses, but little in the way of any other meals.
The campaign of Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee, reported spending roughly $10,000 on food and beverages for fundraisers in the last six months of 2009. That included $3,771 for a fundraiser at the National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C.
Neumann, the former GOP congressman, reported $2,400 on food and drink for campaign events and fundraisers in the last six months of 2009.
Walker's spending tally does not include what could be the campaign's biggest event yet earlier this month: a $250-per-person fundraiser featuring former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee. Dinner tables for eight could be reserved for $2,000. The Democratic Party held a $10 brat supper during the event as a contrast.