ICYMI: Tim Michels Already Breaking Campaign Promises
MADISON, Wis. —When Tim Michels launched his campaign, he pledged to not solicit campaign contributions and capped donations at $500 per person. Just hours after winning the primary, Michels turned his back on that promise. Now, Michels’ campaign says they are accepting contributions of up to $20,000, the legal limit in Wisconsin. Promise broken, the Journal Sentinel is now reporting.
Michels has made it clear he will say and do anything to win this race, including embracing the most radical positions possible, scrubbing mentions of Trump from his website, and now, breaking this key promise that was a regular feature of his appearances on right-wing media.
Now that Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels has won the GOP nomination, the multimillionaire construction executive has a new message:
He needs your money.
During the primary, Michels repeatedly emphasized that he was not accepting donations from any individual for more than $500.
His would be a largely self-funded campaign, along the same lines as that of former Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, who campaigned on the slogan: “Nobody’s senator but yours.”
Michels even had an ad called “Not Beholden,” in which he said he wouldn’t be in debt to special interests or big-money donors. His campaign said Michels capped donations at $500 because he is “not going to be influenced by anyone in this race.”
“I’m not gonna owe anyone anything,” Michels told conservative talk show host Jay Weber on WISN-AM (1130) on April 25.
And that’s largely how it went in the primary. Michels pumped nearly $12 million into his campaign, defeating former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch earlier this month.
But Michels, co-owner of Michels Corp., was a lot quieter with the news that he was going to break his pledge to limit the amount of donations.
On the night of the Aug. 9 primary, Michels’ campaign manager, Patrick McNulty, put out a statement declaring victory. In the 11th paragraph, McNulty said the campaign will now begin accepting donations of up to $20,000 per person.
The announcement generated almost no news whatsoever outside of a tweet by former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter Patrick Marley, now of the Washington Post.
“Going forward we will accept contributions from individuals up to Wisconsin’s legal limit,” McNulty said. “The stakes in this election are simply too high. Let’s get to work to turn Wisconsin around.”
Short and sweet. And it went over nearly without a peep.
Asked about the move, a Democratic Party official accused Michels of misleading voters. Michels will face Democratic Gov. Tony Evers in the November general election.
“When Michels entered the race, he made a promise to voters that he wouldn’t be ‘beholden’ to anyone if he is elected governor,” Democratic Party spokeswoman Hannah Menchhoff said. “Now he is breaking his promises and trying to run from what he has said during the primary.”
But McNulty responded by saying the situation had changed.
McNulty said Evers and his supporters have committed tens of millions of dollars to the general election. That was not the case in the primary, where Michels swamped GOP opponents by self-financing his campaign.
“We aren’t going to simply lay down in the fight to replace him,” McNulty said last week. “Evers has been at this for more than four years, we’ve been at this for less than four months, and we’re surging.
“We will have the staff and resources to defeat Tony Evers, but more importantly, we are building a unified coalition of Republicans, Independents, and even disaffected Democrats.”
It is true that Evers, a former school principal, has done well in his fundraising. In the first half of the year, the Democratic nominee had pulled in more than $10.1 million — putting his total re-election fundraising haul since the start of 2021 at more than $20 million.
In addition to that, outside groups are spending huge bucks on the hotly contested contest. The Democratic Governors Association, for instance, has pledged to pour $21 million into the race.
Still, the change in direction has confused some in the Republican Party.
One official with a trade group, who asked not to be named so he could talk candidly, said his organization didn’t know what to think when hit up for cash by a Michels official. His group was asked to raise more than $20,000 total.
“It was like, ‘Wait, I thought he was paying for his own campaign,'” said the official. “We were told that that was the primary. Things are different now.”
A GOP lobbyist offered a similar assessment. Michels still is not taking money from Madison lobbyists and political action committees.
“You have to wonder if this was the plan all along,” the lobbyist said.
So far, the Michels campaign has pulled scores of donations of $500 from people around the state. But 200 such contributions generates only $100,000 — a figure the campaign can now match in five gifts of $20,000 each.
Perhaps Michels learned something from his unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2004.
In that race, Michels — who was rich but did not have as much as he does now — put $1.7 million into his campaign, which raised a total of $5.5 million. But many GOP supporters waited until the end for Michels to dump much more into the race.
The GOP lobbyist said he doubts Michels is turning off the spigot for his campaign. He just won’t be spending more than $1 million of his own cash per week, as he did in the primary.
But the lobbyist said Michels is quietly trying to get the message out now that he is not going to underwrite his entire campaign. The deep-pocketed Brownsville businessman has begun hitting up donors for financial support — never an easy ask.
“He bought the primary, but he’s not buying the general election,” the lobbyist said. “The rules have changed.”
Even if it means he’s now going to have to ditch his “Not Beholden” ad.