Maybe, in the world wrought by the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, it doesn’t matter how much money a political candidate raises.
Then again, maybe it does. The people running for Congress in and around the Capital Region — for the most part — have raised plenty of cash. Somehow they’re convincing donors they can break the gridlock, I guess.
But thanks to Citizens United, corporations and big political action committees are going to be able to swoop in and spend as much as they want to boost a candidate — or more likely, shred their opponent.
We just watched as the Karl Rove conservative super PAC Crossroads GPS came in, just before last month’s 21st Congressional District GOP primary, and spent $770,000 firing torpedoes into Matt Doheny’s sailboat.
That’s more than Republican establishment favorite Elise Stefanik spent on her entire campaign.
Reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission this week show that Stefanik, to win the primary, spent $683,153 on consultants, lawyers, advertising and the kind of travel expenses you’d expect in a district that stretches from Ballston Spa and Johnstown to the St. Lawrence River.
After her primary win over Doheny, Stefanik had $152,103 in the bank as of June 30, according to her FEC filing.
Her Democratic opponent, documentary filmmaker and grocery store owner Aaron Woolf, had $757,834 in hand — including $400,000 of his own money he has loaned to the campaign.
Does a $600,000 advantage this early in the race mean Stefanik, who just turned 30 and could be the youngest member of Congress if she’s elected in November, won’t rapidly replenish her war chest? No.
Or that Crossroads GPS and other conservative PACs won’t thunder the Albany airwaves this fall with vicious attacks on Woolf as an unrepentant Pilosi-loving liberal who has spent far more of his life in Brooklyn than in the North Country? No.
There are national analysts who view the North Country race as a toss-up, but it’s hard to ignore northern New York’s long history of electing conservative Republicans before Bill Owens’ surprising victory in a 2009 special election. The Plattsburgh Democrat, who was re-elected twice, unexpectedly announced retirement plans last winter.
In the 20th Congressional District, meanwhile, following the money may say a little more about the future election outcome. The seat now held by Paul Tonko covers all five of the Capital Region’s core cities (yes, Amsterdam counts), where Democrats have a big enrollment edge. Nationally, it’s considered a safe Democratic seat.
As of June 30, Tonko had $571,851 in his campaign accounts, according to federal filings, while his Republican opponent, Jim Fischer, had $21,980 — not even enough to buy the campaign an eco-friendly car.
I would guess nobody will spend $1 million to get elected in that district. Maybe it ought to be a rule.
But that kind of money and more will get dropped into the 19th Congressional District, now represented by Republican Chris Gibson of Kinderhook. It is centered in the Hudson Valley and Catskills, but includes western Montgomery County, rural Rensselaer County and all of Schoharie County.
Gibson, a retired Army officer who also represented Saratoga County before the 2012 redistricting, currently has $1.9 million in the campaign account. Which sounds impressive, except Democrat Sean Eldridge has $2.1 million in hand. Federal records show Eldridge, a venture capitalist married to one of Facebook’s founders, has donated $1.3 million of his own money to the campaign.
Eldridge, of Shokan, will turn 28 later this month, so should he unseat Gibson, he’d be an even younger member of Congress than Stefanik. A congressional youth movement coming out of rural upstate New York — now there’s something to chew on.
National observers consider the 19th CD to lean Republican, but voters there went for President Obama in 2012.