Contribution limits and the wealthy candidate

June 8, 2009   •  By Sean Parnell
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The Hill reported last week that both Democratic and Republican Senate campaign committees are trying to recruit top-notch candidates for the 2010 election – top-notch in this case often meaning “not hampered by too-low contribution limits.”

From the article:

With potentially competitive Senate races forming in the seven most populous states in the union, the scope of campaign finance could reach new heights in 2010.

Much is yet to be decided – specifically, whether Republicans actually land top candidates in mega-states like California, Illinois and New York – but even if only a few races pan out in the country’s biggest states, the tab on the 2010 election is set to be enormous.

That could result in parties being more selective with regard to what states they spend money in; raising more funds; trying to recruit self-funding candidates, or a combination of the three…

[In 1998] Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and former California Treasurer Matt Fong (R) combined to spend about $24 million.

Four years earlier in the Golden State, former Rep. Michael Huffington (R) spent $30 million of his own money against Feinstein.

It could be déjà vu all over again in 2010 in California, where sources say the wealthy Fiorina is all but officially in the race against Boxer. The race might not start out among the most competitive, but Fiorina’s fortune would at least provide Democrats with an expensive headache.

Duffy said the expense of such a race puts a premium on candidates like Fiorina and could lead parties to look at self-funders in second-tier races.

Another good example is Shaw Group CEO Jim Bernhard (D), who is looking hard at challenging Sen. David Vitter (R-La.)…


Because contribution limits make it difficult for challengers or candidates to raise the amount of funds necessary to compete, especially in large states with expensive media markets, candidates with the ability to self-fund their campaigns or at least contribute significantly have become the ideal candidate for party committees to recruit. Given all the chatter about how “big money” politics and the current system of heavily-regulated fundraising tilt the playing field towards “the wealthy,” it seem more than ironic that the low contribution limits sought and too-often achieved by the so-called campaign finance “reform” community has led to a system where wealthy candidates are given a significant advantage over their less wealthy competitors.

Sean Parnell