On The Road To 2008 - Commentary on issues as we countdown to the next opportunity to change the direction of America

Monday, May 26, 2008

An In-Depth Look At WA-08 Fundraising Numbers

A couple of weeks ago the Seattle Times compared the fundraising numbers for Darcy Burner and Dave Reichert.

The printed edition also included the following graphic:

For some reason the graphic was not made available with the online version of the article. Perhaps because some of the numbers, such as the contribution numbers below the pie chart, don't seem to add up.

The Seattle Times article came out at the same time that I was doing my own research and analysis of the FEC reports for this election cycle, and so I read it with great interest.

Unfortunately, there were a number of comments and assertions, as well as numbers, that painted an inaccurate, and incorrect picture of the race.

The first regards how this year compares to 2006. Reporter Emily Heffter suggests things are similar this year, when she wrote, "As in 2006, Burner has a slight edge over Reichert in raising money". Except they are not. By April 2006 people were only just becoming aware of Darcy Burner's candidacy. She only had half has much cash on hand as Reichert's $724,718, and he had out raised her by $1,439,373 to $539,687. The numbers didn't become close, with a slight edge for Burner, until the very end of the campaign.

This year she has already taken a significant lead in cash on hand, $921,615 to Reichert's $698,035, and both candidates have almost identical fundraising totals: Reichert at $1,403,525 and Burner at $1,402,287.

Those FEC numbers differ from the numbers the Seattle Times provides. That's because instead of going to the true source, the FEC, as they claim in their chart, it appears they have culled their numbers from Open Secrets. While Open Secrets obviously gets their data from the FEC reports as well, there is still an unexplained discrepency.

Another bone of contention that I have relates to how one point was worded. Burner has out-raised Reichert in each of the past three quarters, yet for some reason the Seattle Times article describes it this way, "Burner has outraised Reichert three of the past four quarters." I don't know about you, dear reader, but "three of the past four quarters" doesn't indicate the same strength as "each of the past three quarters". Why would the reporter choose to express things this way? I find that curious, and I put the question directly to the reporter, but received no response from her.

The Reichert campaign has been dismissive of Darcy Burner's fundraising lead:
Reichert's campaign managers are quick to point out that you don't need more money to win. Burner lost a close race to Reichert in 2006 after raising $3.06 million — about $20,000 more than Reichert did.
The comment doesn't have much meaning when the difference was only slightly more than a ½ percent. It also makes a big difference when a candidate is the incumbent with the higher profile and name recognition that comes with that. The little amount Reichert lagged in fundraising in 2006, he more than made up with by his name recognition.

The article does reveal some fascinating information about just how much Reichert's one-time lead fundraiser, Bruce Boram, cost the campaign, with Reichert paying Boram 25 cents for each dollar he raised until they parted ways.

A common theme from Republicans has been that Darcy Burner is raising more of her money from outside the 8th Congressional District. Technically that's probably true. I say probably because the FEC reports, as detailed as they can be, are still an inadequate source of all the data needed to know exactly who is giving and from where.

FEC reports detail itemized contributions, but they don't detail unitemized contributions. In addition, Dave Reichert has received $64,014 from ROMP 2007, but I can find no record of the joint fundraiser's itemized contributions. I invite any reader to hunt these documents down and let me know where they are. However, even if you could, we would not be able to tell how individual contributions were broken down among the recipients of the committee's disbursements.

Reichert, of course, was also the beneficiary of $35,754 from Bush's visit in August last year, and $90,138 from the Laura Bush fundraiser last quarter. However, even while we can go to the committee reports for those events and see the individual contributions, we cannot know for sure how much of each contribution was designated to go to the campaign, and how much of the contribution went to the state party or to pay for expenses. My assumption is that each donor's contribution for those events would go to the campaign up until their individual limit of $4,600, after which, overages would go to the state party.

So what does a detailed analysis of the data reveal? The following chart is a breakdown of the itemized numbers:

WA-08 Itemized Contribution Details. Source: FEC

What the data reveals is that Reichert and Burner are just about even when it comes to in-district donations, with Reichert only very slightly ahead in dollars and donors, and Burner more significantly ahead in donations.

When we zoom out to the state level, the two candidates again have similar numbers. Burner has a higher count of donors and donations, and Reichert a slight edge in dollars.

Again, this data is looking directly at the individual itemized donations and adding them up. It includes both Bush fundraisers as they shouldn't be separated from the total counts and were local events.

So what about the claim by the Reichert campaign that they're doing better in the district? The numbers don't significantly back up that claim. Furthermore, itemized contributions make up only one part of a campaign's total, and unitemized contributions make up another part of it. The Reichert campaign has only had $104,506 in unitemized contributions this election cycle, while the Burner campaign has had $358,707. Only the campaigns know exactly how these contributions break down as it does not get reported, but it is conceivable that enough of that money came from within the district for the Burner campaign to put her dollar and donor counts above Reichert's. We simply cannot know for sure.

What else do we know?

In an April press release the Burner campaign indicated, "Burner received 4,859 contributions from 4,416 individuals in the first quarter. Burner has received 11,615 contributions from 8,871 donors who have given over the course of the current campaign." If we subtract the itemized data from these numbers we can deduce that they have received 10,371 unitemized small donations from 8,144 donors for an average of just under $35 per donation.

I asked the Reichert campaign a week ago if they could supply their own numbers for the purpose of this posting, so I could make a comparison, but I have not received any response as yet. Only they know that information, but for the sake of comparison and open disclosure it would be nice of them to share their counts.

Regardless, at this point in time the two candidates are clearly raising a lot of money, and have amazingly similar totals. Where things really differ is in the unitemized contributions. Reichert has not been able to grow a sizeable amount of financial support from small donors, whereas Burner has. This has tended to result in the insinuate that Burner's support is largely coming from out of state and out of the district, but as the numbers show, what it actually means is that while the two candidates are largely equal in in-district and in-state contributions, she has also been able to tap into a source of money Reichert has not. To make up for it, he has had to rely on high profile and high priced private fundraising events involving President Bush and the First Lady, and on a considerable amount more PAC money.

In 2006 Reichert was able to stay even with a surging Burner fundraising total only due to similar high donor and PAC money support and a large influx of NRCC money. However, this year, with the NRCC hurting for money, and the DCCC with far more cash on hand, endangered candidates like Reichert will be less able to rely on such help. It is not inconceivable that Burner could have a $1 million fundraising edge when all is said and done, and this time, that might just be enough of a difference to really make a difference.

5 Comment(s):

Comment by: Anonymous West_Seattle_Lib(eral)

Daniel -

You're work following the 8th District race(s) these past 3+ years is outstanding and commendable.

Please keep up the good work.

McCain/Romney 2008!

5/26/2008 11:38 PM PT  
Comment by: Anonymous West_Seattle_Lib(eral)

you're = your

5/26/2008 11:39 PM PT  
Comment by: Blogger Daniel Kirkdorffer

One question: why would a liberal suggest support for a McCain/Romney ticket?

5/27/2008 12:17 PM PT  
Comment by: Anonymous Anonymous

Because we can't have Thompson/Huckabee :)

Dave Gibney

5/27/2008 6:12 PM PT  
Comment by: Anonymous West_Seattle_lib(eral)

I don't....it's a joke; I was the guy giving you a hard time for strongly suggesting (if memory serves) the likelihood of a Romney nomination ~2 days before he quit.

Besides McCain/Romney is a losing ticket (in my mind). More so than McCain/Candidate X.


5/28/2008 1:57 AM PT  

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