Dems trail far behind Stefanik in cash

With early Federal Election Commission reports filed, Democratic congressional candidates seeking to unseat incumbent Rep. Elise Stefanik have a long road ahead to reach the $1.13 million the congresswoman has raised to date.

“She’s got more discretionary money that I suspect she will hold onto until the general election, because it is going to be a competitive race,” Wendy Johnson, assistant professor of political science at SUNY Adirondack, said Tuesday.

Current FEC data for New York’s 21st Congressional District shows Democratic challenger Don Boyajian of Cambridge inching closer to Stefanik, R-Willsboro, with $353,478 raised. He is followed by Democrats Tedra Cobb, Canton, $217,546; Tanya Boone, Granville, $141,095; Emily Martz, Saranac Lake, $128,492; Katie Wilson, Keene, $83,640; Patrick Nelson, Stillwater, $36,084; and Ron Kim, Queensbury, $7,637.

At this time there is no FEC data on Democrats Sara Idleman of Greenwich, David Mastrianni of Schroon Lake and Saratoga Springs, and Republican Russ Finley of Lisbon.

On Thursday, Boone and Idleman announced they are dropping out of the race.

“There are so many people in the race, it’s difficult to build momentum. We need a strong message,” Boone said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “I think this is the right thing to do, and let others begin to build momentum to take on Elise Stefanik.”

Boone said she chatted with the other Democratic challengers on Thursday and will be supporting a candidate soon.

In a January straw poll at the beginning of a NY-21 Candidates Forum at the Moreau Community Center in South Glens Falls, more than half attending said they had not yet selected a candidate to support.

“I think they are holding back from donating until the field narrows. They are holding back and waiting,” Johnson said. “On the flip side, voters need to start supporting a candidate of choice.”

The way Johnson explains it, the available funding is getting spread thin among so many candidates, whereas if the field is narrowed to two or three, money won’t be dispersed in so many directions.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan data research agency, the average winner of a U.S. House race in 2010 spent about $1.4 million. In 2016, Stefanik won by a large margin after raising more than $3 million.

Historically, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, House re-election rates are generally high, but in 2016 the congressional election had one of the lowest re-election rates in the past 40 years.

Incumbents are considered safe bets, and that’s why they raise more money, Johnson said.

The bulk of Stefanik’s campaign money — $671,417, or 58 percent — comes from PAC contributions; 28 percent from large individual contributions; and 5 percent, or $64,350, from small individual donors.

One top large individual donor this year is the Clearpath Foundation, promoting energy resources such as “clean coal,” nuclear energy and fracking.

Eye of the Tiger PAC, which receives funding from Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, David H. Koch Charitable Foundation and Koch Industries, owned by David and Charles Koch, was among the top “ideological leadership” PACs donating to Stefanik’s campaign to date.

Major industry PACS that have donated to her campaign include the insurance industry and the pharmaceutical industry.

Conversely, more than two-thirds of Nelson’s campaign money (68 percent) has come from small individual contributions under $200. For Kim, that figure is 52 percent.

Boyajian (86 percent), Cobb (72 percent), Wilson (72 percent), Boone (66 percent) and Martz (59 percent) have the largest percentage of contributions coming from large individual donors.

Regarding Boone’s campaign funds? “We will pay out any contracts we have,” she said. “We can return donations if someone requests; the rest is maintained in a fund in case I want to run again or run for another office.”

The FEC sets campaign contribution limits, and for 2017-18, individuals may only give $2,700 to each candidate or candidate committee; $5,000 to each PAC; $10,000 (combined) to state, district and local party committees per calendar year; $33,900 to a national party committee per calendar year; and $101,700 additionally to a national committee account.

Also of note are increasingly common congressional victory funds, with lawmakers joining to fundraise together. According to Open Secrets, the website of the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2016 Stefanik received $33,000 from the Curbello Victory Fund. In this election cycle, Stefanik can draw from the Elise Victory Fund.

Although money wins elections, Johnson said there are other factors.

“Often it comes down to the climate; if voters are driven by the economy and the incumbent did not do well with the economy, they may vote the incumbent out,” she said. “Two years ago, Stefanik was strong financially and had a strong showing. But that was two years ago, and two years makes a lot of difference.”

(Editor’s note: Four daily newspapers in the North Country — the Enterprise, Post-Star of Glens Falls, Watertown Daily Times and Press-Republican of Plattsburgh — are sharing content to better cover New York’s 21st Congressional District.)