The numbers are in for the first big fundraising quarter of the 2018 election cycle, and like any important fundraising period, the results have provided both answers and questions for many campaigns.
As we’ve said many times in this space, fundraising numbers are often a good barometer of the relative strength or weakness of a campaign – particularly at this stage in the cycle. Fundraising reports are less informative the closer we get to Election Day because it is more difficult to account for independent expenditures, PACs, and other outside spending. But when you are a year out from the Primary and 18 months from the General Election, these numbers can be a terrific guide into how a race is starting to take shape.
Fundraising is about money, of course, but it is a mistake to write off fundraising reports as just a singular piece of financial information. Fundraising reports tells us how much money was raised, but also where it came from and how it was spent. Big donations from out-of-state interests tell a different story than hundreds of small-dollar donations within the boundaries of a given district.
Most importantly, fundraising reports tell us a lot about the perception and support for a particular campaign. Think of it like sports betting; people make all sorts of bets on a given sporting event, but by and large, the big money goes with the outcome that is perceived to be the most likely. Everyone wants to back a winner – it’s human instinct. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule – including some that we will point out in a moment – but in general you can learn a lot from early money in politics.
We’ve been sifting through fundraising reports for the biggest races in Colorado, and in a series of posts that follow, we’ll tell you what we’ve learned …
If You’ve Got the Money, Honey, You’ve Got More Time
Wealthy candidates are not a new phenomenon in Colorado, but we’re seeing the beginning of a potentially-troubling trend in the early fundraising reports from Q2: Candidates with deep pockets aren’t even trying to raise money.
Former one-term Republican lawmaker Victor Mitchell has earned a lot of money from various business ventures over the years, and he’s apparently planning on spending a good chunk of those earnings in his bid for Governor. Mitchell seeded his gubernatorial campaign with a $3 million check in February, but raised just $13,098 in the period ending on June 30. Likewise, Democrat Jared Polis is putting a lot of his own fortune into his bid for Governor and is only accepting contributions of $100 or less. Other candidates, such as Mitt Romney’s Nephew (aka, Republican Doug Robinson), have said that they plan to rely on hefty sums from their personal fortunes in the months to come. This is a tremendous financial advantage for candidates who can afford it, but it’s more than that; if you don’t have to spend 30+ hours on the phone each week trying to raise money, that’s more time that you can be out meeting voters and gathering broader support.
This disadvantage is one of the reasons that Democrat Ed Perlmutter – at the time, the prohibitive favorite — withdrew from the gubernatorial race earlier this month. It also makes things much more difficult for candidates who also have a day job to worry about; Republican George Brauchler had an awful Q2 , and he’s going to have trouble just keeping his campaign afloat while he maintains his position as District Attorney in Arapahoe County.
Candidates for Governor in Colorado can only accept maximum contributions of $1,150 from any one individual – technically, $575 for the Primary and $575 for the General Election – which makes it that much more difficult for non-wealthy candidates to catch up to their cash-flush opponents. Even if every person on your call list agrees to donate the maximum amount, it still takes hours upon hours of phone time to collect.
There used to be more of a stigma associated with wealthy candidates who sought to bankroll campaigns for higher office, which compelled them to spend more time and energy raising money. For whatever reason, that stigma seems to be fading.