Scott Walker's foreign trade missions cost taxpayers $150,000

By Patrick Marley and Jason Stein of the Journal Sentinel

Madison— A pair of international trade missions headed by Gov. Scott Walker this year cost taxpayers nearly $150,000, and Walker's political groups are reimbursing the state $125,000 for separate costs for his security team's travel while he pursued the presidency.

Those details were included in documents released Friday that give the best accounting yet of travel expenses for the GOP governor as he jetted around the country in preparation for his now-abandoned White House bid.

The state is being reimbursed by Walker's political operations for the costs of the security team's hotel, airfare, meals and use of state vehicles while Walker was campaigning. But taxpayers are bearing the cost of the trade missions to Canada and western Europe.

Taxpayers are also paying for the salaries and benefits for the state troopers who protect the governor, first lady Tonette Walker, Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch and visiting officials.

Those costs have exploded since Walker became governor, rising from about $561,000 in the year before Walker became governor to more than $2 million in 2014. The hike in cost is due in part because of enhanced security since huge labor protests in 2011 that included expanding full-time protection to the lieutenant governor.

Kleefisch's predecessor, Democrat Barbara Lawton, didn't get the kind of round-the-clock protection that Kleefisch received for years.

For the first three months of 2015, taxpayers spent nearly $500,000 on wages and benefits for the security team — nearly as much as they paid in all of 2010 under then-Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat. More recent figures were not available.

During Walker's first term, the average yearly spending on salaries and fringe benefits for the security detail has run more than three times the amount averaged during the final years of Doyle's time in office. Spending on Walker's detail in the first three months of 2015 was on track to hit nearly four times as much as Doyle's.

The salary costs do not appear to include back pay for overtime that the U.S. Department of Labor recently determined must be paid to the troopers who work long hours guarding public officials. That could tack on as much as $1 million to the total.

A spokeswoman for the State Patrol did not have information late Friday on whether the overtime figures were included. But as of earlier this week the State Patrol had not calculated those costs, and it appeared they were not included in the figures released Friday.

Back pay is owed for overtime because the state in many cases did not pay troopers when they put in extra hours. The state must provide pay for overtime back to May 2013 for eight sergeants in the Dignitary Protection Unit and one sergeant formerly assigned to the unit.

In response, the State Patrol recently cut the security team in half and rescinded $4-an-hour raises it had given troopers on the team in February.

Some of the documents released Friday were in response to requests from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and others under the state's open records law. Others were brought forward by Walker's administration on its own.

Trade missions

Among the new documents were ones showing taxpayers covered $117,300 in costs for an April trade mission to Germany, France and Spain that was widely seen in the national media as carrying political overtones.

The newly released figures also show $29,500 in costs for a six-day trade trip in June to Canada, where Walker met with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard and participated in a Great Lakes leadership summit.

The administration had earlier released records showing the $138,200 cost for Walker's February trip to Great Britain.

The expenses were handled differently, however, for the governor's May trip to Israel, which was not billed as an official visit.

Those costs were divided between a Walker-aligned political group and the Republican Jewish Coalition. So far the Walker affiliate has only broken out a single $20,000 payment for transportation and security in that country.

Walker began exploring a presidential run in earnest soon after he was re-elected in November and formally announced his candidacy in July. The campaign lasted just 71 days before he abandoned it last month after his polling numbers cratered.

Historically, taxpayers have picked up all the costs for security for Wisconsin governors and some other officials, even when they are engaged in purely political work or on vacation. Walker's team announced in April his political operations would pick up the costs for airfare, hotel and meals for his security team for campaign travel — but not for salaries and fringe benefits.

In all, the political operations are committed to paying back about $125,000 for travel costs for the first half of the year. Of that, they have paid about $58,000 and are expected to pay the remaining amount of just over $67,000.

The reimbursements are being made by Walker's gubernatorial campaign, his presidential campaign and Our American Revival, a political group he set up as he mulled running for president.

Democrats contended Walker's campaign should pay more of the bill, and cover the expenses more promptly.

"Before the governor pays another nickel to a campaign consultant or vendor, the people of Wisconsin should be reimbursed immediately," said a statement from Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point). "And in the future, we must reign in taxpayer-funded welfare to the Walker campaign and any other politician who prioritizes their political ambitions over the people of our state."