No One Knows How Much Scott Walker's Foreign Trips Cost Wisconsin
By Jason Stein and Kevin Crowe
Three months after Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker traveled to Israel and four months after he visited Western Europe, it's still not clear how much the presidential candidate's trips cost and who paid what portion of them.
Expenses for the governor's May trip to Israel were divided between a Walker-aligned political group and the Republican Jewish Coalition, but so far the Walker affiliate has only broken out a single $20,000 payment for transportation and security in that country.
That makes it impossible to know how much was paid by Walker's group and how much was covered by the GOP coalition, which is staunchly allied with Israel and has a board whose members have already directly contributed more than $1.3 million to Walker and the groups linked to him.
Meanwhile, the state's jobs agency still hasn't said how much it cost taxpayers for Walker to travel to Germany, France and Spain on an April trade mission that was widely seen as carrying political overtones. The Walker administration has also not yet released how much the governor's political organizations have reimbursed taxpayers for the travel costs of his official security detail.
Foreign trips for governors aren't cheap _ the administration has reported that Wisconsin taxpayers paid $138,200 for Walker's February trip to Great Britain.
Wisconsin governors, including Democrat Jim Doyle, have periodically traveled abroad for trade missions and some other purposes. But Walker's travel is getting added scrutiny as he runs for president and seeks to strengthen his limited foreign policy credentials.
Walker called his five-day visit to Israel an "educational trip" and used it to meet with leaders such as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, Economic Minister Naftali Bennett and U.S. Ambassador Daniel Shapiro.
He visited religious sites such as the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall or Kotel, and toured the nation in a helicopter that afforded him views of Israel's borders with Syria and Lebanon. Since the trip, he has frequently mentioned it in his stump speeches and interviews on the 2016 campaign trail.
The Israel visit was organized and paid for in part by Our American Revival, a political group that served as Walker's presidential campaign in waiting in the spring before he officially announced his bid last month.
The governor was accompanied on the trip by Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, which also helped organize the visit.
Besides a June 12 payment of $20,048 to Elite VIP of Tel Aviv for transportation and security on the Israel trip, Our American Revival didn't break out specific expenses for the Israel trip in a recent report to federal Internal Revenue Service officials, leaving it unclear how much Walker's group paid in total.
There's no figure yet either for spending by the Republican Jewish Coalition, which didn't respond to a request for comment.
"The total amount of payments made by the Republican Jewish Coalition in connection with the trip was not available to us before the reporting deadline, and thus was not included in our midyear report," said Bridget Hagerty, executive director of Our American Revival. "We expect RJC to notify us of that amount shortly, and we will disclose it on our next IRS report, which is due to be filed in January.
The board of the Republican Jewish Coalition includes casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, an opponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a key campaign donor being courted by Walker and other GOP candidates for president.
In all, Adelson and his family members have given $280,000 to Walker's campaigns for governor. Other board members of the coalition have given an additional $1 million to various groups allied with Walker: at least $141,000 to his campaigns for governor; $290,000 to Our American Revival; and $600,000 to Unintimidated, the super PAC allied with his campaign. In a state-sponsored trade mission in April, Walker visited the cities of Hannover, Germany; Bilbao, Spain; and Montpellier, France.
In Germany, Walker delivered a speech at the Hannover Messe trade show and joined a meeting on possible collaborations between University of Wisconsin, Madison researchers and German researchers. In Spain, he held a roundtable discussion about business opportunities in Wisconsin for Spanish companies, and in Paris participated in a discussion hosted by the French-American Foundation.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which organized that trip, still has not released the costs to taxpayers for it.
"We are continuing to work on compiling and reconciling all invoices and credit charges for the European trade mission," agency spokesman Mark Maley said.
Like Wisconsin governors before him of both parties, Walker has a security detail of State Patrol troopers who travel with him wherever he goes. In April, the governor announced that his political groups would pick up the troopers' travel costs when Walker attends campaign rallies, fundraisers and other events related to his White House bid.
A spokesman for Walker's Department of Administration said that the full amount of those reimbursements is not yet available, though records show Our American Revival paid the department $33,427 for security services on June 25 and $5,829 on May 26 for the use of a state vehicle.
In June, Walker also traveled on a six-day taxpayer-funded trade trip to Canada, where he met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and participated in a Great Lakes leadership summit.
Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, said that Walker's campaign for president has gotten a political benefit from his recent trips without having to pay the full financial cost.
"Scott Walker has had an active campaign account for the last 22 years that's raised and spent more money than any state candidate in Wisconsin history," Ross said. "He should pay for his campaign trips with his campaign account."
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has spotlighted past travel by other Wisconsin governors and their appointees, including a December 2010 trip by Doyle to Cancun. Taxpayers did not have to pay for Doyle's travel to that United Nations climate change conference, but did pay for Doyle's policy adviser and two security staff.
Doyle's Commerce Secretary Jack Fischer resigned in 2008 after the Journal Sentinel reported on $21,300 in expenses for himself and his administrative assistant on three overseas trade missions.
(Stein reported for this story from Madison and Crowe from Milwaukee.)
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