DYK: Local campaign finance

There has been some talk around the blogsphere regarding the debt that certain candidates incurred. I have heard that Dennis Kucinich is still carrying debt from his 2004 presidential run. Creigh Deeds has debt from the recount. Former Lt Gov candidate Chap Peterson ended his primary run in debt.

What do all of these candidates have in common? They all lost. Yesterday’s Virginian-Pilot had an article about companies who contributed to Kaine after he won the election. Winning has a way of curing things while losing does not. So what about local candidates?

Contrary to popular belief, local candidates – with rare exceptions – get no campaign funds from state parties, even though they have funds on hand. Most PACs do not contribute to local candidates. When I say “local”, I’m talking about the five constitutional officers (Sheriff, Clerk of Court, Commonwealth’s attorney, Commissioner of the Revenue, and Treasurer) and the City Council. (We do not elect our School Board in Norfolk.) These people have to raise money from the general public in order to pay for the campaign. Local candidates – particularly in an election year where there are numerous races above them – have a difficult time raising funds.

Campaigns are quite expensive, even on the local level. Everything that you do costs money: bumper stickers, yard signs, flyers (palm cards), mailers, newspaper, radio and TV ads – there are no deals out there. Staff has to be paid. Campaign managers and field directors do not volunteer their time. As the result, candidates spend an inordinate amount of time raising money, time that could be spent connecting with voters. Unfortunately, in a city-wide race, it is virtually impossible to reach all of the voters (Norfolk has 105,000+ of them) the old-fashioned way – going door-to-door.

In last year’s Treasurer’s race, each of the four candidates had to infuse cash from personal funds in order to pay for the campaign. All four campaigns finished the race in debt. The four candidates spent in excess of $250,000 on the race. A review of the campaign finance reports on vpap for the gubernatorial race versus those of the Treasurer’s candidates (filed locally with the Board of Elections) reveals very little overlap in Norfolk contributors. In other words, many people are willing to give to the gubernatorial race but not to the candidates in the local races. No doubt the governor is worthy of contributions but Kaine understands what I’m saying. After all, he was once a local candidate himself.

So the next time you get a call or a letter requesting funds from a local candidate, do your part to help out. And don’t forget the losers who have bills to pay. (Most of them still have websites up for this very reason.) I’m sure every donation will be appreciated. Who knows – maybe the person you are donating to may wind up being governor in a few years.

Oh – and the Commonwealth of Virginia will help you a bit. While political contributions are not deductible for federal income tax purposes (now there’s a dumb law!), there is a small state tax deduction ($25 for a $50 contribution if single, $50 for a $100 contribution if married) for political contributions.

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