Posts about the original sin of politics.

The Myth of DCCC Neutrality

Sources tell Rochesterturning that the DCCC is going to remain neutral in the contest in the 29th. I don't agree. My take is that the DCCC is going to maintain the appearance of neutrality while putting in place measures that support Louise Slaughter's handpicked wealthy candidate, David Nachbar.

Earlier this year, Eric Massa began raising money with the claim that the DCCC will consider his race a "top tier" race if he raises $300,000 by the end of June. At the time, I thought that his claim was just part of the usual fundraising rhetoric and didn't give it much thought. In the light of Nachbar's candidacy, however, this claim appears more interesting, since Nachbar can become a "top tier" candidate by simply writing a check. Once Nachbar is "top tier", it will become easier for him to raise money, and harder for Massa.

Obviously, this is pure opinion and speculation, but it can easily be verified by anyone who keeps tabs on DCCC press releases and FEC quarterly reports.

Labor's Right and Left Hand

Anyone skeptical about the power of incumbency and committee assignments need look no further than Randy Kuhl's recent campaign finance report. Kuhl, who withdrew his co-sponsorship of H R 800, the Employee Free Choice Act, called the bill "Orwellian", and was confronted by 150 union members after a town meeting, received $2,500 from labor PACs in the first quarter of 2007.

Kuhl, who received a "Spirit of Enterprise" award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce for his 100% voting score last year, wasn't endorsed by the AFL-CIO in 2006, yet he received $500 from the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department PAC. He also received $1000 each from the firefighters and iron workers.

I suppose the labor unions think they're getting something out of their contributions: presumably their donations are related to Kuhl's committee assignments in the Transportation and Infrastructure or Education Committees (since it was the Firefighters "Registration and Education" association that contributed). Maybe their $500 or $1000 bought a few minutes of face time, or they hope it will result in a call that's returned.

That said, I wonder how they would explain their contributions to the 150 union members who showed up in Corning a couple of weeks ago.

First Quarter Numbers

The FEC has posted fundraising numbers for Randy Kuhl and Eric Massa. According to the summaries, Kuhl raised $115K, and Massa raised $16K, $10K of which was in the form of a loan from Massa.

Massa's numbers are low. According to Massa, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee expects him to raise $300K by the end of June. That sounds like a fundraising gambit. It's not as if the DCCC has hundreds of other hard-working, experienced, electable candidates in the 29th clamoring to put in 18 months of campaigning. Nevertheless, Massa is far short of his own goal of raising $3 million for the next cycle.

Right around release time, the FEC data is in constant flux. For both Massa and Kuhl, some of the numbers on the summary page don't seem to add up. I'll be going over the detailed reports and reporting on a couple of interesting entries in the next couple of posts.

Night Moves

Today's New York Times reports that lobbyists recently paid for Randy Kuhl to attend a Bob Seger concert. To skirt the new House rules on lobbyist-funded gifts, Kuhl held a "fundraiser" at the concert and charged $2,500 for two tickets.

According to the Times, these types of fundraisers are usually held by the lawmaker's leadership PAC, which has fewer restrictions on accepting gifts for personal use. I wasn't aware that Kuhl had a leadership PAC, and FEC disclosure rules make finding leadership PACs difficult. I'll be on the hunt for the disclosure for this expenditure as well as for Kuhl's leadership PAC, if it exists.

Obviously, these kind of fundraisers are political dynamite, and Kuhl's judgment in holding it is suspect.

Missing Numbers

Alert reader Clark writes to point out that the two previous money numbers posts didn't include a major expenditure by the National Republican Campaign Committee. It looks like the FEC hasn't finished posting updates to the national committees. I'll correct those posts after those numbers have posted. Only the spending numbers will change, and it may turn out that Kuhl and allies outspent Massa by a tiny margin.

Quantifying Massa's Accomplishment

Fundraising Graph

To understand the accomplishment reflected in the final money numbers, let's compare the 29th to the other close races in New York. These are races where an incumbent was defending his office, and the margin of victory (or loss) was in single digits. In both fundraising and spending, Eric Massa outdid his peers. Not only was Massa the only challenger to out-raise and out-spend his opponent, the others weren't even close.

The chart at the right illustrates the fundraising achievements of the group. The bars show the difference in spending between the incumbent and the opponent. For example, in NY-26, Tom Reynolds' whopping $4.2 million represented 64% of the $6.6 million raised in that race. Jack Davis' $2.4 million, most of which came from his own pocket, is only 36% of the total. The graph shows the difference: Reynolds out-raised Davis by 28%.

The line on the chart shows the Cook Political Report Partisan Voter Index. For example, NY-25 is D+3, which means that the district is on average 3% more Democratic than the nation as a whole. As you can see, at R+5 (D-5), the 29th is the toughest district of the group.

2006 Close Race Spending

The spending story is similar. This graph shows the gap in spending between the two contestants in each race. As with Friday's post, I added third-party spending to the mix. Again, the incumbents far outspent challengers in all races except in the 29th. NY-20 was the next closest, where Sweeney and his allies outspent Gillibrand by 12%. As with the previous chart, the red line represents the Cook Partisan Voter Index for the race.

