NOTE: Corrected information below. The original column included the number of donors according to the Federal Elections Commission site, but the FEC link directed to the wrong reporting period and yielded an outdated number. That paragraph of the column has been deleted.
Money is the mother’s milk of politics, they say.
If so, the District 12 congressional candidates are putting the squeeze on donors.
The new district, which includes most of Columbia County, has four Republicans running against Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow. Barrow was drawn out of his own district, so he’s moving from Savannah to Augusta to stay in it. Smart move. As an incumbent congressmen he has bucketloads of money. And as a Democrat with no opposition, he doesn’t have to spend a dime of it until after the primary July 31.
Leading up to that primary, however, the Republican candidates are fighting it out (politely, so far) among themselves. That takes money to get their message out and build name recognition, and the assumption is that most of that money will go just to getting the top two candidates into a runoff that will take even more money.
And then they’ll need even more money to take on Barrow, who will be tanned, rested and ready at that point.
All four Republican candidates posted their first-quarter campaign finance reports recently with the Federal Elections Commission, and it provides some insight into their relative success so far.
Somewhat surprisingly, leading the pack in contributions is Augusta attorney Wright McLeod. He raised nearly $150,000 in the first three months of the year for a total of $284,000 raised so far. He’s only spent $85,000, leaving him with nearly $200,000 cash on hand.
Rick Allen, an Augusta resident and Columbia County native, and brother of Columbia County Commissioner Charles Allen, raised nearly $77,000 in the first quarter, giving his campaign donations so far totalling more than $268,000. A huge chunk of that, however, is $100,000 that Allen loaned to his own campaign, allowing him to show a hefty cash on hand of more than $230,000.
The only Columbia County resident among the four Republicans, Lee Anderson, raised just more than $70,000 in the first quarter for a total of $210,000 raised so far. He’s spent a lot of it, showing just $48,000 cash on hand. Much of that spending must have gone for campaign signs; I’ve traveled south through the district during the past two weekends, and the road between Augusta and Statesboro is practically lined with signs bearing Anderson’s distinctive tractor logo. And most of them are in yards, not just stuck on random rights-of-way.
Bringing up the rear is Maria Sheffield, who lives in central Georgia but is moving into the district. She reported no fundraising prior to the first quarter, and so far reports raising just more than $114,000. In a press release sent out last week, her campaign cheered itself for having more than $100,000 cash on hand.
Just one caveat: Sheffield loaned $100,249 to her own campaign. That means in three months donors have given her just $14,000.
Donations matter because, as even Supreme Court rulings have confirmed, they represent speech. A donation to a candidate is a tangible expression in support of that candidate’s views.
A heated Democratic primary race for sheriff in Richmond County is expected to “milk” a lot of votes away from the Republican primary, which means Columbia County likely will provide the single largest block of votes for these candidates.
Between now and July, then, they’ll all be milking their donors.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow at twitter.com/barrypaschal.)