By Maggie Thurber | Special to Ohio Watchdog
A look at campaign finance reports always reveals interesting information, but some of it is more telling than others.
Incumbents, for example, usually have well-established fundraising patterns and often receive more donations from lobbyists than challengers do. That much is expected — and who gives to various campaigns usually attracts all the attention.
But how candidates spend their money can tell you more about them and their priorities than perhaps even the candidates suspect.
In the newly drawn 9th Congressional District in Ohio, incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur won a hard-fought primary battle against incumbent U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, of District 10. Their existing congressional districts — 9 and 10 — were combined. Kaptur now is defending the seat against Republican Sam Wurzelbacher, also known as “Joe the Plumber.”
The July quarterly reports with the Federal Elections Commission show both candidates raised about the same amount of money between April and June: $129,130.88 for Kaptur and $95,159.75 for Wurzelbacher. Kaptur started with quarter with $105,715.32 and Wurzelbacher with $82,841.50.
The numbers are surprisingly close for a first-time candidate against a well-entrenched incumbent. But they diverge greatly with this quarter’s spending.
While Kaptur spent $74,132.45, leaving her with $160,713.75 cash on hand going into the summer, Wurzelbacher spent almost everything, $163,472.05, leaving him with only $14,732.27.
How they spent their money shows a clear difference between an experienced candidate and an inexperienced one.
While both campaigns can be expected to spend money on fundraiser venues and food, signs and other campaign materials, printing and postage as well as general office supplies and services, a first-time campaign has some initial startup costs.
In this quarter, Wurzelbacher spent about $5,800 on office equipment and computers. Kaptur had no such expenses.
What is surprising is Wurzelbacher spent $83,146.92 in this quarter alone on consulting services — grassroots, management, online, fundraising and strategic consulting. Included in that amount is $11,712.61 to a Detroit law firm for legal consulting. Many of the people paid under this category are non-Ohio firms, which is usual for a congressional campaign.
A first-time candidate usually has some consulting expenses, but most of their early money traditionally goes to name recognition promotion. Wurzelbacher, with his well-known Joe the Plumber persona, probably doesn’t need to spend as much as other first-time candidates to inform people about who he is. But his level of spending on consultants might raise some eyebrows, in light of a lack of spending on campaign items likes signs and literature.
Kaptur lists $10,500 in fundraising services to a Washington, D.C., firm and $4,000 total to two local individuals, one for field consulting and one for communications.
Wurzelbacher’s other major expense is $14,936.42 in revenue sharing commission and fees that he paid to various fundraising firms. So while the Joe for Congress campaign raised nearly the same amount as Kaptur for Congress, Wurzelbacher is spending nearly 16 percent of that for fees to raise those funds. Kaptur paid only $305.13 to ActBlue for a similar expense.
Kaptur made a $25,000 donation to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and gave $2,000 to the Cuyahoga County Democratic Party. Wurzelbacher lists no contributions.
Wurzelbacher spent more than $600 in clothing purchases, while Kaptur used more than $500 in campaign funds for various floral tributes. Wurzelbacher also spent more than $4,000 for airfare. Kaptur lists less than $250 for the same category. Wurzelbacher is paying himself $5,000 a month in salary.
Kaptur lists no media purchases, though she did have more than $10,000 in design and printing for advertising. Wurzelbacher spent nearly $6,000 for a direct mail category and $1,200 to Clear Channel radio for an ad.
The next finance report, due Oct 15 for activities from July 1 to Sept. 30, will shed more light on the campaigns and their strategy.
In a competitive race, you can expect to see both candidates report third-quarter spending on production costs for television and radio ads and direct mail or other voter outreach efforts. Neither will want to reveal actual TV time purchases at this point and will hold off making those purchases until the last minute.
If Kaptur believes Wurzelbacher is a potential threat to her re-election, she’ll raise more funds and begin spending them.
If Wurzelbacher expects to be a threat, he’ll have to raise a lot more money to fund his consultants and the his other expenses — and he won’t be able to continue spending 171 percent of what he collects each quarter.