Having spent a considerable amount of my professional life fundraising for political candidates and organizations, I’m always interested in perusing through the latest financial reports for Iowa politicians. Some activists scoff at the role money and fundraising play in politics, but raising money is a necessity for campaigns of all sizes. This is especially true in statewide campaigns.
In many ways campaigns are really no different from business startups. An idea becomes a plan, and that plan becomes a business model or campaign strategy. One can’t start a business without access to capital, and you can’t start a campaign without it either. The difference between the business world and politics is that no matter how good your campaign plan may be, no bank is going to loan you money to launch a political campaign.
In business, one could look at sales numbers, pending orders, inventory, number of employees, and assets to make a conclusion about the health of a company. In politics, there is very little empirical data available by which to judge a campaign. In large contests, there is polling data galore, but that’s not always relievable. Rightly or wrongly, political campaigns are mostly judged on perception. In fact, often the only bit of empirical data we have to go off of is fundraising, and while that certainly tells us a story, it never tells us the entire story.
The campaign disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission on Monday give us plenty of clues as to what 2014 will bring. It’s all very interesting. Below is how I read things.
Congressman Bruce Braley
Congressman Bruce Braley is the only declared candidate in Iowa’s 2014 U.S. Senate race, and as such, he is the only person who will be disclosing his fundraising activity. Braley got some good headlines last week when he announced to the press that he had raised over $1 million dollars in the first quarter. I might take issue with the word “raised,” since Braley transferred $179,000 from his U.S. House account to reach the million-dollar threshold, but the money he raised is still impressive.
Braley’s report is nearly 600 pages long. He discloses the smallest of contributions and expenditures. For example, he purchased something at Walgreens in Waterloo for $4.19. His report is littered with contributions from trial attorneys from around the county. He also received contributions from Christie Vilsack’s and Leonard Boswell’s now defunct campaigns, rather than personal contributions from those individuals.
As Iowans dealt with winter weather throughout the early part of the spring, Braley spent a number of days in Miami raising money for his U.S. Senate bid. His visit to Miami likely coincided with a gathering of trial lawyers. Braley also held a fundraising event in Ney York City. Harvey Hirschfeld, the President of LawCash, hosted Braley’s New York fundraiser. LawCash is a lawsuit lender that provides funding to plaintiffs and their attorneys. Lawsuit lenders are the legal equivalent of payday loans. They prey on people in unfortunate situations, and those people often end up seeing the majority of their settlements going to companies like LawCash. The practice has been called “legal loan-sharking” because of the high interest rates and fees, which can sometimes gobble the entire settlement.
Braley’s million-dollar haul is still impressive, but when you see where the money is coming from, it loses a lot of its luster. Braley is going to have the money to run a vigorous campaign, but raising so much money from out of state attorneys could also have consequences. Iowans will soon elect a new U.S. Senator for the first time in 30 years. If out-of-state special interest are funding Braley’s campaign, Iowa voters might not like it.
TheIowaRepublican.com will likely have more on Braley’s report in the near future.
Congressman Steve King
Many people have suggested that the speculation surrounding Congressman King running for the U.S. Senate would help him raise money. That couldn’t be further from the truth. King raised just $87,199.45 in the first quarter of the year, and $15,000 of that was a refund from his media vendor. In fact, over $50,000 of the $90,000 he raised came from five individuals, three PACs, and his refund.
King has not ruled out a U.S. Senate run, but his first quarter actions sure don’t look like someone who’s about to embark on a statewide campaign. King raised a lot of money for his 2012 re-election campaign against Christie Vilsack. Another fundraising rule you should all get to know is that the money typically flows to where it is needed. If people think you have a difficult race, they will pony up large contributions. If they think you are a shoe-in for re-election they will send their money elsewhere.
Congressman Tom Latham
Democrats are having a difficult time recruiting a top-notch candidate to run against Congressman Tom Latham and his $300,750.00 haul in the first quarter of 2013 isn’t going to make life any easier for them. Of the $300,000 Latham raised, $279,000 of it came from PACs. While Latham looks like a lock to hold his seat, he is occupying a new district, which means he needs to be prepared to defend his new turf. Latham’s close relationship with Speaker of the House John Boehner also doesn’t hurt his ability to rake in the PAC money.
Many were disappointed when Latham announced that he would not seek the open U.S. Senate seat in Iowa because they believed him to be the Republicans’ best candidate. His fundraising ability, especially in Washington, is probably unmatched. His April quarterly report shows just that.
Congressman Dave Loebsack
Congressman Loebsack raised $104,222.13 in the quarter, $66,250.00 of which came from PACs. Loebsack is a far more formidable candidate than Republicans give him credit for being, but his weakness has always been lack-luster fundraising ability. If Loebsack didn’t have access to PAC money he’s be in a world of hurt. The best scenario for Republicans is to settle on a candidate early and start raising money early.
Pat Murphy – 1st Congressional District
Murphy raised $68,070.00 for his campaign, but over $7500 of that came from his own pocket. TheIowaRepublican.com has already done an analysis of his fundraising report, which at best is so-so. As a former Speaker of the Iowa House, one would have thought Murphy would have more connections and a stronger fundraising network. While Democrat activists want another candidate to emerge, what Murphy has that makes him nearly impossible to beat in a Democrat primary is the backing of organized labor. So, it’s not like his time in the speaker’s chair was all for naught.
Steve Rathje – 1st Congressional District
Rathje raised $51,515 for his campaign in the first quarter of the year, but it doesn’t appear as if he is filing electronically, which I believe all House candidates are required to do. Considering that Rathje is a perennial candidate and not a former Speaker of the Iowa House, his number doesn’t look too bad compared to Mr. Murphy’s.
Rod Blum – 1st Congressional District
Since Blum announced his campaign after April 1st, he was not required to file a report with the Federal Election Commission.
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