Michels runs as outsider, donated money to many insiders
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Republican Tim Michels, who has the endorsement of Donald Trump, is running for Wisconsin governor as a political outsider.
But records compiled by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, which tracks political spending and donations, show Michels and his wife gave more than $200,000 to powerful Republicans and candidates for the past 12 years. His top GOP rival in the race, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, and her political committees donated $130,000 over the same period.
The winner of the Aug. 9 primary will advance to face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers.
Michels, co-owners of the Michels Corp. construction company, along with his wife, Barb, gave $207,650 to Republican and conservative candidates between 2010 and 2022, the Democracy Campaign data released Wednesday showed. Michels’ extended family has given $541,400 over that time period, the Democracy Campaign said.
The top beneficiary of donations from Michels and his wife was former Gov. Scott Walker, who got $58,000. Walker, who backs Kleefisch in the race, this week released an ad attacking Michels over his involvement with groups that advocated for a higher gas tax.
Before they were political rivals, Michels even donated to Kleefisch, giving her $1,000 in October 2010, just before she and Walker were elected for the first time, records show.
In 2002, Michels gave $3,000 to Republican Gov. Scott McCallum and $1,000 to his Democratic opponent Jim Doyle. When asked about the Doyle donation in 2004, when Michels was running for U.S. Senate, his campaign spokesman told the Capital Times newspaper that he gave the money “in the best interest of his employees and the best interest of the business.”
That was the last time Michels donated to a Democrat.
Michels lost to Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold in 2004. Since then, he has focused on his family’s construction business while also serving in leadership roles for various high-powered organizations, including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association and the Transportation Development Association.
Kleefisch, her husband Joel who is a former state representative, her campaign committee and a political action committee she created have contributed $130,000 to Republican and conservative candidates since 2010, the Democracy Campaign said. Kleefisch was lieutenant governor under Walker from 2011 to 2018.
Kleefisch’s contributions were smaller than Michels’, with the highest donation being $5,000 to Deborah Kerr, a 2021 conservative candidate for state superintendent of schools.
Evers, his wife and his campaign committee donated about $14,000 to Democrats and liberal candidates over the same time, the Democracy Campaign said. The highest donation was just under $3,500 to Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul, who is also up for reelection this year.