Monday, July 20, 2009

A Wealthy Governor Short on Campaign Cash

Today WAYLA reports on local politics from New Jersey

Governor Jon Corzine (D-NJ) has not been short of woes in his tough re-election battle this year, but the one area where he always had the leg-up on GOP opponent Chris Christie in campaign money.

According to a New York Times article last week, however, Corzine is now struggling on that front as well.

[A]fter a costly divorce and a steep decline in his net worth [since the Wall Street collapse last year], Mr. Corzine, the onetime chief executive of Goldman Sachs, is in the unfamiliar position of seeking donations to help foot the bill for his campaign…

…Mr. Corzine is trying to raise upward of $15 million from donors, according to people involved, which he hopes to match with no more than $25 million of his own.

He is calling wealthy donors personally to ask for money, holding receptions and staging larger events, like a performance by Jon Bon Jovi last month.

On Thursday, President Obama joined him at a $5,000- to $10,000-a-plate luncheon expected to raise more than $1 million.

But Obama and Bon Jovi aren’t making the new fundraising experience much easier for Corzine. According to campaign aids, convincing Democrats to foot the bill for a governor that’s well known for his money has been difficult.

Several people trying to raise money for Mr. Corzine described resistance from prospective contributors who asked why the governor did not just reach into his wallet again.

“We always talk about it and joke about it, how it’s like selling sand to the Saudis…people say, ‘I’m having trouble paying my bills; what does he need my money for?’”

Of course, a campaign’s finance operation is not an island to itself - the results of a fundraiser, for instance, can often have a great impact on the political nature of a campaign’s efforts.

Take, for example, the Bon Jovi fundraising concert…

Mr. Corzine drew screaming rock ’n’ roll fans from as far as Hartford to a fundraiser in Newark headlined by Mr. Bon Jovi.

Some had come for the music, not the politics. Among them was Judy Grabler, a homemaker from Edison, N.J., who called Mr. Corzine “out of touch” and said she opposed much of what he had done as governor.

Sitting in a $300 seat, Ms. Grabler said she was appalled when the singer disappeared after only three numbers. “I kept thinking he would be back after the speeches,” she said of Mr. Bon Jovi. But he did not return.

Nor did hundreds of Corzine donors who had filed out just before the governor took the stage.

Frankly, that is not the sort of image a campaign wants to present to voters.

None of this is unfamiliar to campaign professionals who have seen wealthier candidates try to raise money rather than self-fund their campaigns. Nor is the current slump surprising to those who work in political fundraising. We mentioned back in February that the current recession doesn’t appear to be leaving campaign politics as a safe industry.

Luckily for Corzine, Christie isn’t doing much better on the fundraising side of things. The Republican depends on the state’s public finance system to provide matching funds, but that limits his campaign spending to $11 million this cycle. Corzine could easily spend all of the $40 million he hopes to raise from private donors and put in himself.

But that’s still short of the combined $100 million he’s put into his races in the past when he was more popular. Now, trailing in the polls by as much as 10 points, a four-to-one cash advantage might not be enough.

We’ll have to wait and see.

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