Jeff Schapiro on Bob McDonnell's Abysmal Fundraising

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Although one particular candidate likes to whine about fundraising being evil (even though he quit his job in order to...yes, fundraise), the fact is that you need money in order to run a political campaign. This is not exactly rocket science, and it's not about whether you're the "grassroots" or "netroots" candidate either. Case in point: Barack Obama raised about $750 million for his presidential bid in 2007/2008, yet simultaneously ran an extraordinary netroots campaign as well. When Nate Wilcox and I were speaking at Stanford and Berkeley in February about Netroots Rising, we emphasized that successful campaigns manage to INTEGRATE the "top down" (which includes fundraising) with the "bottom up" (grassroots, netroots). Ultimately, Howard Dean and Wesley Clark failed to do that in 2003/2004 (for different reasons), while Barack Obama succeeded to a spectacular extent in 2007/2008 (as did Jim Webb, on a much smaller scale in 2006).

Anyway, the bottom line is that, despite the rise of social networking (including blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.), money remains crucial in today's political campaigns. And, unfortunately for Bob McDonnell, things are not going particularly well for his campaign in that area.
At McDonnell headquarters, the news isn't the announcement that he has more cash than the three Democrats who are burning through millions for a shot at him. It's what is being whispered:

That finance director Christi Smith, previously a fundraiser for McDonnell in Northern Virginia, has been replaced with Paige Hahn, who has worked for Newt Gingrich, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Republican National Committee.

Unopposed for the nomination, McDonnell trails in the money hunt compared with the party's candidate from four years ago, then-Attorney General Jerry Kilgore, who faced minor competition in a primary.

From January 2006, when McDonnell was sworn in as AG, until the close of the latest reporting period on March 31, he has raised just over $6.5 million, according to the Virginia Public Access Project, an online watchdog of money in politics.

For the same period, between 2002 and 2005, Kilgore generated $7.8 million.
It's even worse than that, Schapiro points out, as " At this point in the'05 cycle, Kilgore had not received a penny from the RGA, which already has steered $1.2 million to McDonnell."

Why is this? Schapiro notes that the economy is "crummy" right now, but that this "excuse only goes so far." I agree with Schapiro, and would point out that the three Democratic gubernatorial candidates raised a combined $5.7 million in the first quarter of 2009 (of which $4.2 million was raised by Terry McAuliffe). I would also point out that Tim Kaine raised $2.6 million and Jerry Kilgore $5.0 million in the first quarter of 2005, compared to just $2.2 million for McDonnell in 1Q09. In other words, no matter how you look at it, Bob McDonnell's fundraising so far is anemic.

So what IS the problem? According to Schapiro, "McDonnell may not be getting traction with Kilgore's biggest donors."
There are 34 GOP check-writers who contributed $5,000 or more to each candidate through their respective March 31 filing periods. But there are about 100 more who gave at least that much to Kilgore who have yet to do so for McDonnell.
Perhaps GOP donors are not convinced about Bob McDonnell's new-found "moderation?" Perhaps GOP donors are demoralized by the controversy over Jeff Frederick as "leader" (using the term very loosely) of the RPV? Perhaps more socially moderate GOP donors aren't enthused about having a Pat Robertson Republican at the top of their ticket? Perhaps McDonnell simply isn't as compelling a candidate to them as Jerry Kilgore was in 2009?

Will Bob McDonnell's money woes continue? Time will tell, but I strongly agree with Jeff Schapiro that McDonnell "has his work cut out for him" on this front. This is particularly the case, by the way, assuming that Democrats pick their strongest fundraiser AND their strongest fighter (with the strongest campaign by far), Terry McAuliffe, as their nominee. Yes, Republicans will point to the early polls indicating a lead for Bob McDonnell, but keep in mind that a year ago, John McCain was leading Hillary Clinton 58%-36% and Barack Obama 52%-41% in Virginia. Remind me again, how did that one work out in the end? :)

UPDATE: Tertium Quids writes, "The longer McDonnell rustles in the shrubbery with small-bore ideas and fundraising concepts, the more likely these folks are to drift away, and in greater numbers." Wait, I thought rejecting $125 million in stimulus money was Bob McDonnell's idea of a "Big Idea." :)