Facts about fundraising

Dateline 20 April 2007

One measure the commentariat applies to electoral campaigns is fundraising. It gives us real numbers to look at. This far out from the 2008 primaries, polls mostly measure name recognition so another measure is useful.

Fundraising, has a clear weakness – it is not a particularly good predictor of electoral success. Several big fundraisers have flopped in the actual primary votes, including John Connally (1980), Phil Gramm (1996) and Howard Dean (2004). Other candidates with large personal fortunes that made fundraising unnecessary – such as Ted Kennedy (1980), Steve Forbes (1996 and 2000) – also crashed. John Kerry, who falls into the same category, won his primaries but went on to lose the general.

Nonetheless, fundraising matters, and perhaps now more than ever. The foreshortened primary campaign of 2008 – with big states voting earlier – will require huge quantities of cash. Having funds enables candidates to buy in talent for their campaigns – and this time they will need well-run campaigns right across the country well in advance of the first votes.

There are even suggestions that having deep pockets can purchase favors. Nancy Pelosi has access to some of the biggest Democrat donors in the country in her San Francisco district, and has supplied funds to struggling candidates right across the country. When she ran for Minority Leader – the position that ultimately made her Speaker – her networking skill was plainly a key factor, but perhaps the money she had donated to other candidates swung a few votes too.

Tom Vilsack has just stepped down as Governor of Iowa. Despite a following and organizational structures in the first state to hold presidential caucuses, his candidacy failed to catch fire. His weak fundraising was critical and he ended with large debts. His Iowa connections made his endorsement keenly sought after, and the lucky candidate was Hillary Clinton. At around the same time she generously offered to pay off his campaign debts from her own ample funds.

I should stress that both Vilsack and Clinton deny there is any connection between these announcements. So, before we hear from lawyers associated with of them, let me make it clear that I totally and unreservedly accept these assurances. I am convinced that Clinton would have been just as magnanimous in paying off Vilsack’s debts if he had endorsed Barack Obama.

Fundraising matters. It is just not clear how much.

Clinton remains queen of the fundraising castle. She raised $26 million in the first quarter of this year and transferred $10 million from her Senate coffers. John Edwards – who set new records with $7 million in the same period four years ago – doubled his 2003 record, but still trailed Clinton by more than $10 million. For one day the argument that Hillary was unstoppable held. Then came Obama’s figures: $23 million. He represents a smaller state that doesn’t include Wall Street; he has just two years in the Senate; he is not married to a former President.

On the Republican side the winner was Mitt Romney. Languishing at third or fourth in the polls he has attracted a lot of top talent and is better organized than any other candidate. With $23 million he doubled John McCain’s total. Rudy Giuliani’s $15 million was also a good score, as he only announced his candidacy a month ago. In that one month he raised $10 million – more than even Clinton.

Conclusion: Clinton is strong, but not unbeatable; McCain is struggling; Obama could yet set the campaign alight; Romney is organized and credible; Giuliani has only just begun.


Quentin Langley is editor of http://www.quentinlangley.net an academic at the University of Cardiff and is a columnist with Campaigns & Elections. This article was first published in the Common Sense series for Lake Champlain Weekly.

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