Thursday, May 20, 2010

Campaign Finance Down The Ballot

Campaign Finance In Down-Ballot Races

By now anyone reading this blog has already seen the fundraising totals in the governor's race. All I have to say there is: the big loser is Rod Roberts, whose only path to victory was a brutal Branstad vs. Vander Plaats air war. But BVP doesn't have the $$$ for that, and Branstad has already turned his focus to Culver.

So since we all know that, let's look down the ballot at those low-information statewide and my county's local legislative races.

I guess I'm obligated to disclaim that money isn't everything, but I know from my own experience that the triage process is brutal and if you can't bring in some bucks, you don't make the list of targeted races.

Attorney General

We may have found our downballot sleeper race for the general election: GOP candidate Brenna Findley is nearly even in cash on hand with long-time incumbent Democrat Tom Miller. Findley raised $124,078 and spent $28,549, leaving $95,528 on hand. Miller started out with $89,700 in the bank and raised another $15,748. He spent next to nothing ($257 for one fundraising event) and has $105,200 in the bank. Findley's donor list runs to 65 pages; Miller's donors are fewer and larger.

Secretary of State

Financially this is a two-way competitive primary. Matt Schultz raised $9,055 in the last four months, spent $6,772.48, paid back a $1400 self-loan, has $3,806.45 on hand, and has $11,404.16 in outstanding bills. The donors seem to cluster around his Council Bluffs base and include Rep. Doug the party switcher Struyk, also of Council Bluffs, and Sen. Kim Reynolds.

Two-time loser George Eichhorn has raised $9,020, spent $6,386.60, has $2,633.40 on hand and $4,768.31 in bills. Donors of note include a fair number of current and former legislators: Jim Hahn, Joe Hutter, Janet Metcalf, Dan Boddicker, Jeff Elgin, Paul McKinley, Betty DeBoef, Royd Chambers, Danny Carroll, Carmine Boal, Teresa Garman, Steve Sukup, Steve Olson, Maggie Tinsman. The only Johnson County name I see is Cathy Grawe.

The third contender, self-starting perennial candidate Chris Sanger, has $397, all from bake sales. With that budget, maybe he should have run in the Democratic U.S. Senate race.

Democratic incumbent Mike Mauro raised just over $30,000 from January to May, spent under $3,000, and has about $130,000 in the bank.

State Treasurer

Republican James Heavens of Dyersville has "raised" $30,145.13 and spent most of it, with $2,228.04 left. Local legislators Rep. Steve Lukan and former Sen. Julie Hosch have kicked in, but almost all the money is from a $25,000 self-loan.

In contrast, the other primary candidate, Story County treasurer Dave Jamison lists 27 pages of donations. He has raised $31,214.92 and spent $24,070.12, leaving $7,144.80 in the bank.

Jamison's donations are centered around Ames (including six donations from Story auditor Mary Mosiman), but legislators also pop up: McKinley, DeBoef, Reynolds, Hahn, Sukup, Dwayne Alons, former congressional candidate and Casey's tycoon Jeff Lamberti, and 2002 statewide candidate and Bush 43 era US Attorney Matt Whitaker. I don't see any single huge checks.

On the surface this primary is dollar for dollar, but Jamison's broader fundraising indicates broader support. Plus, many of these low-info contests come down to friends and neighbors, and central Iowa is a bigger base than Dyersville.

Incumbent Democrat Mike Fitzgerald has $117,769.57 on hand.

Secretary of Agriculture

This one's the best true test of grass roots vs. cash. Democratic challenger Francis Thicke has raised $58,438.96 and spent $25,118.71, leaving him with $33,320.25. The mostly small donor list runs to 37 pages.

Republican incumbent Bill Northey started out with $261,627 in the war chest and added $39,829 for a total of $301,456. Northey has spent $53,920, leaving him at $247,535.50. Compare that to, say, Bob Vander Plaats ($247,613.29 on hand) and Rod Roberts ($32,615.49). Northey's donors run 25 pages and the mix is PAC and people, with more big checks than Thicke.

Legislative races

House District 30

Organized labor, specifically AFSCME, recruited AFSCME member John Stellmach for a primary challenge to Dave Jacoby (despite Jacoby's 94% labor record) in this Coralville, North Liberty, Tiffin and west side Iowa City turf. Then last week Stellmach, citing his wife's poor health, dropped out of the race, though his name remains on the ballot.

Stellmach's campaign finance report reveals that this was a major effort; he reported raising a leadership-level $36,170.19 and, in a phenomenal burn rate, spending $33,326.29. Virtually all of the money was from labor: $30,000 from AFSCME and $4,000 from other unions. Who knows how deep that well would have been had he stayed in the race, but only two donations, totaling $600, were from within the district.

Stellmach's spending was also unusual, with more paid staffing that a typical legislative primary campaign. Staffer Dan Tallon was paid $7,000 for two month's work, and a James Stellmach was paid $1500 for canvassing. The candidate reported $563 in mileage (the Register reported that Stellmach moved into the district from Washington County just before filing), and loads of office equipment and GPS systems. Oddly, for a labor campaign, $941 of that stuff was bought at Wal-Mart. Oops.

Jacoby raised $24,517.06 during the four months, and had $22,869.84 in the bank. His 15 page donor list is a mix of labor (including, ironically, a check from AFSCME before the inexplicable rift) and business, district residents, local politicos and legislative colleagues (16 House members and his own Senator Bob Dvorsky). The only legislator to donate to Stellmach was Fairfield freshman Curt Hanson, who gave an equal 50 bucks to Stellmach and Jacoby.

No Republican is in the race; Jacoby last saw GOP opposition when he first won the seat in a 2003 special.

Senate District 45

This primary looks almost like the Democratic U.S. Senate race. Sandy Greiner, looking to return to the legislature after a two-year hiatus, has raised $24,220.50 and is still sitting on $17,184.76 of that. A few Des Moines area donations pop up, but most are local.

As for her primary opponents: Randy Besick, who was supposedly a serious candidate, has only raised $635, $250 of that from himself. And self-starter Rick Marlar has raised $300: 50 from himself and 250 from one donor.

The winner, which I assume will be Greiner, takes on first-term Democrat Becky Schmitz, who knocked off two-term Republican Dave Miller in a 2006 squeaker. This is certain to be a top-tier race in a sprawling five-county district (Ottumwa, Iowa City and Fairfield media markets) with the parties and assorted groups kicking in major money. Schmitz has $19,569.21 on hand.

House District 89

Two Republicans are in this race, which covers the northern half of Senate 45; 70% or so of the seat is Washington County, plus Lone Tree, Hills and Sharon Center in Johnson. Second-time candidate Jarad Klein has $3205 cash on hand, mostly from in-district or near, and reports zero (!) expenditures other than a from-self in-kind for setting up the web site. His opponent, Chris Canny, has raised $265 and has $49.92 in the bank.

The winner (I'm betting on Jarad) takes on first-term Six Pack Dem Larry Marek, who narrowly beat Klein in `08 when Greiner stepped down. At the moment, Marek and $16,912 in the bank.

House District 29

First-term Dem Nate Willems, who took over from Ro Foege in `08 in a 50-50 Johnson-Linn district, has $22,142 on hand, with $9,330 of that raised the past four months. First-time GOP candidate Shawn Graham has raised a total of $4,112.95, spent $1,235.78, and has $2,877.17 cash on hand.

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