If you want to go to Congress and stay there, you'd better be a good fund-raiser and plan to devote a lot of time to it. Regardless of the outcome of this week's primary elections, that's an obvious conclusion we can reach from the campaign finance reports filed this month by the various candidates.
If you want to go to Congress and stay there, you’d better be a good fund-raiser and plan to devote a lot of time to it. Regardless of the outcome of this week’s primary elections, that’s an obvious conclusion we can reach from the campaign finance reports filed this month by the various candidates.
When it comes to raising money, it helps tremendously if you’re an incumbent. The many political action committees, it seems, have no interest in “throwing the rascals out.”
Arkansas has contested primary races in the 1st and 4th congressional districts, and the 4th is the only one that has no incumbent. The Democrat who has held the seat since 2001, Mike Ross, is retiring from politics.
He’s not leaving with high recommendations for those interested in a career in politics. Last week he told a reporter that for Congress “everything is driven by the extremes of both parties.”
“It has gotten a lot more nasty and more partisan and more expensive than when I ran for the state Senate in 1990,” he said. “It got to where it wasn’t fun any more.”
Ross considered a run for governor in 2014 but opted to take a job in public relations instead. He said he figured that he’d have to raise $12-15 million to run for governor. That’s a lot of money for a job that pays less than $90,000 a year.
Members of Congress make about twice that much, but the fund-raising is even more demanding, at least in part because elections come every two years.
First District Congressman Rick Crawford, the first Republican to serve in the position since Reconstruction, started raising money for re-election about the same time he was being sworn in early in January 2011. His latest report to the Federal Election Commission shows that he has been quite successful, raising a total of $763,146 in contributions.
Like most incumbents, his cash coffer has been boosted tremendously by the generosity of political action committees, organizations formed by special interest groups to promote their interests. A total of $339,737 came from committee contributions.
For example, Crawford has received $10,000 from the American Crystal Sugar Co. PAC, $10,000 from the National Beer Wholesalers Association PAC, $10,000 from the Stephens Inc. PAC and $5,000 from the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. PAC. There’s another $5,000 from the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. PAC for Responsible Government.
Some of the more than 200 committee contributions came from more partisan organizations, and a few even came from PACs formed to help other congressmen, like the Friends of John Boehner.
Keep in mind that Crawford did not draw a primary opponent so he has been able to build up his campaign chest for Democratic and Green Party candidates who will be on the general election ballot.
But he has already spent $437,241 on his re-election. That includes some campaign staff expenses and a $12,000 filing fee but a whole lot of consulting fees on fund-raising and other strategy. He also paid off debt of $62,600 related to his 2010 election.
Meanwhile, three Democrats were vying for the right to oppose him, and their three reports filed in May totaled $376,269 in contributions, just a little more than Crawford has received from PACs.
And they had spent almost all of it. In fact, the May 16 report for Gary Latanich of Jonesboro showed he had cash on hand of $30. His $46,510 in contributions included a $24,000 personal loan to the campaign.
State Rep. Clark Hall of Marvell has been the biggest money-raiser of the three, which allowed him to buy that 30-second television commercial, the only one used so far in the campaign. However, he loaned his campaign $25,651 and had cash on hand of $61,844 as of May 2.
Scott Ellington, the 2nd Judicial District prosecutor from Jonesboro, has raised $54,815 as of May 2, but he had avoided any personal debt to that point. He had cash on hand of $12,253.
Only Hall has had any success with PACs. He has received $49,000 in PAC money, $7,000 of it coming from organizations affiliated with Mike Ross and $10,000 from the Blue Dog PAC (Ross is known as one of the so-called “Blue Dog Democrats,” who are conservatives on financial issues; Crawford’s predecessor, Marion Berry, was also a Blue Dog).
The winning Democrat will have an uphill climb for the general election.
The same is true in the 4th District, even though there is no incumbent. The four Republican candidates have raised almost $1.7 million among them. The big fund-raiser has been Tom Cotton of Dardanelle, whose almost $1.1 million includes little PAC money ($84,890).
The three Democrats trying to succeed Ross have raised less than $2,000.
The other two congressional districts didn’t have primary contests, but the incumbents’ fund-raising advantage is already clear.
Third District Congressman Steve Womack, a Republican, reported receipts of $439,976 on May 2, with $254,800 of it coming from PACs. His Democratic opponent, Ken Aden, has raised $35,019.
In the 2rd District the Republican incumbent, Tim Griffin, has raked in $1,220,683, with $378,748 coming from PACs. That gives him a huge advantage over the Democratic challenger, Herb Rule of Little Rock, who reported receipts of $19,052 — $9,900 coming from a personal loan.
Of course, those races are just getting started.
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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.