Over the course of this years presidential race, political pundits have marveled at Barack Obama and Hillary Clintons fundraising prowess and scrutinized every last expenditure.
The campaigns have spent over a quarter of a billion dollars so far this year and a large percent of has been doled out to high-powered consultants. Clinton has paid the consulting firm of her chief strategist Mark Penn about $8 million, and AKP Media, which is headed by Obama political adviser David Axelrod and campaign manager David Plouffe, have received $1.2 million from Obamas campaign.
As this years presidential election shows, money has become of paramount importance in politics. Money allows a candidate to buy television advertising, direct mail, pollsters and high priced professional consultants to run his or her campaign.
But this development no longer applies only to national or statewide campaigns.
Sixteen candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates raised over $500,000 in last years campaign season new highs for Virginia General Assembly contests.
In Alexandria, a close look the race involving incumbent Del. David Englins (D-45) against challenger Mark Allen (R) shows that fundraising has become even more important in local elections where consultants are becoming increasingly common. The type of increase in the importance of fundraising weve seen locally is part of a national phenomenon, said Bob ONeil, director of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia. The cost of campaigning has increased everywhere so we shouldnt be surprised.
The amount of money Englin and Allen spent on their campaigns was the most ever spent in campaigns for the 45th District seat. Allen raised and spent $265,490 the most ever by a Republican in the district.
Englin raised $288,709 and used $284,058 of that, according to campaign finance reports compiled by the Virginia Public Access Project. When Englin heard Allen was going to run, he knew he had to step up his fundraising. There was no doubt that a race with Mark Allen was going to be challenging from a fundraising standpoint, Englin said. I knew he could raise a lot of money very quickly and thats exactly what he did.
Marian Van Landingham, who held the seat for 24 years until she retired in 2005, was shocked. When I first ran in 1981 I spent about $13,000, she said. Campaigns have gotten more and more professional. To me its appalling how much it is costing now.
Englin and Allen adopted vastly different spending strategies.
Allen employed the newer consultant-based method, paying Cox Consulting, a research firm, $69,383 and the Torrance Group, a professional Republican polling firm, $7,634. He spent over $25,000 on airing cable television and radio ads in a city which has neither a TV station or radio station to its name. Allen also hired top GOP consultant David Rexrode, who has consulted for George W. Bush and John McCain, and was director of coalitions for the Republican National Committee, to run his campaign, paying him $20,000.
That was after he had paid his longtime friend, Old Town mortgage broker Charles Hulfish, $21,020 to get the campaign up and running. According to documents filed with the Virginia Election Commission, the campaign paid the Northern Virginia Republican Business Forum for Hulfishs training. Hulfish was not listed as a campaign contributor.
The VEC documents also revealed that Allen made a $25,000 loan to his campaign, which he later repaid himself on Nov. 29. Allen himself made no contributions to his campaign, other than the loan he repaid to himself. He lent some money to the campaign to get it started because there was no money at the beginning, Hulfish said. We were very confident he would be able to raise money once the campaign got running.
Allen did not return several calls for comment.
Republican challengers in the 45th district are notoriously underfunded, Hulfish said, and he knew Alexandria leaned Democratic so the campaign had a big hill to climb.
Once the campaign got rolling, though, Allen, a real estate closing attorney, collected large donations from a small group of donors, many of whom were Realtors, mortgage brokers and builders. He received 539 donations of over $100, according to reports he filed in Richmond. He also benefited from the services of Alexandria-based PCI Communications, whose CEO Sam DelBrocco is a long time friend of Allens. PCI produced Allens cable TV commercials for no charge, in what amounted to a $35,000 de facto contribution to the campaign. Im a long term friend of his and I believed in what he was trying to do, DelBrocco said.
Englin focused on a more grassroots fundraising and spending strategy.
He knocked on doors, threw volunteer events and organized a phone bank. He collected 633 donations of $100 or less and 817 contributions over $100. He didnt spend any money advertising on television and, after significant donations to the Virginia Democratic House Caucus and Democratic Party, his biggest expenditure was a postal expense of $10,725.
While Allen paid his staff large salaries, Englin spent very little on his staff.
He paid John Alex Golden, an aide from his Richmond office, $2,000, but no other salaries went to his volunteer staff, which included his wife as campaign manager. Englin did spend about $3,000 on a tracking poll midway through the campaign.
My own personal feeling is I dont need a consultant to tell me what I think about things, Englin said. And I dont need a consultant because I spend so much time all year long talking to constituents that I dont need a consultant to tell me what my constituents think.
Facing well-funded challengers like Allen places enormous pressure on incumbents to raise money year round. Its the worst part of being in an elected office, Englin said. No one really likes it and no one is really ready for it when they are elected.
Englin has to spend hours and hours on the phone soliciting donations throughout the year. When the General Assembly is in session, like it is now, Englin gets a reprieve because it is against Virginia law to fundraise while in session. The break is nice because I dont have to worry about it for two months, Englin said.
The constant fundraising demands are certainly new to the House of Delegates. When I ran in 1995, I mailed a fundraising letter and I had a fundraiser in Roanoke with my constituents, said former Del. Chip Woodruff (D), who represented Virginia 11th District from 1980 to 2003. And I made a phone calls for a couple hours a week.
But despite Allens fundraising prowess, television ads and experienced campaign managers, Englin soundly defeated him last November, 64 percent to 36 percent. The results, Englin said, are a sign that high priced consultants dont ensure victory.
Money doesnt win elections, he said.