Whether it’s accepting a check from a political action committee or finding the nerve to ask a close friend for money to help out with a campaign, many Warren County legislators say fundraising is the most unpleasant part of the campaign process.
It’s also one of the areas where young, inexperienced campaigners can struggle, according to Tyler Murphy of Flatwoods, a 24-year-old candidate for representative in House District 98 on the far northeastern end of the state.
He said fundraising has been by far the hardest part of his first political campaign.
“I hate making those calls,” Murphy said.
He hasn’t been able to keep up with primary opponent Rep. Tanya Pullin, D-South Shore.
Pullin has brought in more than $48,100 so far this campaign – about four times what Murphy has raised, according to the most recent documents filed with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance. About $34,000 of that was transferred from previous campaigns.
Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, has similarly been able to transfer money from previous campaigns into his current campaign. He brought about $70,400 from previous campaigns to this one, where he will face Bowling Green businesswoman Regina Webb in the general election.
Discounting those carryover funds, Richards has raised about $6,531 so far in the campaign. “I have been able to have some resources and to save some resources,” he said.
Webb, comparatively, has raised $14,679, including a $1,500 loan to her campaign.
Not including those transferred funds, Richards has actually raised less money than any of the other current Warren County legislators between the 2006 primary and now. During that period, he has raised about $59,648, according to KREF records. If, however, you consider his 2007 run for governor, when he raised more than $673,500, he has raised far more than any sitting legislator.
Of his money for legislative campaigns, $47,250 has come from political action committees, according to KREF filings.
Richards said PACs often send him donations without solicitation, probably due to his years as speaker of the House. All contributions are studied for possible conflicts of interest, he said.
Limits on PAC donations and on individual donations are the same in Kentucky. Richards said that, while he’s grateful for PAC contributions, they generally aren’t large and don’t impact his political stances.
“Our fundraising laws and our ethical laws are among the strongest in the country, and I really like that,” Richards said.
Kentucky does have lower limits on campaign contributions than a number of other states for the 2011-12 election cycle, according to information compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Missouri, Oregon, Utah and Virginia place no limits on contributions. In Kentucky, limits for individual, political action committee and union contributions are capped at $1,000 per election.
The Warren County legislator with the biggest fundraising numbers since the 2006 primary election is Rep. Johnny Bell, D-Glasgow, who has raised about $155,596 for campaigns since 2006, with about $23,175 coming from PACs. However, Bell has donated frequently to his own campaigns.
He funded his first campaign for office in 2006 with $9,000 of his own money out of necessity. He had fundraisers that people didn’t show up for and found it hard to get people to donate, Bell said.
Things have become easier now that he has a record in the legislature and people know what he stands for, Bell said.
He’s also had help from party groups, such as in the 2010 primary, when he received a $10,000 donation from the Kentucky House Democratic Caucus, he said.
Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Bowling Green, has raised about $136,094 during that period. He said he attributes his success to hard work during campaigns when he has an opponent, though it isn’t something he enjoys.
“You just have to grit your teeth and do it,” he said.
DeCesare has received about $28,050 from PACs since the 2006 primary.
Those groups choose to donate to candidates because of political opinions that those candidates already have, not to try to change a vote, he said. However, he believes the voter perception of those funds can be negative “because people will think your vote’s being bought.”
DeCesare does a lot of planning before starting to raise money, so he knows roughly how much he’ll need for a campaign, he said.
“I try to raise only the money that I need,” he said. “I try to make up the rest of that by knocking on doors.”
Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, has come close to DeCesare’s fundraising total in just one primary and one general election. He raised $122,120 for elections in 2010, according to KREF documents. About $7,500 of that came from PACs.
He said it’s important to put equal emphasis on fundraising and work on the ground with voters. Interaction with voters while campaigning can expand your circle of associates and mean more avenues to raise money. That’s important because of the expense of purchasing ads for radio and TV.
“I was amazed at how much it cost because I had never run before,” he said.
Wilson said he sometimes thinks it would be better for campaign funding to be limited even further to put candidates on a more even footing.
Kendrick Bryan, a 24-year-old Western Kentucky University student and candidate for the legislature in the 25th House District, is taking a different approach to fundraising for his campaign – he’s just not doing it.
Bryan has pledged to spend no more than $1,000 on his campaign and is not seeking money from PACs.
“I wanted to be free to lead, and I think if you’re going to lead, you must have no ties to special interest groups or political action committees,” he said. “And I think voters are tired of the influence of money in politics, and I wanted to stay away from the negative advertising and the negative interviews and all of that.”
Bryan gets surveys from political action committees asking for his stance on issues, he said. He could compete for endorsements, but chooses not to.
“I think it’s pretty easy to turn down,” Bryan said.
He’s been using his own money to buy and send out mailers and put up signs.
“Luckily, I had a nice refund on my taxes,” he said.
The lack of money means he uses what he has more efficiently, Bryan said.
“I haven’t asked for a dime from anybody,” he said. “I would hope that, if they’re interested in donating, they would donate to a local library or school or a charity.”
As of May 7, the 25th District incumbent, Rep. Jimmie Lee, D-Elizabethtown, had a balance of about $60,907 in campaign funds.
Rep. Wilson Stone, D-Scottsville, said he thinks fundraising can be a positive thing not only for candidates, but also for constituents by giving citizens a chance to take part in the electoral process. “They take ownership not only in the campaign, but in you as a candidate,” he said.
Fundraising events where people get together to share food and ideas can be particularly productive for candidates and voters, Stone said.
Stone sees a volunteer willing to help a candidate canvass a neighborhood and a person who donates to a campaign as doing the same thing.
Stone has raised $104,220 since 2006 running both for the office of judge-executive in Allen County and the legislature, with $10,650 of that coming from PACs, though he has also donated often to his campaigns.
It feels wrong to ask people to donate more than you’ve invested in your own campaign, Stone said.
Fundraising and campaigning become easier the longer politicians are involved because they are able to establish a network of people who know them, support them and will donate, Stone said.
“You see a lot of good people who don’t get very many votes, and maybe it’s because they haven’t laid the groundwork to do that,” he said.