Monday, July 26, 2010

Where Campaign Cash Really Comes From

In the hours before political candidates file their campaign finance reports, their campaigns issue ritual statements showcasing their numbers and generally boasting about their fundraising prowess, complete with a stock claim that most of the donors gave small amounts of money. What they don't tell you is that most of the funds raised came from a few who gave exceedingly large sums.

Mark Neumann's campaign for governor didn't deviate from the standard boilerplate in summarizing its fundraising over the first half of the year. The statement issued a few days ago says the campaign raised $1.96 million in the six-month period, adding that 96% of the donors are from Wisconsin and 85% gave $99 or less.

There's a lot in the Neumann camp's statement that leaves you scratching your head. The actual report his campaign filed with the state Government Accountability Board lists $2,844,282 in contributions, not $1.96 million. And if you look at who gave the slightly more than $2.8 million the campaign reported, you find that $2,525,170 came from Neumann's own pocket.

Scott Walker and Tom Barrett also closely followed the well-worn script in describing their fundraising. Both claim a substantial majority of their supporters donate small amounts. Like Neumann, neither Walker nor Barrett says anything about where most of their money comes from.

We will be filling in that blank in the weeks to come. I'm betting that what we find will look an awful lot like what we found in the last race for governor in 2006.

Our findings mirror those of the national Campaign Finance Institute, which monitors election financing at the state and national levels. As the bar chart below illustrates, CFI's analysis of fundraising by candidates for state office in Wisconsin the last time we had a race for governor in 2006 shows that less than one-seventh of campaign money came from individuals giving $100 or less, while the lion's share of funds were donated by far more generous donors.

It could be worse. Like Illinois.

On the other hand, Wisconsin could do much better. Like Minnesota.

There's a reason why Minnesota candidates have come to rely so much more heavily on donors who give smaller amounts of money. For years, Minnesota has had a program that provided rebates of up to $50 to state residents who make small donations to political candidates.

Wisconsin could adopt such a program and join our neighbor to the west in encouraging citizen participation in state elections and weaning candidates from their reliance on big-money donors. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that Wisconsin could trade places with Minnesota. Our neighbor to the west just suspended its small-donor incentive program.

1 comment:

st3wb7x5 said...