October 15 was the deadline for state and federal candidates to submit their fundraising reports. After reviewing the reports, two unexpected surprises arose, one from a political novice and one from a political fixture.
The first surprise was the fundraising report of Tommy Moll, a candidate for the Republican nomination for the Fourth Congressional District. Moll has, by-and-large, avoided speaking to the media and is a complete unknown. However, last quarter Moll raised $281,181, with roughly $85,000 of those funds legally designated for a run-off or general election, meaning those funds cannot be used in the primary. Moll’s total cash-on-hand amount was $266,963.
Moll’s fundraising reports dwarfed those of House Republican Majority Leader Bruce Westerman who raised $110,466 and ended the quarter with $98,561 in the bank. Westerman seems to be the choice of the Republic Party establishment, but if Moll keeps up his strong fundraising, their support of Westerman may not matter.
As of yet, no Democratic candidate has announced for the Fourth District. Former FEMA Director James Lee Witt and State Senator Bobby Pierce are considering entering the race.
The biggest surprise from yesterday’s fundraising report was the cratering of Asa Hutchinson’s fundraising operation.
Last quarter, Asa Hutchinson reported raising $393,181 and ended the quarter with a little over $1 million in the bank. To compare apples to apples, Mike Ross raised a whopping $1.12 million last quarter and has $2.396 million cash-on-hand.
Moreover, the likely Democratic nominee for Lt. Governor, John Burkhalter, actually raised more money than the likely Republican nominee for Governor, thus addling to Asa’s public embarrassment. Burkhalter raised $530,195 last quarter.
When reviewing Asa’s reports I noticed that he loaned $62,000 to his campaign. Normally that is not significant news as many candidates contribute to their campaigns. John Burkhalter, for example, loaned his campaign $55,000. However the timing of the Hutchinson loan, 9/30/13, and the amount caught my eye.
Asa Hutchinson loaned his campaign $62,000 just so he could publicly report he had $1 million in the bank. Without his loan, Asa would have reported only $941,948 on the bank, which looks horrible politically. It’s part of the political perception game – a million dollars in the bank just sounds better than $941,948. Similar to when a store item is priced at $49.99, the shopper often perceives the item to be around 40-something dollars, but it’s actually over $50 with sales tax. It’s playing with numbers to sell a story.
Asa Hutchinson’s campaign is stumbling so badly he was forced to stick a wad of cash into his coffers to avoid losing the political perception game. The fact that Asa made the loan on the last day of the quarter is further proof its sole purpose was to avoid the atrocious optics of posting less than $1 million.
Republicans are attempting to spin Asa’s lackluster fundraising in two ways. They argue that Asa still leads in the polls and that Mike Ross has a high “burn rate” for his campaign.
Republicans are correct when pointing out Asa leads in all public polls. But in a Southern state where President Obama is very unpopular, where Republicans control the State Legislature and they hold 5 of 6 Congressional seats, the fact that the Republican nominee leads by only four points is not much to brag about.
The “burn rate” is what a campaign spends each month, and campaigns that don’t effectively control this rate lose because of wasteful and ineffective spending. Having run many campaigns, I can tell you from experience that there’s a difference between “burn rate” and building a campaign infrastructure.
Looking over Ross’ reports, it’s clear he’s putting a strong organization into place and that does take money. Of course, unlike Asa Hutchinson, Mike Ross has an impressive warchest to tap into to build an infrastructure.
Finally, Asa Hutchinson, in my opinion, is entering into what I like to call the “vicious cycle of fundraising.”
In political campaigns, money breeds money. A candidate with difficulty raising money finds it’s hard to convince donors to contribute since these astute donors notice the candidate is not raising money. Not raising money is a flashing red light, warning donors that a campaign is or may be losing, so they don’t contribute.
The vicious cycle of fundraising begins: the campaign doesn’t raise money and donors see that they’re not raising money and therefore don’t contribute.
This is where Asa Hutchinson finds himself now. Arkansas’s political donor community has surely noticed his lack of financial support.
As I wrote three months ago, Arkansas’s powerful and influential contributors are already comfortable with the notion of Mike Ross as Governor. Now that Ross has crushed Hutchinson for the second quarter in a row in fundraising, even more of them will likely jump onto the Ross for Governor bandwagon.
Finally, a problem for Asa Hutchinson, and Mike Ross, is in the fourth quarter it’s difficult to raise funds since it falls in the holiday season, with most fundraising effectively ending around Thanksgiving.
Which means it will take Hutchinson longer to correct the fundraising tailspin his campaign is currently in. If he can at all.