Money Talks In the Race to be Maine's Next Governor
Three candidates (Democrats Donna Dion and John Richards and Green Lynne Williams) have fallen out of the race for the Blaine House since I last wrote an analysis of campaign finance reports, and three new candidates (Democrat Pat McGowan and Republicans Bill Beardsley and Steve Abbott) have joined.
A look at fundraising doesn’t capture the political and human drama of these and other changes in the race but it does give a snapshot of an important campaign metric at a particular point in time. For this column, that point in time is last Tuesday, April 20th, the last day covered by the forty-two-day pre-primary campaign reports.
We've now reached an important milestone in the race. Clean Election candidates have qualified or quit, TV ads from a wide range of candidates are popping up all over the place, and the first televised debates are being broadcast.
We have yet to see a comprehensive, independent poll of the race, however, so the fundraising numbers are still one of the best indicators of candidate success.
As I mentioned in my last piece, there are small differences in how contributions and expenses are reported between candidates. (For instance, Les Otten itemized far more of his contributors who gave less than $50 than did other Republicans, like Paul LePage, so comparing the number of donors between the two of them isn’t an exact match.) In these cases, I’ve worked to arrange the data to give the best, most fair comparison and to include as much information as possible. The end results may not be the same as what you’ve seen in some candidates’ press releases and campaign emails. They’re often looking to portray their own fundraising results in the best light possible.
Here’s a look at the total fundraising for all privately-funded candidates since the beginning of the race. As you can see, Les Otten has far outpaced all other candidates in both total money available as well as the percentage of his haul that came from his own pocket.
Again this reporting period, Republican Bruce Poliquin attempted to claim victory in the fundraising race by using some dodgy figures. First, he claimed in a release that his $862,372 total meant that he was “far out pacing [sic] his closest competitors by more than $500,000.” Obviously, his calculations only work if you discount Otten’s huge contributions to his own campaign while counting Poliquin’s. In order to justify this, the release makes a rather meaningless distinction between self-contributions and loans from the candidates to their own campaigns.
And also again, unfortunately, the media bought his math.
Republican Steve Abbott also declared himself his party’s fundraising champion, tweeting that “Steve Abbott Outraises Entire GOP Field Combined. Wins Money Race in Landslide.” Only by reading his release does one learn that Abbott comes to this conclusion by ignoring other candidates’ self-financing (although he counts his own) as well as Peter Mills’ seed money contributions and limiting the scope of the comparison to only the last few months before the most recent fundraising report.
His statement is true under these narrow conditions, but it certainly doesn’t mean his campaign is a financial powerhouse. In fact, every candidate in the Republican race except for Les Otten and Matt Jacobson have more cash on hand than Abbott, and Otten has already spent five times as much as Abbott has raised.
The only honest release from a candidate on the Republican side came from Matt Jacobson, who accurately reported that his campaign has raised $150,000 overall, 80 percent of it from Maine donors, and has $30,000 cash on hand. The question remains why Jacobson would want to draw attention to such low numbers.
Of the two privately-funded Democrats on the ballot, only Steve Rowe announced his totals publicly, in a comparatively restrained press release. He has hit the $400,000 mark, which means that every dollar he raises from now on will mean another dollar in Clean Elections funding each for fellow Democrats Pat McGowan and Libby Mitchell, up to a total of $600,000.
Rosa Scarcelli’s strong early fundraising faltered this period. Despite claiming in an email to have quadrupled her fundraising goal, she raised only $53,526, for a total of around $295,000 overall.
The above graph shows total contributions from individuals and companies minus self-contributions and loans, and is perhaps the best measure of how candidates are connecting with donors. Here, Poliquin, Abbott and Scarcelli all do well, with Rowe sitting in first place thanks to his steady fundraising over a longer timeframe.
The chart above shows the proportion of funds raised by each candidate that have already been spent. As you can see, without their own money in play, Abbott, Rowe and Scarcelli all had to spend quite a bit to get where they are.
Poliquin, Otten and Independent Eliot Cutler haven’t hesitated to go to their own checkbook when they run low, so these figures may not tell us much about their future financial competitiveness.
Thanks to a degree of self-financing from both LePage and Beardsley, these two ideologically similar candidates will have plenty of cash to get their socially conservative messages out to voters. The public debate between the two of them should be interesting as they battle for the Republican fringe.
Perhaps the biggest change in the race is that three candidates no longer have to worry about fundraising at all. Democrats Libby Mitchell and Pat McGowan and Republican Peter Mills have qualified as Clean Elections candidates. The three raised and spent $113,829, $78,415 and $45,165 dollars in seed money respectively and now will each have more than $400,000 in clean funds to contest their primaries, putting their spending power well ahead of much of their privately-funded competition.
The percentages of contributions (lighter bars) and donors (darker bars) from Maine were relatively unchanged from the last report. LePage, Mills and Rowe once again topped the list, with more than 80 percent of their individual contributors hailing from within Maine’s borders. Scarcelli and Cutler, with their national connections, once again brought up the rear, with their campaigns receiving more money from out-of-staters than Maine residents.
It isn’t the amount of money a candidate has raised or where it came from that makes a difference now, however. It’s how much they’re able to spend to win votes, specifically using that most effective and expensive of political tools, the thirty-second television spot.
With that in mind, here’s a graph that I believe best represents the current financial environment of the 2010 Maine gubernatorial race:
The grey represents the amount of money candidates have already spent on TV air time and ad production as of April 20th. The colored bars show the amount of unspent money they have on hand that could potentially go toward ads.
The three Clean Elections candidates are in a great position, even considering the fact that their privately-funded competitors can continue to raise money and spend their own to buy airtime.
In fact, that can be seen as an advantage. Mills, Mitchell and McGowan don’t have to spend another second worrying about fundraising and can spend all their time on voter persuasion and turnout.
Otten will soon have to spend more of his own money to keep up his TV barrage, something he seems to have no problem doing. He has already spent more than $1.3 million on the race – three times as much as his closest competitors, Poliquin and Cutler.
The candidates who will likely struggle over the coming weeks are those who have the least cash on hand and are without the resources to self-finance. Rowe and Abbott are at a distinct disadvantage and, without new sources of cash, Scarcelli and Jacobson will have difficulty remaining competitive at all during the next phase of the race.
I bet Rowe, who declined to pursue Clean Elections funding not for ideological reasons but because he feared he wouldn’t have enough money to compete, is regretting that choice, especially now that he’s facing two publicly-funded Democratic opponents with plenty of money.
Anything can still happen in this race, but it’s a lot easier to make something happen if you have the cash.