Out-of-state cash pours into local campaigns
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In New Mexico’s Statehouse, Jimmie Hall is something of a fixture: The veteran Republican representative has served District 28 in this sun-dried, highdesert city for seven terms.
For much of Hall’s tenure, the district, which lies along the foothills of the Sandia Mountains on the eastern edge of Albuquerque, has been reliably conservative, so much so that he has coasted to victory without having to face any Democratic opponent in his three most recent re-election bids.
This year is different. In November, Hall will square off against Melanie Stansbury, who is among a slew of
young, liberal Democrats running for office at every level of government across the country.
It’s a hyper-local race to represent about 30,000 New Mexicans. What’s surprising is how much others outside the Land of Enchantment are participating in it. More than one out of every three dollars the two candidates raised came from out of state – the latest sign America is paying attention to what happens even in the tiniest of state legislative districts in a momentous year when so much is at stake.
To fend off Stansbury’s challenge, Hall stepped up his fundraising game: His war chest of $65,000 is bigger than what he raised for his bids in 2016 and
2014 combined. Almost a third of it came from out of state – mostly in
$400-to-$5,000 chunks from oil and gas companies based in California, Oklahoma and Texas.
Stansbury has outperformed her opponent and raised about $124,000, netting almost 40 percent from out-ofstate donors who hail from as far as Illinois, Oregon and Vermont. Her money came mostly in small amounts – as little as $1 apiece.
This level of out-of-state support isn’t unique this year, nor is Stansbury’s fundraising prowess. Nationwide, many Democrats running for state-level offices from governor to state representative are hauling in a significant amount of donations from across state lines, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of campaign finance data collected by the National Institute on Money in Politics.
Though Democrats trail Republicans in the overall fundraising tally, they raised at least $101 million from out of state – about $29 million more than their GOP counterparts have taken in – as part of the newly energized “blue wave.” That’s a far cry from the 2014 elections, when Republicans outraised Democrats by almost $9 million in outof-state contributions and by $191 million overall.
The Center for Public Integrity’s analysis found:
❚ The majority of money from out of state goes to candidates for governor and lieutenant governor – who often run on the same ticket. Together, they raised
“It used to be that, at least at the state level, the interests of constituents vastly outweighed any interests coming from elsewhere around the country. But that’s no longer true to some extent because of the proliferation of the campaign finance free-for-all.”
about three-fifths of the more than
$173 million from across state lines.
❚ Three gubernatorial candidates – in Pennsylvania, New York and Wisconsin — each raised at least $5.5 million from states other than their own, making up
18 percent to 50 percent of their campaign funds. Nationwide, out-of-state contributions make up only 10 percent of direct gubernatorial fundraising.
❚ Democrats running for state legislative seats rely on a larger pool of outof-state donors who give in smaller amounts – raising an average of about
$640 per donor from more than 64,000 contributors, compared with about
$2,200 per donor from more than
13,000 contributors for their GOP counterparts.
❚ The gap widened compared with the same period in the 2010 elections, when an average out-of-state donor gave about $1,030 to Democrats and
$1,210 to Republicans.
The influx of out-of-state contributions comes from a mix of companies with local interests, networks of con- tacts scattered across the country and newly emboldened national groups on both ends of the ideological spectrum that mobilize to influence state-level elections, mindful that the outcomes will influence politics at the state and national levels lasting well into the next decade.
What happens in November could determine the fate of abortion laws in the states or the future of Medicaid expansion if the U.S. Supreme Court moves to undercut Roe v. Wade or the Affordable Care Act. Governors and many lawmakers elected this year will still be in office when the results of the 2020 Census come back and redrawing of the congressional map begins – a process largely controlled by state legislatures, though many governors hold a veto pen.
With the stakes so high, the growing influence of money from out of state demands closer examination, said Dan Weiner, senior counsel at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which advocates for tighter campaign finance rules. Ultimately, he said, it poses fundamental questions about state sovereignty: Who should really have a say in how each state is run?
“It is very troubling to think that people would lose control of their own electoral process,” Weiner said. “It used to be that, at least at the state level, the interests of constituents vastly outweighed any interests coming from elsewhere around the country. But that’s no longer true to some extent because of the proliferation of the campaign finance free-for-all.”
The Center for Public Integrity’s analysis shows a significant amount of donations from out of state went to some of the most competitive gubernatorial races. Topping the chart is the close contest between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican seeking a third term, and Democratic challenger Tony Evers, superintendent of the Department of Public Instruction.
Among candidates for state-level offices, Walker raised the most from out of state, hauling in about $11.5 million to make up more than half of his campaign money. Evers trails by some distance: He raised about $2.5 million, one-fifth of which came from across state lines.
Walker’s and Evers’ campaigns declined to comment.
In contrast to gubernatorial races, the majority of races for state legislative seats don’t carry the flash and cash: The average 2018 candidate has raised only $72,000, about 11 percent of which came from out of state.
In New Mexico, Hall counts on voters to recognize his name and his years of representing the district to carry the day for him. “I’ve got a long record, which is very conservative, and I’m running on it,” he said.
Stansbury has focused her energy on canvassing the district every night and encouraging people of all political persuasions to vote.
“What we’re trying to do is not really political. It’s really about trying to lift up our community,” Stansbury said.
Stansbury’s get-out-the-vote campaign could prove critical for another reason: Her fundraising prowess won’t necessarily translate to success at the polls.
Out-of-state donors, after all, can’t turn out on Election Day.
The midterm elections are coming up in a few weeks.