A look at campaign coffers in the San Joaquin Valley

150 150 Niki Woodard

Candidates in the San Joaquin Valley raised an impressive amount of money for the 2012 election. Whether it’s in spite of or because of campaign finance changes and redistricting, we’ll never know for sure.

But the information is out there, viewable by the public. We dug around on the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) website and observed a few interesting trends that made us think in broader strokes about the notion of transparency. Law dictates that campaigns hold up their end of the bargain by making this data available, but outside of some local reporters, who is actually using it? It is our right, afterall, as citizens, to do so.

Though data can be intimidating, both in scope and the manner in which it is presented, it points us to new observations and questions. In this vein, we’d like to offer our take on some trends we found related to how campaigns bring in and spend money, with a focus on the Central Valley. 

In the wake of the big election, the data suggests as many questions as it does answers.  Did cash count and to what extent? Are we spending too much on elections? Where does the money come from and where does it go? How “local” are local elections?

Take a look at the data below and perhaps you’ll have your own questions to add to the buzz of your post-election banter.

Candidate Contributions and Non-Operating Disbursements

The above chart displays total contributions (including individual and committee contributions) and “other disbursements” (or non-operating expenses) for each candidate in the five San Joaquin Valley congressional districts from the period of January 1, 2011 through October 17, 2012. 

What stands out is the orange column for Kevin McCarthy and Devin Nunes, Republican incumbents running in newly drawn congressional districts, respectively, CD 23 and 22. According to the FEC website, the top non-operating disbursement from the McCarthy campaign was to the National Republican Congressional Committee in the amount of $500,000. He also gave out a bevy of $5,000 contributions to regional Republican candidates and nonprofits. And he made three additional six-figure donations to the National Republican Congressional Committee from his “operating expenditures,” according to the FEC site. All told, McCarthy gave away more than $1.2 million to the national committee, which is more than seven of the nine other candidates spent on their entire campaign operations. 

Similarly, Nunes used funds from his campaign coffers to contribute to Republican interests, including a $500,000 contribution to the National Republican Congressional Committee in June of 2012, and another $65,000 since October of 2011. He also contributed significantly to Mitt Romney’s campaign, several out-of-state races (including Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, Allen West in Florida and Sean Duffy in Wisconsin), and locally, to the Tulare County Republican Central Committee and several regional races. 

All told, Nunes redistributed almost 44 percent of his total receipts through “other disbursements.”

Though a small percentage of overall receipts, McNerney gave $60,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign.  

Other candidates used their campaign receipts almost exclusively for campaign operating expenses rather than doling it out to other groups and candidates. 

Individual vs. Committee Contributions

This chart shows the difference between campaign contributions that come from individuals versus committees (primarily Political Action Committees/PACs and the new Super-PACs). 

PACs are clearly quite involved in Central Valley politics, and make up more than half of the total contributions for McCarthy and Nunes.

Of note is the hefty percentage of individual contributions for both candidates in CD 9, which includes the uppermost part of the San Joaquin Valley. 

Generally speaking, this chart also demonstrates the underdog effect of non-Republicans in the region (the CD-23 challenger is ran as an Independent and denied funds from Democratic Party committees). In four out of the five races, Republicans significantly outraised their competitors. 

We also note that incumbents demonstrate a fundraising advantage, though political newcomer, Ricky Gill in CD 9 amassed a rather impressive campaign war chest. 

Incumbent Candidate Total Contributions, 2006-2012

Of course, all of these districts are newly drawn, so comparing incumbent candidates’ fundraising from 2012 to the previous election years isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison. Nonetheless, we note some interesting trends:

  • McCarthy, who has typically won handily in the Valley (he was unchallenged in the 22nd district in 2010 and 2008 and won with 71 percent of the vote in 2006), fundraised this year like a man trying desperately to break out of a tie. The Republican incumbent raised over $4 million dollars for this race—twice that of his previous high in 2010—and did not face a legitimate threat from Independent challenger, Philips. And so, this begs the question, why? Is this a function of the altered landscape of political campaign financing or is something else at play? 
  • Republican stronghold, Devin Nunes, the former 21st District incumbent has maintained very stable levels of campaign income over the years. 
  • Incumbent Democrats have raised less this year compared with previous elections. 

In the end, the four incumbents running in the San Joaquin Valley all won handily. Despite large campaign spending and despite Americans’ overwhelming dissatisfaction with Congressional performance, it seems that incumbent status trumped campaign cash. 

Now that you have this info: Why do you think that is?


Niki Woodard

All stories by: Niki Woodard