Washington – Boosted by their success at fundraising, members of the all-Democratic Connecticut delegation to the House of Representatives have spent a total of nearly $5 million to stave off woefully underfunded challengers this year.
Rep. John Larson spent the most to keep his 1st District seat, about $1.4 million as of Oct. 19. His Republican challenger, Matthew Corey, spent about $7,000.
Since it takes money to make political money, much of the money spent by the Democratic lawmakers’ campaigns was used to host fundraisers in Washington, D.C., and their Connecticut districts.
“You always want to have a campaign war chest so nobody wants to challenge you,” said Dave Levinthal of the Center for Public Integrity.
An analysis of spending the campaigns reported to the Federal Election Commission shows that Connecticut incumbents spent little fending off attacks by challengers, preferring instead to spend campaign cash on television ads that touted their accomplishments in Congress, or on gifts for constituents.
Larson, for example, spent about $4,900 on “holiday cards” and another $4,000 on “mementos” from the House of Representatives gift shop, which sells everything from men’s ties to commemorative plates emblazoned with the U.S. Capitol and other emblems of the House. Larson’s campaign also spent about $14,000 on yard signs.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, meanwhile, bought nearly $10,000 worth of flowers for constituents out of a total of $984,000 she spent on her campaign.
Among her other campaign expenses were fees for social media consulting and $600, paid to the Connecticut Department of Rehabilitation Services, for a sign-language interpreter.
“We often use a signer for our events so the hearing-impaired can still participate and enjoy our Election Night, congressional convention, and other large events,”said DeLauro campaign manager Jimmy Tickey.
DeLauro’s GOP challenger, Angel Cadena, did not raise or spend the $5,000 threshold that requires filing campaign reports to the FEC.
“Money is great for promoting yourself, raising your favorable numbers in the polls and making it easier to have a long, happy career in Congress,” Levinthal said.
While the Connecticut lawmakers spent heavily on their campaigns this year, their ability to raise money allowed them to end this campaign cycle with considerable cash on hand. Himes had more than $2.2 million; Esty reported more than $1 million; and the others, except DeLauro, had at least $500,000.
DeLauro’s campaign had only about $70,000 in cash on hand as of Oct. 19.
Levinthal said having that fundraising head start on a future challenger is additional insurance for incumbents.
“Demographics can change and districts can get redrawn,” he said. “What may be safe in 2016 may not be safe down the road.”
New cars and flowers
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, spent about $927,000 to run for re-election against Republican Daria Novak, who spent about $43,000.
Courtney paid for two television ads with his campaign money, one that touted his work convincing the Navy to keep Electric Boat busy and another that focused on his efforts to make college affordable.
Courtney also spent $21,000 on a new car to campaign in and $18,400 on an internal poll.
“As he has done in each of his previous elections, Congressman Courtney is running a robust campaign in order to communicate his vision and record of success for eastern Connecticut to the voters,” said campaign manager Cutter Oliver. “The choices facing our state and our nation this year have never been more clear, and Congressman Courtney will continue to work hard to maintain the support and trust of the people in his district.”
Rep. James Himes, D-4th District, spent about $781,000 to ward off Republican John Shaban, who spent about $118,000; and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, spent about $900,000 in her race against Republican Clay Cope, whose campaign cost less than $80,000.
“Congress is the Wild West; it just doesn’t stop,” said Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, of the constant raising and spending of large amounts of money by congressional campaigns. “This constant flood of cash has eroded a lot of confidence in our elected officials.
Connecticut’s lawmakers also used their campaign cash this cycle to help fellow Democrats and make sizeable donations to the Democratic party.
Larson’s campaign gave $265,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, an amount that could include his dues to that organization, and tens of thousands of dollars more to other House Democrats. DeLauro, the most senior member of the delegation, gave the DCCC $295,000 and nearly $150,000 to the campaigns of Democratic candidates.
Levinthal said having money to “spread around” among your colleagues’ campaigns helps Connecticut’s lawmakers win favor from party leaders that could boost their careers.