Depending on their races, some candidates are struggling to compete with less than $70,000 on hand, while others are in great shape with as little as $7,000.
According to March 31 campaign disclosures, District 3 Forsyth County Commission candidate Joshua Shorr has about $7,600 to spend for his campaign — thousands more than incumbent Jim Harrell, who has about $4,300 on hand.
But Harrell hasn’t spent any of his own money this reporting period, while Shorr has loaned his campaign about $2,500.
Todd Levent and Kyle Bevis, who both recently declared their intent to run for the District 3 seat, did not raise money before the March 31 reporting deadline.
State candidates must work a little harder
While all four Republican county commission candidates are dealing with campaign dollars in the thousands, two Forsyth candidates for state insurance commissioner are focusing on reaching six figures.
State Rep. Tom Knox and Gerry Purcell are both competing against Maria Sheffield and state Sen. Ralph Hudgens, who have war chests of about $145,000 and $260,000, respectively.
Charles Bullock, legislative and Southern politics professor at the University of Georgia, said because the state insurance commissioner isn’t a well-known race and there’s no incumbent, candidates have to work a little harder.
“None of these are people who would be household names. Some of them would be known within the state senate districts from which they come, but beyond their district, they may not be that well known,” he said.
“If you can’t raise any money and you’re not already known, you’re not going to get a lot of votes.”
Knox has dipped into his personal account to keep up, donating about $73,000 of his own money since he decided to run for the state office.
Candidates not currently in office were able to get a head start on fundraising before the legislative session began in January. But because of Georgia law, candidates who are serving in the legislature cannot raise money during session.
Hudgens and fellow insurance candidate state Sen. Seth Harp, who has about $38,000 on hand, also have been blocked from raising money.
Since Jan. 1, Purcell has the longest list of contributions, totaling about $25,000. But with only about $63,000 on hand after expenses so far this year, he still trails Hudgens, Knox, Sheffield and Mary Squires, who has about $65,000 to spend.
Personal loans nothing new
While Knox and Purcell are trailing right now, Bullock said there’s still plenty of time and not a lot of ground to make up, in the grand scheme of things.
“It gives [Hudgens] some advantage, but we’ve still got a long way to go,” Bullock said. “A $100,000 difference in a statewide contest, if you thought about what that would be per voter, it’s a few cents a voter.
“You figure we’ll have 600,000 or 700,000 people voting in the Republican primary and you’ve got $100,000 — you can’t even give each of them a piece of bubble gum.”
Like Knox, Purcell has contributed $95,000 of his own money to his campaign.
Ross Alexander, associate political science professor at North Georgia College & State University, said personal loans are nothing new, especially in the current down economy.
“They just don’t have the cash on hand through fundraising,” he said. “As campaigns become more expensive, you’re going to see more and more of that, rather than less and less.
“If you’re more personally wealthy, you have more luxury to loan yourself money, which kind of squeezes out the common, middle-class person and that’s the downside of this.”
Personal loans are no less common in the race for Knox’s District 24 state House seat. Republican candidates Mike Dudgeon and Anna McManus have loaned their campaigns $15,000 and $5,000, respectively.
Dudgeon, who currently serves on the Forsyth County school board, has also raised about $15,000 from contributions, as compared to about $2,700 for McManus, a long-time member of the county’s Republican Party. But about $10,000 of Dudgeon’s contributions came from members of his family.
For elected offices at any level, Bullock said there is an advantage for candidates who can raise money over those who contribute their own.
“For the one who has been able to raise money, what that demonstrates is that people have bought into his or her campaign. If you give a candidate money, it’s almost like you’ve bought stock in that campaign,” he said. “You’d like to see that candidate win, so you’d be more likely to talk that candidate up to your friends ... and you would do something to try to help that candidate because you’ve invested in them.
“A candidate who puts their own money in doesn’t have those foot soldiers.”
Still time to raise funds
Between new candidates declaring intent to run and fundraising restrictions, the March 31 disclosures might not be an indication of what’s to come.
Qualifying is still a few weeks away, the legislative session is winding down and there’s still time before the July primary election.
It has happened in the past where the incumbent candidate or the candidate with the most money doesn’t win, but Alexander said it’s the exception to the rule.
“It just takes an awful lot of money,” he said. “Usually what we see is the higher spending candidate tends to win the race.”
With two new candidates for the District 3 commission seat, it’s still too early to tell how much money they’ll need to compete, especially with an incumbent in the race.
Another factor in that race is the election itself. This will be the first county election in which commission candidates can only be elected by residents of their own district, as opposed to those throughout the county.
The new format could lead to less expensive elections, as candidates have a much smaller population to reach, Bullock said.
“The larger the constituency that will vote on that office, the more money you’re going to need,” he said. “It should mean that now you only need to seek the votes of one-fifth of the district, so you ought to be able to do the job with one-fifth of the money.
“What it takes to be successful will be less than it was.”