It’s Citrus County Fair Week Monday, so what better time to start talking about candidates for office and raising money.
Fundraising is a strange experience for candidates. Some are really good at it. Others, not so much.
It’s easy as pie to see how much candidates are bringing in and spending. You can find the county reports here and the state reports here.
Voters can tell plenty about candidates from those reports, such as:
— How much they’ve collected, how much they’ve spent, and on what. For candidates to get their message out, they need money. Direct mail pieces are expensive. Websites and social media don’t come cheap. Others use their campaign funds for gas reimbursement, like they’re running a small business.
— How much they’ve invested in their own campaign, if any. Most candidates open their campaign accounts by loaning or contributing at least $50. Others may spend thousands of their own dollars on campaigns.
Doesn’t matter the office. One candidate spent over $18,000 of her own money on a race for mosquito control board and lost to someone whose entire campaign spending was under a thousand bucks.
And, while the candidate with the most contributions tends to win, not always. School board incumbent Ginger Bryant was re-elected in 2000 despite an opponent outspending her 2-to-1.
— And, yes, obviously you can see who’s getting what from whom. In Florida, any campaign contribution comes with a name; no such thing as an anonymous campaign donor.
Euphemisms like “special interests” are tossed around on the campaign trail, but truthfully the only special-interest groups I know in Citrus County are builders, real estate folks, developers — you know, the people who grow our economy. Pro-growthers tend to weigh in with their campaign checks at election time for sure.
(Whether that’s a good thing or not is up to voters. Something tells me “growth” is going to be a pretty significant issue this year.)
But if you’re taking those donations, candidates, happily own up to it.
For my life I cannot understand why a candidate accepts campaign contributions from the well-connected and then pretends that it doesn't matter, as if every contribution stands on its own.
Here’s the thing: If I’m a candidate for county commission, unless I’m PURPOSELY trying to avoid success or can self-fund, I absolutely will eagerly seek out and accept contributions from Citrus County’s success stories. And I’d make sure EVERYONE knows that the community leaders who fuel this county’s success are in my corner.
Sometimes you’ll hear candidates say they don’t take contributions from special interests. Sounds impressive, but unless they’re Bernie Sanders, there’s a real good chance they haven’t had the opportunity to turn down anyone.
— Fundraisers are a good snapshot of a candidate’s overall support. Not necessarily in the dollars collected, but in the numbers of attendees. While it’s great to get the $1,000 checks from developers and resort owners, the cream is in the hot dog-and-ice cream fundraisers that are a few bucks a pop.
The best, sadly, was Phil Royal, the man who likely would be sheriff today if not for his sudden and unexpected death shortly before the 2016 primary. Before his death, Phil amassed about $130,000 in donations from an astounding 1,667 individual contributors. Many of those were of the $10 and $20 variety. He had a huge presence and people just wanted to be around the guy.
Now you have a pretty good idea what I’m looking for when I review campaign spending. One last rule of thumb: Never a good idea to make a conclusion about any candidate based on his or her fundraising. It’s one part of the campaign, but not the entire campaign.
Tomorrow we’ll get into the details of how our candidates are doing so far. And please, if you see them at the county fair, stop by and say hello. Candidates often say, and I believe them, that they treasure one-on-one time with voters over any campaign check.
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