The Smart Money: Playing a campaign by the numbers

Posted Monday, February 10, 2014 in Analysis

The Smart Money: Playing a campaign by the numbers

by Gina Hamilton

Silly season is approaching, and even though it’s not strictly speaking, economics, and goodness knows there are enough economics stories to go around, we can’t help but get excited by looking at campaign finance reports, which have all come out at the end of December and mid to late January.

Not your cup of tea? Way Too Early? Fair enough. But it’s interesting how much campaign finance reports tell about the health of a campaign.

Here’s an interesting number.  Barely more than 10 percent of Americans have ever given a dime to a candidate running for office.

Political conventional wisdom says that for every donor who gives to a campaign, there are 90 voters for the candidate who don’t donate.

So money is a way we can look at a snapshot of the polls, even if there isn’t a poll going on at the moment.

For example, let’s look at the Susan Collins/Shenna Bellows campaign numbers from the Federal Election Commission website.  While Collins has a big war chest this cycle, about $3 million, she only raised about $305,000 of that - barely 10 percent - in the last quarter of 2013.  Bellows, who didn’t even get into the race until nearly the end of October, raised $332,000.

Collins received $146,478 from individuals.  The rest - about $158,522 - came from PAC funds.

Bellows received $328,329 from individuals.  The rest - about $3,100, came from PACs and the candidate.  But that’s not the whole story.

A quick check of the candidates’ Schedule As - where they have to disclose large donors - suggests that Collins donors give checks almost twice as big as Bellows’, an average of $1,067 per donor, of the $2,600 permitted.  There were an average of 133 of them. Small donors accounted for only $4,205 - about 84 donations in the last quarter with an average of $50, for a total of 217 donors that are not political action committees.  Bellows’ 501 itemized donors are giving an average of $542. And Bellows also has a larger number of small donors - 1,135 gave an average of $50, for a total of 1,636 donors that are not either the candidate or PACs.

So if we apply conventional political wisdom to the fourth quarter, Collins has a bit of a problem. Her fundraising has fallen off a cliff.  She is getting no funding from the national party.  And her opponent has garnered 1,636 donors to Collins’ 217.  If conventional wisdom is right, that means that the challenger has 147,240 voters waiting in the wings, while Collins has only 19,530.

See? Isn’t this interesting? 

Now, let’s look at the race for governor.  There are three candidates currently running, including the current governor, Paul LePage-R, Michael Michaud-D, and Eliot Cutler-I.  Michaud announced his campaign numbers first, with more than a million dollars in donations. $700,000 of that happened during the last reporting period, which is a six-month stretch from July-December.  Michaud announced his candidacy in June, and pulled in $313,000 in 18 days in June. 

LePage reported having raised $373,557 from July to the end of December.

Cutler raised $243,792 over the same period, but owes himself $200,000 for a start up loan.

Michaud, who released his data first, said that financial support for his candidacy has come from more than 3,700 donors, nearly 87 percent of whom are individuals. Nearly 45 percent of those donors gave $50 or less, he said.  However, those that did not were able to donate up to $3,000 to party candidates, $1,500 to pay for a primary that may or may not occur, and $1,500 to pay for a general election.  This gives both Michaud and LePage an edge over Cutler, who can raise only $1,500 per person.  When all sources are combined, Michaud's donors gave an average of $274.

“Already more than 3,700 individuals have donated to his campaign and more than 20 organizations that represent teachers, environmentalists, police, firefighters, workers and the LGBT community throughout the state have endorsed him,” a Michau spokesperson said.  This means that Michaud has support coming from - surprise -  unions and progressive special interests.

Michaud also has significant support from the Democratic Governors Association, putting an additional $50,000 into a Maine-based political action committee over the last reporting period, for a total of more than $200,000.  The Republican Governors Association has not invested in LePage.  

Cutler has 760 donors, including himself and family members.  The donors are corporations and individuals (far more individuals than corporations), and the average donation is $320.  The Campaign for Maine, a political action committee supporting Cutler, reported $142,000 in fundraising for 2013 and spent nearly $90,000. More than $55,000 has been spent on polling and research.

However, Cutler did not report any donations to his campaign from political action committees and said he won’t accept funds if offered.  There is nothing that prevents a PAC from spending money on polling or advertising on a candidate’s behalf, even if the candidate doesn’t accept funds directly.

LePage raised $373,557 since July 1.  He has 1,020 donors of all types - PAC, corporate, and individual, for both primary and general election.  The average donation is $367.  Since the fundraising began in 2012, LePage has raised $566,174.  LePage has not given any of his personal money to his campaign.  He has donations from PACs, individuals, and corporations, many in the banking, wealth management, mining, and timber and paper industries.

Michaud has the largest number of donors, large and small, of the three. Cutler has fewer donors but brought in more funds than LePage. However, it is worth pointing out that in the 2010 election, LePage came in third in fundraising, and still managed to eke out a win.  A lot is going to depend on how the race plays out in the next few months, and whether Eliot Cutler manages to get a second wind or ends his candidacy early.

Even if he does not, conventional political wisdom suggests that Michaud has more supporters ready to come out of the woodwork than do either Cutler or LePage.  Using the conventional wisdom rule, Cutler is currently commanding about 68,000 votes; LePage can count on 72,000 votes, and Michaud, nearly 290,000 votes.  So far.

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