All of the challengers in this study were well-funded, and some raised and spent far more than Massa. In absolute terms, Davis, Gillibrand and Hall (NY-20) out-raised and outspent Massa, but each of those challengers participated in races where the "cost of admission" was much higher. Massa was the only challenger who paid more that the cost of admission, and the race in the 29th was close because of it.

The underlying data for this study is available as a pdf.

Final Money Numbers

2006 Fundraising - Click to EnlargeThe FEC has released the final money numbers for the 29th. Eric Massa out-raised and out-spent Randy Kuhl by small margins. When third-party contributions are added to the mix, Massa and outspent the Kuhl campaign by almost $200K.

The graph at the right shows the contributor mix for the campaign. Massa raised a little over $1 million from individual contributors. Kuhl's largest contributors were Political Action Committees, and he raised almost $1 million from them. The "other" category in this graph represents contributions from party and also from the candidate. Massa contributed $41K to this campaign, and loaned it another $56K, which has since been repaid.

2006 Spend - Click to EnlargeFor the spending picture, I lumped third-party expenditures with candidate expenditures. The main third-party expenditure was the $139K spent by to attack Randy Kuhl. I show that as an expenditure for Massa, though technically MoveOn is a third party.

I'll post later on the significance of these numbers, since it's not often that a challenger out-raises and out-spends an opponent in a race like this, especially in a supposedly "red" district. Keep in mind one important point when interpreting the charts: Massa ran a two-year campaign, since he declared his candidacy in November, 2004. So even though he did out-spend Kuhl, he did so over two years. Kuhl didn't being to spend seriously on his campaign until Summer, 2006.

Junkets? Bad. Trips to Israel? Learning Experiences.

Nancy Pelosi has put ethics reform -- which at minimum means fewer gifts and junkets -- on her list of "first 100 hours" legislation. Jewish groups, the second-largest sponsors of junkets, are busy trying to craft an exemption for trips they sponsor to Israel. These are "educational trips", not junkets, they argue.

Perhaps, but they're also expensive perks. Randy Kuhl took one sponsored trip in his first term in Congress. It was an educational mission to Israel, he took his son, and it cost $16,758 for an eight-day trip . As I've posted before, Kuhl is squeaky-clean on finance issues, and this trip was above-board and properly reported. But it's still an expensive gift, and if Pelosi is serious, Kuhl will be one of the last beneficiaries of these kind of perks.

NRCC's New Ad: Money and Strategy

The charges in the new attack ad are essentially the same as those in Kuhl's earlier Social Security ad, so the same analysis applies.  What's interesting about this ad is who paid for it,  how it fits into Kuhl's overall campaign strategy, and what the Massa campaign will do about it.

The anti-Massa ad campaign was purchased as part of the NRCC's seven million dollar Friday media buy.  The NRCC paid $176K for it.  That's more than any single media buy listed in the last two campaign filings of either candidate.  It's also significantly more than the other large independent media expenditure in the 29th, the buy of $139K.

By comparison, from the last week in August to mid-October, Kuhl had spent a little over $500K on mass media, while Massa's spending total is about half of that, $244K.  (These numbers are roughly right - campaign expenditure reporting is a bit vague.)  The NRCC buy is more than two-thirds of all of Massa's spending for the last two months.  In other words, it's big.

In theory and by law, the NRCC expenditure is out of the control of the Kuhl campaign.  In practice and by common sense, one has to assume that party and candidate agree on a strategy in the last few weeks of an election.   

The NRCC/Kuhl issues strategy is a return to an old Republican standby, taxes, with a segue to Social Security.   By attacking on Social Security, which is proven kryptonite in campaigns, Kuhl hopes to make Massa spend the last few days of the race on the defensive instead of pushing the change message.  The media strategy is to let the NRCC do the real dirty work, since their ad doesn't have to include Kuhl's name or approval.  The use of "gunsights" in the ad, which makes Massa look like he wants to hunt down old people, is not far from a charge that he wants to smother kittens.  It's calculated to inflame the Massa campaign and partisans into a over-the-top response which changes the subject from change (which is a loser for Kuhl).

Some of the Massa campaign's recent rhetoric ("we will not unilaterally disarm") makes me think they might rise to the bait.  My guess is that whatever they produce will not be as visually negative as the NRCC ad.  I think the smart move is to take it down a notch, quickly deflect the Social Security charge, and return the focus to change.  Also, every ad should include a smiling Eric Massa, similar to the one who appeared in the Spitzer/Massa ad.

That's probably considered a "wimpy" strategy by partisans, but I think that a scoff rather than an earnest, defensive response is the right way to respond to over-the-top attacks.

Pre-General Money Numbers

The FEC has just posted the pre-general election filing summaries for both campaigns. Kuhl's shows that he raised an anemic $65K in the 18 days since the last filing.  Massa raised $171K in the same period, maintaining his $60K per week clip.  Massa's fundraising total is within $145K of Kuhl's.

More importantly, for the first time Massa has more cash on hand than Kuhl:  $341K vs $232K.  Kuhl made a couple of huge media buys in this period, which might reflect some pre-paid ads that are still running, but the fact remains that the Massa campaign had more cash on hand last week and continues to significantly out-raise Kuhl.

Massa has raised $800K of his total from individuals.  $813K of Kuhl's total is from PACs. 

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