Connecticut candidates' fundraising wanes in U.S. House races

Although U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, had outpaced his Republican opponent in fundraising by more than $1 million by June 30, he raised only a fraction of what he has in previous election efforts, according to the July quarterly reports the candidates filed with the Federal Election Commission.

"This year is going to be, for the record, the smallest amount of funds raised by an incumbent congressman (in Connecticut's 2nd District) since the 1990s," Courtney said last week.

The $1.04 million in contributions that Courtney reported in July is only slightly more than half of what he had raised in 2008, and it reflects a larger trend of decreased fundraising among Connecticut's incumbent congressmen.

Total contributions to the state's Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives have decreased by $1.4 million since 2010. With the exception of Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, congressional incumbents - all Democrats - raised less money during this year's July quarterly reporting period than they did during the same period in the last election.

Courtney said that, in his case, his race hasn't shown up on the radar screens of people in Washington who monitor close elections, so the need to raise money is diminished.

"Having said that, 35 days is an eternity in a congressional race," admitted Courtney, who said candidates need to be prepared for the possibility of a million-dollar attack ad funded by a super PAC. The ruling by the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case has created a "new reality" for those running for Congress, he said.

He told the story of Rep. Tim Bishop of New York's first district, who "woke up (last week) with a $1.7 million ad buy by American Action Network," which runs a super PAC intended to elect a Republican majority to the House of Representatives.

"He's getting pounded," said Courtney, who added that "you would be a fool" not to be prepared for a scenario like that. The congressman said he has raised enough money to be prepared for such an unexpected event and added that he still has a "very loyal base" of donors.

Connecticut Democratic leadership would not say whether or not the decreased fundraising is a strategic decision.

A spokesman for the state party, Devon Puglia, would say only that "with extraordinary grass-roots support, (Democrats are) going door to door, neighbor to neighbor, and community to community to talk about progress. Our focus is on delivering results for the people of Connecticut."

Although they've been raising less money than in the past, the Democrats are still outpacing their Republican opponents by a significant margin.

Republican congressional candidates across the state this year have raised $1.08 million, only 16 percent of what they'd raised by this point in 2006. Republicans in the 1st and 3rd districts have raised $6,630 and $6,355, respectively, not far above the FEC's reporting threshold of $5,000.

"As entrenched incumbents, the Democratic candidates for Congress have the advantage of being able to shake down special interest groups and Washington lobbyists for campaign cash," said Zak Sanders, a spokesman for the Connecticut Republican Party.

"Regardless, on a statewide level we've seen an overwhelming surge of support from donors right here in Connecticut who are tired of struggling under the weight of higher taxes in an economy that continues to lag far behind the rest of the nation," Sanders said. "The Connecticut Republican Party has raised more money this year than we ever have before."

Contributions made to Republicans by the July reporting period dropped off steeply between 2006 and 2010, even though candidates in the 1st and 3rd districts raised so little in 2006 and 2008 that they did not make reports to the FEC.

That decline was likely caused, at least in part, by the loss of Republican incumbents and their powerful fundraising abilities. In 2006, Rob Simmons of Connecticut's 2nd District raised $1.8 million by July 2006 but lost to Courtney, while Christopher Shays of Connecticut's 4th District raised $2.3 million by July 2008 but ultimately lost the election to Democrat Jim Himes.

Contributions to Republicans dropped dramatically after Simmons and Shays lost their seats. In July 2008, Courtney's challenger for the 2nd District seat, Sean Sullivan, raised only 17 percent of what Simmons had raised by that point in 2006.

In 2010, 2012 and 2014, the amount Republican candidates challenging Courtney had raised by July was less than 3 percent of what Courtney's donors had contributed.

"Democratic incumbents are fortunate to receive heavy funding from unions, which does skew the playing field," said Courtney's Republican challenger, Lori Hopkins-Cavanagh, who had raised 1.2 percent of what her opponent had raised by June 30.

"Unfortunately, this special interest money also skews the perception of sitting politicians who become beholden to those who ensure well-funded re-election campaigns," continued Hopkins-Cavanagh, who said term limits should be enacted to minimize the influence of lobbyists.

Several unions have contributed to Courtney's campaign, including the International Association of Firefighters, the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, the National Treasury Employees Union and the United Food & Commercial Workers Union, among others.

According to opensecrets.org, which analyzes data from the FEC, public sector unions and building trade unions are both in the top five industries to contribute to Courtney's campaign committee.

Hopkins-Cavanagh's most recent report to the FEC shows that her campaign is largely self-funded, with just under 20 percent of her contributions coming from individuals and 71.8 percent loaned by the candidate herself. She has not reported any contributions from unions.

k.catalfamo@theday.com

Twitter: @kccatalfamo


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