U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski’s third-quarter (July 1st-September 30th) fundraising numbers are out. What, you thought you had already read the news reports a month ago saying the same thing? No, not really.
The U.S. Senate has an archaic rule that says candidates MUST file their reports on paper to the Secretary of the Senate rather than electronically to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC). House candidates, Presidential candidates, PACs, and other groups file their reports electronically to the FEC so that data are available to the public and media almost immediately. Senate campaign disclosures have to be manually entered line by line. In this case, that meant Lisa Murkowski’s detailed numbers weren’t available until almost a month after the October 15th filing deadline.
To the Murkowski campaign’s credit, they took full advantage of the situation, giving members of the media limited data to support their twin narratives that Murkowski was breaking Alaska campaign fundraising records and that she had built an intimidating war chest of $2.9 Million. Both claims are true, but the media, even if they wanted to, had no access to the full data to report a more nuanced analysis. Now almost a month later, reporters are unlikely to go back and look at the full report, feeling the story has already been told. With the exception of us here at the Sun, that is exactly what happened.
Now that the full reports have been posted a fuller story can be told.
Murkowski Did Well
Murkowski’s narratives of impressive fundraising and a sizable war chest are 100% true. Murkowski’s third quarter report shows she was aggressively raising money during that period ultimately bringing in $921,283. For comparison the well funded campaign of Senator Mark Begich from two years ago raised $813,189 in the comparable period. As good as the period was, it was down from the summer quarter posting of a truly spectacular haul of $1,097,111. It was Murkowski’s million dollar summer.
Campaign Spending In Check
In political campaigns the amount of money being brought in isn’t always as important as what is referred to as “Churn rate” how fast the campaign is spending compared to how fast it’s bringing in money. In keeping with what we learned in our interview with campaign manager Scott Kendall, Murkowski’s strategy now is to bank money for later. You haven’t heard any radio ads (sorry Rick Rydell) or seen any TV ads. All the cash is going in the bank.
The campaign only spent $269,844 in the third-quarter. That may sound like a lot, but almost all of it appears to be costs and commissions associated with the big fundraising haul. That is unfortunately the cost of political fundraising.
Keeping the spending down allowed Murkowski to put $651,439 in the bank and expand her war chest to an impressive $2.9 Million.
Little Money From Alaskans
The biggest thing that stands out once you dig into this report is just how little of Murkowski’s money came from Alaskans. Of the $921,283 she raised only $40,313, or 4.37% came from Alaskan donors. That is down sharply from the $82,422 (7.5%) she raised from Alaskans the previous quarter. The $40K number compares with $75,400 she raised from Texas sources, $106, 250 from Washington D.C. sources, and a whopping $293,425 from sources who call California home.
It’s nothing new for Alaska’s federal candidates to do most of their fundraising out of state, but Murkowski’s 4.37% take from Alaskans is particularly low. Two years ago Begich raised $77,655, or 9.5% of his total for the quarter from Alaskan donations. Even Congressman Don Young, a safe Republican without a robust fundraising operation who only raised only $112,197 in the third quarter still managed to best the uber-fundraising Murkowski by raising $54,050,or almost half his total money, in Alaska.
Murkowski’s campaign manager Scott Kendall said in a interview Tuesday morning the low Alaska numbers are an appearance created by a difference in reporting philosophies. Kendall said federal law only requires campaigns to individually report donations when a donor crosses a $200 donation threshold for the campaign cycle. So if someone gave a campaign two $100 donations, they wouldn’t be required to list the individual donor’s name until the second donation is made. Kendall said it is the Murkowski campaign’s policy not to disclose those names until legally required to. Begich’s campaign reported all donations and donor names.
Every campaign is still required to list the total amount donated from all unlisted donors under the heading “UnItemized Individual Contributions”. Checking that column for Murkowski’s third quarter report shows she only listed $5,636 in donations. That means, even if every one of those donations came from Alaskans it would still put her total at $45,949, a number substantially lower than Begich or Young and still not even 5% of her total donations for the quarter.
The numbers would seem to suggest what polling has pointed to, Murkowski has the support of establishment, business, and industry Republicans but may lack broad, grassroots support of the Republican base. This is a point Kendall disputes saying Murkowski has received donations from 1200 Alaskans since 2011, however, again comparing that to Begich’s numbers for the same time period, he had 2900 Alaskan donors.
These numbers only represent one quarter of activity, and Murkowski only officially kicked-off her campaign last week, so no definitive judgements can be drawn yet. One thing is for sure though, Lisa’s cash cloud had a dark lining.
So Where Did Murkowski’s Money Come From
According to OpenSecrets.org, all tolled Murkowski has raised the most money from the Oil and Gas Industry at $443,096. That should come as no surprise, she is solidly pro-development, a vocal critic of EPA, represents an oil producing state and is Chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The rest of the top five might surprise you. number two was electrical utilities ($349,065) followed by Wall Street ($136,435), Congressional Leadership PACs ($132,593), and finally Lawyers ($130,800). None of those groups would appear to have substantial interests in Alaska.
Wondering which companies themselves gave the most to Murkowski? Again, according to OpenSecrets.org, topping the list was California electrical and natural gas utility PG&E, followed by hedge fund Elliott Management, LNG company Cheniere Energy, lobbying firm FTI Consulting, and a familiar name to Alaskans, Pioneer Natural Resources..
As you can see, while Murkowski’s top line numbers provide some information, there was a lot more going on in the details.