When deciding to run for Congress, there are a few questions that potential candidates are forced to ask themselves: Do I have the right kind of character for this job? Do I have the time for this job? Who am I going to be running against?
Perhaps the most important question candidates are forced to ask themselves is how much money are they willing to put into their campaign, and how much fundraising should they expect?
It is no secret that running for Congress, or any kind of political office for that matter, costs time and money. In this day and age, especially with the increasingly complex forms of technology, political campaigns have become a multimillion-dollar industry. In 2012, President Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney spent a grand total of $1.4 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Being wealthy does not hurt when it comes to political campaigning. However, very few candidates running for any type of political office are willing to, or even capable of, funding their entire campaign themselves. This is where the parties, interest groups, Political Action Committees (PACs) and Super PACs come into play.
But wait- you cannnot just give any candidate any amount of money you want. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) has set limits on how much money individuals can contribute to federal campaigns, including limits on donations to presidential, U.S. House and U.S. Senate campaigns (states set their own boundaries on contribution money to campaigns).
In 2014, according to the laws set by the FEC, no individual is permitted to give more than $5,000 to an individual candidate per election cycle (including primary and general elections). However, parties and candidates have found a way to get around this. You guessed it- PACs and Super PACs. The FEC has set no limit on the amount of money that an individual or organization can give to a PAC or Super PAC, and there is no limit on the amount of money a PAC or Super PAC can give to a candidate.
Where does all this money go, you ask? Well naturally, the main goal of campaigns is to persuade voters to vote for you or for the candidate you are backing. The Washington Post presented a breakdown of how exactly Obama and Romney spent their money. The top three things that both candidates spent their funds on were advertisements, mailings and fundraising, totaling over $783 million from Obama and $699 million from Romney.
Running a Congressional campaign naturally would be less expensive when compared to the 2012 presidential campaigns. Still, according to the Campaign Finance Institute, the average amount of money a Congressional candidate has to spend in any given race is $1.2 million dollars. So how much money have the VA-07 Congressional candidates raised and spent?
According to www.opensecrets.org, David Brat (R) has raised a total of $1,321,638, Jack Trammell (D) a total of $476,129, and James Carr (L) a total of $6,269. Notable contributors to Brat are the Altria Group, Freedom Projects, Luck Companies, the National Auto Dealers Association and SarahPAC. Trammel has also received contributions from organizations including Miller Firm, Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Richmond and Wells Fargo. Carr did not have any contributing data. Both Brat and Trammell scored around 90 percent on the website’s Quality of Disclosure scale.
So why was Brat able to raise more money than Trammell? And why were Brat and Trammel both able to raise more money than Carr? In my “non-professional, studying to get my under-grad in political science opinion,” I would say name recognition accounts for much of the difference in fundraising.
Brat has had his name on Virginia airwaves since announcing his candidacy last spring. Additionally, all the negative attack ads that went out against Brat during the primaries from Cantor’s campaign helped people learn who exactly David Brat was. Let us not forget the national attention that was received from Brat’s historic defeat to House Majority Leader and Incumbent Eric Cantor, putting Brat’s name not only on the Virginia circuit, but on the national circuit as well.
Many big-name contributors and organizations have shelled out money for both major party candidates, but in a district that is as historically conservative as VA-07, a Democratic challenger would be expected to face an inevitable up-hill battle. Carr, who is running as a Libertarian, is facing even more of an uphill battle, which is clearly revealed through his campaign financing reports.
Whether it is democratic or not, money and resources to obtain that money have become a deciding factor in many important elections recently. Whether or not money plays a factor in the VA-07 race is yet to be known. The financial information compiled on the both candidates has been compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics on opensecrets.org.
-Rebecca Ream ’16, Senior Sports Editor