CT News Junkie | OP-ED | Election 2018: What Fundraising Numbers Tell Us and What They Don’t

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OP-ED | Election 2018: What Fundraising Numbers Tell Us and What They Don’t

by | Jan 12, 2018 9:59am
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Posted to: Analysis, Campaign Finance, Election 2018, Opinion

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A column about fundraising totals appeals to political nerds like me, but to virtually no one else. Many people see a focus on fundraising as pointless distraction from the real issues, and as a symptom of the problems of big money in politics.

That said, there are a few things we can learn about where the 2018 election may be heading, and about the candidates themselves. So here’s a quick look at where things stand.

Among Democrats, former Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz raised a ton of money for her state senate exploratory committee, and looks like she’s going to get into the governor’s race. Former federal prosecutor Chris Mattei jumped to the attorney general’s race and has raised enough money to be the frontrunner-presumptive, for now. Luke Bronin, the mayor of Hartford who is exploring a race for governor for no good reason, has somehow raised over $100,000. Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, a felon, is raising enough money to hang with the rest of the Democratic pack, showing that people never learn.

On the Republican side, David Stemerman, a rich guy from Greenwich chasing the GOP nomination for governor, is still really rich. Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton is doing pretty well, his campaign committee is snoozing along in the general direction of the convention. There are others, like Rep. Prasad Srinivasan, R-Glastonbury, and Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst, who will certainly qualify for public grants.

Lastly, former MetroHartford Alliance chair R. Nelson “Oz” Griebel’s independent campaign has yet to catch fire, at least when it comes to donations.

That’s what the money is telling us. But what’s it all mean? Does it tell us who’s likely to win in November, or in the August primaries?

Nah.

Fundraising is a funny thing. It has less to do with the chance of winning, and more to do with how the very select group of people who donate money to campaigns feel about not just the candidate but everything else happening in politics. For donors, contributing money can be anything from a statement of values or solidarity, to a way to feel good about participating in politics, to a bet on securing access to a candidate if they win.

But money from a certain class of people doesn’t automatically translate to votes. Ask Ron Paul.

In Connecticut, where anyone who raises enough small donations from in-state donors gets a public campaign grant, fundraising is even less a predictor of success. Most campaigns at a certain level can make it across that line, but doing so quickly is another sign of possible strength. Kind of.

Sometimes, the finances of a campaign can tell us something about the candidate themselves, though. Take hedge fund manager David Stemerman. Stemerman briefly made headlines in the fall for dropping $1.8 million of his own money into his campaign. He hasn’t raised much since, but he’s managed to burn over $200,000 since October on campaign consultants and pollsters.

For instance, Stemerman’s campaign paid high-profile Republican pollster Public Opinion Strategies, which operates out of Alexandria, Virginia, $47,000 for a poll. He also paid $22,344 to a campaign consulting firm out in Hollywood, and over $36,000 to another campaign consulting firm in Rhode Island. He doesn’t even have a campaign website yet.

This guy seems like a good choice to lead us out of a budget crisis. Maybe he can lend us a few million.

And Friday’s development — Middletown Mayor Dan Drew’s announcement that he was ending his gubernatorial campaign — was not surprising and is indicative of the impact of money — or the lack of it — on a campaign.

Drew was bleeding money from the start and he doesn’t have millions of dollars to loan himself to make up for it. He had spent way too much on consultants while his fundraising dried up, and that left him in bad shape. Out of the $91,111.47 total he’d raised for his candidate committee, Drew had only $7,877.15 left. He also owes another $16,079.50 for services that he has yet to pay, so technically he’s in the hole by about eight grand.

It probably didn’t help that his campaign used his office to get the home addresses of city employees so he could send them a fundraising letter. That could explain why potential donors soured on him — and in a field with dozens of candidates to choose from, voters are sometimes looking for a reason to cull someone off the list.

Based on that record, one could be led to believe that Drew is less the solution to Connecticut’s problems than a walking embodiment of them. So yes, money can sometimes give us an indication of how much support candidates may have and who’s likely to stay in the race. It can also give us insights into their fiscal management skills.

Other than that? It’s like reading tea leaves. By the time the next round of fundraising numbers are due, we may have a better handle on where things are going.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was updated from its original version following Dan Drew’s decision to end his campaign.

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Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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