Candidates competing for Eastern Washington’s seat in Congress have collectively raised over $1.5 million, and could bring in millions more if the race draws national attention, as some predict.
Incumbent Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers has, by far, raised the most money. According to the Federal Election Commission, or FEC, McMorris Rodgers has brought in about $1.3 million total since the year began.
McMorris Rodgers’ biggest donors are the Major League Baseball Commissioner’s Office with $15,000, Microsoft with $14,000 and San-Francisco-based pharmaceutical company McKesson Corp. with $12,500, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-profit that researches campaign financing.
A common strategy for encouraging donors could be to portray other candidates as out of touch. People on McMorris Rodgers’ email list received an email earlier this year saying her most well-funded challenger was vying for out-of-district dollars.
“Lisa Brown is hard at work raising money from her ultra-liberal Seattle donor network,” the email read.
“[Democratic House leader] Nancy Pelosi is watching this race, and if she thinks it can be won, she will have all her big liberal donors send Lisa checks.”
McMorris Rodgers’ campaign manager Jeff McCrea said Brown, a former state Senate Democratic leader, could create a coalition of liberal donors, boosting her campaign to rival McMorris Rodgers’.
“If she wants to win the race, she is going to have to raise a lot of money,” he said.
McCrea said it would be wrong for out-of-district, left-leaning groups to influence the election, because they don’t reflect Eastern Washington values.
“If you asked an everyday voter in Eastern Washington,” he said, “60 percent of the time they would say [those groups] don’t match what they believe in.”
Brown, who resigned as WSU Spokane chancellor to run for Congress, said she is not hard at work raising money from an ultra-liberal Seattle donor network, and she does not know Nancy Pelosi.
“The funds are raised 84 percent within the district,” she said of the $224,000 she’s brought in since announcing her candidacy in late August.
Brown rejected the “ultra-liberal” label for her supporters. She said her donors, numbering over 1,000, were more concerned about healthcare and the cost of higher education.
Because Brown’s first FEC filing deadline was this Sunday, the Center for Responsive Politics has not yet organized Brown’s donations based on amount.
Brown said all of her contributions have come from individuals, except for one from the Spokane Tribe. According to the FEC website, $133,000 has been donated to Brown’s campaign through ActBlue, a political action committee that funnels many smaller individual donations to Democratic candidates.
It is hard to outline the long-term campaign strategy, Brown said, but she plans to spend much of her money on traditional strategies like yard signs, advertising across media platforms and giving supplies to campaign volunteers.
Since launching the campaign, Brown said, over 300 people have shown interest in volunteering for her.
The challenge of campaign funding is much steeper for progressive Democrat Matthew Sutherland, who announced his candidacy in April.
The Sutherland campaign has raised $8,000 total, according to the FEC.
“At the end of the day, we know it is an uphill battle, but we are excited to keep keepin’ on,” said Josh Maasberg, Sutherland’s campaign manager.
Maasberg said he hopes to raise as close to $1 million as possible.
“I think going up against Cathy McMorris Rodgers and the war chest she has, we are going to need everyone on deck, but we can’t expect to out-race her,” he said.
Sutherland’s success would depend on mobilizing progressive voters and those feeling disenfranchised by McMorris Rodgers, Maasberg said.
One group worth paying specific attention to, he said, would be college students. However, Maasberg said, getting college students to vote would require serious investment in digital campaigning.
Maasberg said he hopes the campaign can wrangle the resources needed to reach out to the harder-to-reach rural areas of the district.
The district’s conservative voters have elected McMorris Rodgers seven consecutive times. McCrea said the small, in-district donations were the “crown jewels” of their campaigning operations and they could get even more through “microtargeting” strategies.
The McMorris Rodgers campaign will still spend much of its money on traditional strategies, he said, but will also invest more in digital advertising. McCrea said they would focus more of their efforts on encouraging donors through ads on social media and websites like Google.
The next few months will be more telling as to how competitive the other candidates’ fundraising strategies are, said Travis Ridout, a WSU political science professor.
Ridout said Congressional campaigns have grown to rely more on 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations and Super PACs. These types of organizations cannot give money directly to candidates but can run their own independent campaigns supporting or opposing candidates.
“In the most competitive Congressional races,” Ridout said, “those outside groups will spend millions of dollars on advertising.”
In order to defeat the incumbent, he said, an opposing candidate would likely have to raise between $1.5 and $2 million.
Ridout said Sutherland would have an especially difficult time and that he would need to convey a very compelling message to break through as a competitive candidate.
“Raising money makes it easier to raise money,” he said, “and not raising money makes it more difficult to raise money.”