Political observers have been treated to the latest round of political money chase articles in recent weeks as candidates revealed their latest fundraising hauls for the second quarter of 2011. Though the 2012 elections are more than sixteen months away, every report is carefully scrutinized to determine who is ahead and who is behind in Connecticut’s federal races.
This hustle was the root cause being the slow motion comedy that played out recent at the expense of the candidates for the Republican Congressional nomination in the Fifth District.
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the D.C.-based group charged with aiding GOP candidates for the House of Representatives, announced its latest round of additions to its Young Guns program. It sets benchmarks for candidates challenging incumbents or running for open seats and offers financial assistance to those candidates who achieve all the goals. Completing the first of three checklists gets a candidate “On the Radar”, followed by being dubbed a “Contender” for a second set of goals, and ultimately “Young Gun” status when all goals are achieved. The program was highly successful, according to the NRCC, as it injected $10.9 million to competitive contests and helping 62 of 92 Young Guns win in 2010.
Those resources and the additional attention associated with them make the designations highly prized by candidates as was demonstrated this week. Former G-man and current Chairman of the Farmington Town Council seemed to score an important early victory in the race when he e-mailed supporters informing them that he made was “On the Radar”. It was quickly followed, however, by missives from Avon businesswoman Lisa Wilson-Foley, Afghanistan veteran Justin Bernier of Plainville, and by entrepreneur Mark Greenberg. The Hartford Courant chuckled at the chain events, writing that the candidates received their designations in “nearly identical press releases” from the NRCC.
This process serves as yet another reminder of the importance of financial resources in campaigns, but recent scholarship suggests that it matters far less than the conventional wisdom indicates. Kyle Kondik, a political analyst with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics published an article this week arguing that money matters – but only to a point:
“Fundraising can be a good barometer of whether a certain candidate is selling or not, and it is undoubtedly helpful in boosting one’s image or tearing down that of an opponent. But in terms of actual Election Day performance, it’s not at all clear that a big haul necessarily guarantees anything.”
In the wake of Connecticut’s political experience with high spending candidates like Ned Lamont, Tom Foley, and Linda McMahon, all losers in bids public office, the idea certainly seems to make sense. Mrs. McMahon is even a statistic in the piece, reminding readers that the Republican candidate for US Senate spent $50.3 million compared to current U.S. Senator Dick Blumenthal’s $8.7 million, a ratio of more than five to one.
Fundraising matters, of course, because telling people about a candidacy takes money whether it is for filling the candidate’s gas tank, creating a television ad, or buying lawn signs. Without the money it takes to achieve at least a basic level of name identification with the voting public, candidacies rarely find success. But as was argued by economists Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt in their book Freakonomics, once this level of awareness is established in the public consciousness, the effect of campaign finances on winning is greatly overvalued.
With many candidates working hard just to get noticed in the public eye, the process will undoubtedly continue in the months ahead. But as they keep shaking the money tree and the fundraising hauls grow in size, the value of each additional dollar will diminish.
Heath W. Fahle served as executive director of the Connecticut Republican Party from 2007-09. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com.