“It’s one thing to be a rich guy, and quite another to be embarrassed by it. While he publicly mulls a U.S. Senate bid, Hovde has quietly cashed in over $14 million of stock in a company that bragged about outsourcing jobs overseas. No wonder Hovde is refusing to talk about it and hiding from the media,” said American Bridge spokesperson Joshua Karp.
By Jason Stein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel | May 14, 2017
MADISON – Investor and potential GOP Senate candidate Eric Hovde has sold more than $14 million worth of stock in a single company since November, raising questions about whether he’s preparing to self-fund his second statewide campaign.
Hovde, a Madison developer and banker, spent more than $5 million of his own money in the 2012 Republican primary for U.S. Senate.
Hovde came in second in that race, nearly besting former Gov. Tommy Thompson — one of the state’s most successful politicians of the past generation. And the businessman actually did beat two other more established politicians — former congressman Mark Neumann and then-Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald.
“He made a very respectable run last time,” said Mark Graul, a GOP strategist who has run statewide campaigns for other candidates.
The timing and size of Hovde’s latest stock sales raise questions about whether he’s laying the groundwork for another run.
Hovde and investment vehicles associated with him made the first of the sales on Nov. 8 — the same day as the presidential election — and continued the sales through March. In all, the investor sold more than $14.5 million in stock — enough to run a primary and general statewide campaign, especially when paired with at least some fundraising from other donors.
“If he gets in, he’ll spend what it takes to win,” said a person close to Hovde.
The sales were made from stock in the technology company ePlus Inc., which has included Hovde on its board of directors since 2006. Hovde made the sales at a time when the stock he owned in ePlus was rising — from $96.13 a share on the date of the first transaction in November to $130.14 on the date of the last sale four months later.
Hovde and ePlus didn’t respond to separate requests for comment on the stock sales.
The sales offer one potential insight into Hovde’s deliberations on another U.S. Senate run, but they’re far from a confirmation that he’s running.
Hovde was expected to make the rounds at the state Republican Party convention in Wisconsin Dells on Saturday, as other potential candidates were.
But there’s been no sign of Hovde conducting polling or engaging campaign staff — other telltale signs of an impending campaign. Graul pointed out that millionaires like Hovde routinely buy and sell assets as part of their businesses.
At the same time, the ePlus sales represent a significant transaction — even for a businessman with Hovde’s sizable net worth.
Hovde isn’t the only Republican considering a run against U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Several other potential candidates have been mulling a bid, including state Sen. Leah Vukmir of Brookfield; Marine veteran and businessman Kevin Nicholson; Nicole Schneider, a Green Bay educator and daughter-in-law of the late Donald Schneider, who built trucking firm Schneider National Inc.; state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau; and Rep. Dale Kooyenga of Brookfield.
Hovde’s personal wealth could be an asset in a potential campaign, but state Democratic Party spokeswoman Gillian Drummond made clear that Democrats also will try to use it against him if he does run.
“As a returning bidder at the GOP yacht sale primary, Eric Hovde’s Wall Street-funded campaign will be just that, a campaign for Wall Street, not Wisconsin,” Drummond said in an email.
As a member of the ePlus board, Hovde made routine federal filings about his sales of stock in the publicly traded company that he helps oversee.
Hovde’s transactions were first pointed out by American Bridge 21st Century, a liberal group that does opposition research into Republican candidates. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel confirmed the transactions by looking at filings made by Hovde with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.