Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Tulsa World: OK Dems edge out GOP donors

The Tulsa World profiled political contributions in the last election cycle on Sunday. State Chairman Lisa Pryor explained that Dems edged Republicans because the party and its candidates gave the voters a better way to contribute in 2006 with targeted fund raising appeals.

OK Dems edge out GOP donors
By CURTIS KILLMAN World Staff Writer

While Democrats hold an 11 percent edge over Republicans in state voter registration, the two parties were neck and neck in candidate fundraising during the 2006 campaign, a Tulsa World analysis of records shows.

Democratic candidates raised a collective $20.3 million for all their statewide campaigns, edging out Republicans, who raised $19.8 million.

In all, state political candidates, including nonpartisan and independent candidates, raised a collective $43 million for their 2006 campaigns.

A Democratic party spokeswoman said the numbers reflect improved fundraising methods.

"We are getting a lot better at strategic fundraising than we have been in the past, I believe," state Democratic Party Chairwoman Lisa Pryor said, noting that "Republicans typically have deeper pockets in Oklahoma."

Democratic candidates raised an average of $114,000 for each of the 178 who reported active fundraising campaigns.

Republicans, meanwhile, raised an average of $117,000 for each of the 169 GOP candidates. The totals do not include revenues carried forward from previous campaigns.

State GOP Chairman Tom Daxon said the small funding difference between the parties indicates his party is on the upswing.

"I suspect those numbers would have been skewed heavily toward the Democrats 15 or 20 years ago," Daxon said.

Suggestions that the state Republican Party has deep pockets is "hogwash," Daxon said.

"By and large, the heart of our support is as always small-business people, retired people, just ordinary people who are trying to support a family," Daxon said.

Overall, the House of Representatives candidates collected the most money among state office seekers.

The 223 House candidates raised about $9.1 million during the campaign. The race for governor attracted the second most, with about $8.2 million going toward the five candidates.

State Senate candidates raised the third most, with $7.9 million reported by 61 candidates.

A hotly contested lieutenant governor's race, which attracted eight candidates, saw a total of $5.3 million flow into their respective campaign bank accounts.

Also, the political party that won or controlled the various offices outcollected its counterpart in all but two cases, the World's analysis found.

Democrats outraised and won or maintained control of the state Senate, governor, attorney general, auditor and inspector, insurance commissioner, labor commissioner and superintendent of public instruction posts.

Republicans, meanwhile, outraised and maintained their majority control of the state House of Representatives. The only exception to the rule was in the state treasurer and lieutenant governor races, where Republican candidates raised the most money collectively among their candidates, but lost to Democrats.

"The election was a disaster for the Republicans nationally, but in Oklahoma we held our ground," Daxon said. "To be able to do that and not have an edge in funding indicates that we have some things going on from an organizational standpoint that helped us in this election, especially in the midst of a terrible national climate."

Pryor said Democrats have stepped up what she described as targeted fundraising efforts. The strategy includes using analysis of past voter records and campaign donations to pinpoint those most likely to give.

"I think Democrats are getting better at our fundraising appeals," Pryor said. "We're asking more people to give more often."

Democrats are also using the Internet to appeal for contributions on a quarterly basis, she said.

"We're just trying to make it easier to give and give them better reasons to give to our candidates and our party," Pryor said.

Both parties credited the other party with helping their candidates.

"We have some Democrats who are in fact Republicans and will support Republican candidates," Daxon said.

Pryor, meanwhile, said many Republicans were strong supporters of Democratic candidates.

"I talked to lots and lots of people who are registered Republicans in this last cycle who just said, 'You know I've always been a Republican, but I'm going to vote for Brad Henry and I'm going to give money.' "

Most agree fundraising dominates any statewide race.

"It takes money to win," Pryor said.

"Conventional wisdom now tells us to win a legislative race you have to raise $200,000 or more, and for a House race $100,000 or more," Pryor said.

House candidates who faced an election opponent and won raised an average of $82,000 for their campaigns, records indicate. In the Senate, the average was $210,000.

That's not to say a candidate can't win a seat in the Legislature by spending less money. Rep. Charles Key, R-Oklahoma City, who won his House seat by beating a primary opponent, raised just $23,375, the least among winning House candidates facing an opponent.

Sen. Constance Johnson, D-Oklahoma City, raised the least amount among winning Senate candidates: $58,711. She won her seat at the primary level, too.

At the other end of the money spectrum is Sen. Sean Burrage, D-Claremore, the top state Senate fundraiser who reported collecting $651,755 during his campaign.

In the House, Speaker Lance Cargill, who did not draw an opponent, reported collecting $445,675 during his campaign. Thad Balkman, who did draw an opponent and lost, collected the second most among House candidates, $246,023.

Pryor said while those who raise the most don't always win their races, it is a key component to winning.

"In a typical race, money really does make a difference, because money can communicate your message to the voters and you have to have that unless you have very high name recognition," Pryor said.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma State University political science professor Jim Davis said there may be at least one other reason why fundraising totals are so close between the two parties despite their disparate registration numbers.

Davis calls certain Democrats in Oklahoma "plums," a term which is reflective of blending blue and red, colors assigned to the two parties by the media.

"They are Democrats, but there is more red color than blue," Davis said.

The so-called plums, unlike the traditional Oklahoma Democrats, are more inclined to back and contribute to Republican candidates in state and national races, Davis said.

Overall, candidates are also able to raise more money because campaigns are getting better at fundraising.

Professional fundraisers, media handlers, public relations experts -- they are all being used more and as a result driving up costs, Davis said.

"They are more expensive than the old party hacks who've done it several times," Davis said. "If you are professionalized and I'm not, all things being equal, you are going to win."

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