Washington – Connecticut lawmakers have raised and spent millions of dollars in political funds, even if they have no challenger or the ones they have are woefully underfunded.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, who has raised $1.2 million in this campaign cycle, has drawn four Republican challengers. But two of them, John Pistone and Bill Stevens, have yet to report to the Federal Elections Commission that they’ve raised or spent any campaign funds. Stevens is a late entrant to the race.
Meanwhile Republican Clay Cope has reported raising $44,720. His biggest supporters were Linda and Vincent McMahon, the founders of World Wrestling Entertainment, who each donated $8,100 to Cope’s campaign. Linda McMahon spent tens of millions of her own money on two failed bids for the Senate.
Fellow Republican Matt Maxwell, who also wants to challenge Esty, raised $14,462, which included $10,000 from his own pocket as a loan to his campaign.
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, raised $893,000 as of March 31 in this campaign cycle and spent more than $1 million defending his seat. His Republican challenger, Matthew Corey, owner of a commercial window-cleaning business, reported raising no money. Corey challenged Larson in 2014, but Larson handily defeated him, winning about 62 percent of the vote.
“I never take my own election for granted. Thanks to grassroots supporters across the First District, we are already getting our message out, and I will continue to prepare diligently for the election this fall,” Larson said.
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, also has GOP challengers. Daria Novak reported raising $11,273. Ann Brookes, who entered the race last week, reported no fundraising to the FEC.
Meanwhile Courtney’s campaign had $918,000 in cash on hand as of March 31.
Yet when it comes to raising political money, Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, is the leader in Connecticut’s delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Himes raised $1.3 million in this cycle and had $1.9 million in his campaign account on March 31. Republican challenger and State Rep. John Shaban reported raising about $60,000 and about $38,000 in cash-on-hand.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, has no challenger, but donors have given her $660,000.
“The Connecticut delegation is a powerhouse in raising money,” said Josh Stewart, spokesman for the Sunlight Foundation, an open-government non-profit group.
Connecticut lawmakers aren’t unique in their need to constantly raise money. It’s a characteristic of incumbency, Stewart said.
“The system that exists right now puts a huge burden on members who want to keep their seats to raise million of dollars, whether they are in safe seats or toss-up races,” he said.
Larson said there’s another reason he raises money – to give to the Democratic Party and the campaigns of fellow Democrats. Larson has spent more than $200,000 of his campaign funds this way.
“As a Democratic leader, I raise campaign contributions to not only support my own campaign, but also to support the election of like-minded Democrats across the country,” he said.
Scaring away challengers
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, said she is “disappointed in the system that exists” and wishes the federal candidates would adopt public funding of their campaigns.
That’s not likely as super PACs and big donors continue to increase their dominance in federal politics, dwarfing whatever even a lawmaker who’s skilled at raising money can collect.
Quickmire said the threat that a super PAC could spend millions helping an opponent is what motivates a lot of Connecticut lawmakers’ fund raising.
“They’re looking over their shoulders all the time,” Quickmire said.
University of Connecticut political science professor Ron Schurin said there’s another reason lawmakers amass huge war chests.
“Part of it is to scare away challengers,” he said.
As delegation members gain seniority, more of their political money is coming from political action committees, or PACs, representing industries, individual companies, labor unions or other special interests.
According to the FEC reports, the Connecticut delegation receives a lot of political cash from financial and insurance PACs, organized labor, health industry and defense industry PACs and those formed by big lobbying firms.
In this cycle, both Larson and Courtney have raised more money from PACs than individual donors.
Larson raised about $247,000 from individuals, and $646,000 from PACs, including those representing insurers Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Travelers and PACs representing Google, and Lockheed Martin.
Courtney raised $240,000 from individuals and $418,000 from PACs, including those representing Boeing and Huntington Ingalls Industries, a partner of Electric Boat in submarine construction.
DeLauro raised slightly more than half of her campaign donations from PACs. She received $318,000 from individuals and $342,000 from PACs, including those representing the Air Traffic Controller’s Association and Lockheed Martin.
DeLauro also raised $10,000 from a PAC created by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., called the “Off the Sidelines PAC,” that aims to win support for women’s rights.
Friends of Chris Dodd, the former senator’s campaign fund, also donated $5,000 to DeLauro, who was once a top aide to the senator.
The less senior members of the delegation, Himes and Esty, raised more money from individuals than PACs, but their PAC support is growing.
“As members get more senior, even if they are in the minority, it behooves PACs to keep a good relationship,” Schurin said. “This is the way business gets done in Washington.”
Correction: The fund-raising total for Republican 5th District challenger Matt Maxwell was incorrect in a previous version of this story. The correct amount is $14,462, which includes $10,000 from his own pocket as a loan to his campaign.