Begging for Bucks

Begging for Bucks – campaign fundraising

Peter L. Francia

More and more candidates are being forced to devote significant portions of their personal schedules to asking for money, whether it’s phone calls to PAC directors and individuals or attending meetings and events.

The heavy demands of campaign fundraising fill up the calendars of many candidates

HUBERT HUMPHREY once described fundraising as a “disgusting, degrading, demeaning experience.” Few candidates would disagree. Yet, today’s hi-tech, capital-intensive election campaigns require a candidate for most offices either to be a millionaire or participate in the money chase. More and more candidates are being forced to devote significant portions of their personal schedules on fundraising activities, including meeting with and making telephone calls to PAC directors and individuals who make large contributions.

A recent survey of almost 2,200 candidates running for statewide office, U.S. Congress, state legislature, local office and judicial posts, documents the amount of rime that office-seekers devote to fundraising. Fundraising consumes a significant portion of most candidates’ personal campaign schedules. The results show that roughly 29 percent of all candidates across all political offices spent more than one-quarter of their time on fundraising activities (see Figure 1). Candidates are spending much of their time raising money because of the high costs of running for office. In the 1998 U.S. Senate elections, 56 of the 68 major-party candidates each spent more than $1 million, including 30 who spent more than $3 million, and 11 who spent above $6 million. There were nearly $450 million spent in the 1998 House elections alone. An all-time high of 110 candidates each spent more than $1 million, and six spent in excess of $3 million. Additionally, state legislative races were expensive in several states. In Cal ifornia, state legislative candidates raised an average of roughly $250,000.

The high costs of running for office forced 23 percent of all candidates seeking statewide offices to spend more than half of their personal schedule on fundraising, while 55 percent spent at least one of every four hours collecting cash (see Table 1 on next page). U.S. House candidates were close behind. More than two-fifths spent more than 25 percent of their time on fundraising.

Even candidates in down-ballot races have become caught up in the money chase. About one-third of candidates running for the state legislature reported they devoted more than one-quarter of their time soliciting donations. Local and judicial candidates, who need the least amount of money to wage competitive campaigns, spent the least time raising money; however, several of them still reported a significant amount of their personal schedule was devoted to fundraising activities.

Democrats and Republicans spent roughly equivalent amounts of time raising money (see Table 2 on next page). The major partisan difference exists between candidates of the two major parties and independent and third-party candidates. More than 75 percent of independents and other third-party candidates devote less than 10 percent of their time to fundraising, compared to more than one-third for Democrats and Republicans. Independents and minor-party candidates spend less time raising money because they recognize that their time could be more profitably spent elsewhere. Donors usually back likely winners — incumbents and candidates in competitive elections. Minor party candidates recognize that they will have little success fundraising and devote their time to other aspects of campaigning.

The recent Republican and Democratic party conventions were illustrative of big money’s presence in the major parties. At both conventions, corporate donors sponsored entertainment and parties for the delegates and received hotel reservations, entry to exclusive events and access to the party leaders. GOP leaders, such as House Whip Tom DeLay, were frequently seen at several golf outings sponsored by large corporate donors. Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush held a $10 million fundraiser during the Philadelphia convention.

Likewise, the Democrats held a $5.2 million fundraiser during their convention that featured several Hollywood celebrities.

Fundraising pressures have led candidates to professionalize their fundraising practices. Fundraising directors and other campaign aides organ fund-raising events, develop target lists for direct mail solicitations, and establish telemarketing operations to tap potential contributors. A top professional fundraiser, such as Terry McAuliffe, is often essential for a high-priced campaign. McAuliffe is renowned for raising a record $26 million in one night at a barbecue for President Clinton, and reportedly has helped the president raise as much as $275 million in the past several years. Indeed, our survey confirms that fundraising professionals are very effective at raising money (see Table 3). Sixty-nine percent of the candidates who hired professionals raised more than $50,000. Only 16 percent of those who did not hire professionals raised that much. Candidates who hired professionals to collect campaign contributions raised an estimated $475,882 more than those who did not have professional fundraisers.

Candidates have come to recognize that they need to spend money to raise money. Money purchases the services of pollsters, media consultants, and other campaign advisors who are essential to modern statewide, congressional and some local campaigns. General election candidates across all office levels spent an average of $8,002 of their campaign budget for fundraising purposes. Major-party US. House candidates spent almost $58,193 of their campaign budget on fundraising. For every one dollar spent on fundraising, House candidates raised five dollars. The most successful fundraisers are those that can afford to send out mass mailing solicitation letters, coordinate phone- banking drives and purchase other needed resources.

The pursuit of money has become a campaign in and of itself. This comes with a price for democracy. Candidates could better spend their time meeting with voters, and incumbents could better use their time to perform their official duties. On the other hand, it is important to keep in mind that money does serve a valuable function in that it pays for information about the campaign and allows citizens to make informed decisions. The challenge for advocates of campaign finance reform, albeit a difficult one, will be to reduce the amount of time that candidates need to spend on fundraising without limiting their potential to communicate information about their campaigns to voters. Candidates may not enjoy raising money, but absent reform, they will have little choice but to spend increasing amounts of their time and energy on the money trail.

Peter L. Francia, Ph.D., is a research fellow at the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship. Paul S. Herrnson, Ph.D., is director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship.

The Portion of Candidates’ Personal Campaign

Schedule Devoted to Fundraising

10% or less 45%

11% to 25% 28%

26% to 50% 19%

51 %to 75% 8%

[greater than] than 75% 2%

N = 2,198

Note: Table made from pie chart

Office Level Differences in Time Devoted

to Fundraising

Time: Statewide U.S. House State Local Judicial


10% or less 38.3% 36.7% 35.1% 67.6% 51.7%

11% to 25% 6.7 20.5 31.9 16.6 26.8

26% to 50% 31.7 19.3 23.0 11.7 15.8

51% to 75% 15.0 17.5 8.4 3.0 4.3

More than 75% 8.3 6.0 1.5 1.1 1.4

(N) (60) (166) (1,115) (435) (209)

Note: Statewide candiates include those

who ran for the U.S. Senate, governor,

lieutenant governor, attorney general

and secretary of state.

Party Differences in Time Devoted to


Time: Democrats Republicans Independents Minor party

10% or less 34.7% 38.0% 76.8% 77.6%

11% to 25% 28.4 28.8 14.0 15.9

26% to 50% 23.7 21.8 7.6 5.0

51% to 75% 10.8 8.4 1.6 —

More than 75% 2.5 3.1 — 1.5

(N) (883) (859) (250) (201)

Money Raised and Spent by Professionalism

Professionals No professionals

$0-999 3.9% 27.6%

$1,000-9,999 4.7 27.1

$10,000-49,999 22.3 29.4

$50,000 and up 69.1 16.0

(N) (256) (2,050)

COPYRIGHT 2001 Campaigns & Elections, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group