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October 20th, 2010

Money Talks – Financial Disclosures Forecast Trouble for Iowa Democrats

For most of the last decade, I was involved in raising money for a number of Republican candidates and causes in Iowa.  Having raised money for all sorts of campaigns, I’ve learned that there are a multitude of things that fundraising numbers will tell you about a particular candidate and their race.

Who donates to a particular campaign can sometimes tell you something about the candidate’s politics and beliefs.  The number of donations a campaign receives can sometimes tell you how widespread its support base is.  The amount of money that a campaign raises can indicate the level of interest and importance of that particular race.

Yesterday, candidates running for state office had to disclose how much their campaigns raised and spent from the middle of July to the middle of October.  The October report covers the bulk of the candidate’s general election campaign.  Besides polling data, the financial disclosures are one of the few things that provide us with some empirical data to examine before Election Day.  Let’s take a look at what the numbers tell us.

Iowa Gubernatorial Race

Governor Chet Culver has raised almost $8 million dollars for his re-election bid over the last four years.  His Republican opponent, Terry Branstad, has raised $7.6 million.  While the numbers are similar, the manner in which the money was raised and how long it took the two candidates to raise that amount of money couldn’t be more different.

Branstad has basically raised in one year what it took Culver four years to do.  Culver has also relied heavily on labor unions and the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) as his primary fundraising sources.

In their most recent fundraising reports, Governor Culver raised $1.3 million to Branstad’s $2.1 million.  Once again, Culver’s fundraising numbers are boosted by a $600,000 contribution from the DGA.  In all, the DGA has contributed over $2.3 million to Culver’s 2010 and spent another $750,000 on ads targeting Branstad.

Branstad’s financial support is more widespread and less dependent on the Republican Governors Association (RGA).  Branstad’s campaign boasts over 13,000 individual donors.   The RGA has invested $1 million in to his campaign, but has not donated to the campaign since July 14th.  The lack of recent RGA contributions is a sign that they don’t believe that Branstad needs their support to be successful on November 2nd.  The Branstad campaign should be commended for its strong fundraising ability throughout the length of the campaign.

To put these numbers in perspective, at this time in 2006, Chet Culver raised over $3 million for his campaign and had over $700,000 cash on hand.  In 2006, Culver had the wind at his back and money was flowing into his campaign coffers.  Four years later, his anemic poll numbers have crippled his fundraising ability. If it were not for the DGA’s $600,000 contribution, Culver’s campaign would be in debt since he has outstanding bills totaling $107,000, and cash on hand of only around $500,000.

All of the fundraising numbers point to a Branstad victory on November 2nd.

Iowa Attorney General Race

A couple weeks ago, reported that Attorney General Tom Miller’s campaign sent out a desperate plea for campaign contributions.  Iowa Democrat power broker, Jerry Crawford, held an emergency fundraiser for Miller in Des Moines, and Miller also went to Washington D.C. to look for funds.  Iowa Democrats have been nervous about Brenna Findley’s substantial television buys.

Miller’s last minute fundraising plea helped him raise over $243,000, an impressive amount of money for down ballot statewide race.  If Findley’s TV buys had Miller and Iowa Democrats spooked, they probably had a coronary when they saw Findley’s fundraising number yesterday.

Findley raised a staggering $756,000 in the fundraising period, taking her total amount raised for her campaign over the $1 million mark.  Findley’s largest contributor was the Republican Party of Iowa, which contributed nearly $550,000 to her campaign. On WHO TV 13’s Insiders program a couple Sunday’s ago, Crawford smirked when he said that he hoped Republicans kept investing in Findley’s race.  I doubt he is still smirking after seeing the investment Republicans are making in her race.

While Findley now has a huge fundraising advantage, defeating a 34-year incumbent is no easy task.  With a favorable political environment and all the financial resources that she needs to communicate her message, Findley is in a good position going into Election Day.  Still, this race is a toss up.

Iowa Treasurer Race

Four years ago, State Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald wasn’t challenged.  This cycle, he drew a difficult opponent in Dave Jamison, who is the long-time Story County Treasurer.  Still, Fitzgerald has not run much of campaign.  Instead of raising money so that his campaign can communicate with voters, Fitzgerald is using money from the state’s unclaimed property fund and the profits from the Iowa Educational Savings Plan Trust to boost his name ID statewide.

An open records request by, shows that Fitzgerald’s office spent $325,000 on newspaper advertising for the Great Iowa Treasurer Hunt this year alone.  More disturbing is that Fitzgerald’s office has increased the advertising budget for the state’s College Savings Iowa program from $80,790.84 in 2006 to $418,000.00 in 2010.

Also alarming is the fact that Fitzgerald’s Deputy Treasurer, Karen Austin, also serves as the treasurer for his re-election campaign.  Austin is the one who provided with the information in regards to its open records request.  Her political involvement with Fitzgerald’s campaign only adds validity to the criticism that he is using his office and the public funds he overseas to help him politically.

Fitzgerald raised $32,000 in the period, while Jamison raised over $60,000.  Fitzgerald has a serious race on his hands.  He also may have an ethical problem within his office in regards to having a state employee serve as his chief spokesperson and campaign treasurer.

Iowa State House

If there is any place where fundraising numbers provide a glimpse of what may happen on Election Day, it’s in the state legislative races.  The reason why the legislative races are a great barometer of what to expect at the polls is because political action committees have now placed their bets on which political party they expect to be in power next session.

Republicans overwhelmingly have the fundraising advantage.  Rep. Kraig Paulsen’s leadership team raised $542,000, while Speaker Pat Murphy’s leadership team raised just $290,000.  Making matters even worse for House Democrats is that even Republican challengers have had success in the fundraising department, while Democrats struggled across the board.

The fundraising numbers in the Iowa House suggest that the tide is changing.  The numbers seem to indicate that Iowa Republicans will win the majority in the chamber on November 2nd.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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