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Monday, October 14, 2013

Cory Booker and Federal Campaign Finance Laws

For anyone watching the special election for Senate in New Jersey, it is NOT news that Newark mayor Cory Booker has completely overwhelmed Republican opponent Steve Lonegan on fundraising.  Booker is a national brand name, a nationally-known rock star who is a viable contender for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination on name recognition alone.  Add that factor to his fundraising prowess and you'll see why he could be a national contender.

But as for this year, now I will explain why (1) the fundraising advantage is neither as large nor as significant as you think, (2) New York mayor Mike Bloomberg HAD to drop $1 million on a special TV ad buy (and quick, raise your hands if you've seen it -- nah, me neither) -- and (3) Lonegan has a real chance to win despite numerous obstacles

(1) Booker's been raising funds all year. In fact, he started raising funds in 2012 even when the late former Senator Frank Lautenberg was still making public appearances, rather indelicately nudging Lautenberg towards retirement. But note that some of his fundraising solicitations asked for $10,400 instead of $2,600. The smaller figure is the individual maximum limit by law for one election. The reason is that it is a combination contribution for the 2013 primary (past), 2013 general (now), 2014 primary for regular US Senate election and 2014 general election. The effect is to push forward contributions to the present by collecting them now, but the presumed impact is not what you think.  One can only spend funds on an election for which funds have been allocated. Contributions for 2014 cannot be used in 2013 (although contributions raised in 2013 and unspent in 2013 can be carried over to future years). Therefore, the significance is considerable: Booker can only spend ONE-QUARTER of what he's raised right now. 

So, what do you think of that fundraising advantage now?

(2) Mayor Michael Bloomberg's ad buy -- see reason (1) above. Bloomberg doesn't waste money on anything. In fact, he gave $1 million to New York's Independence Party for his last mayoral race (2009) for get out the vote operations, because he knew it was a much tighter race than indicated by polls which predicted a double-digit victory. (Fact: Bloomberg outspent opponent widely but won by...three points! Look it up!)  The Democratic interest groups in New York City are the public employee unions and they turned out their vote, almost resulting in an under-the-radar upset victory.

(3) Democratic operatives are saying they doubt that anyone knows about the special election -- or is motivated to vote -- except for "movement conservatives" and Lonegan diehards. Well, consider this fact: Running a primary against the most popular Republican in the country (Chris Christie), Lonegan got outspent...and got 43% of the primary vote in June 2009.  The fact is that Steve Lonegan has a motivated core group of voters.  Cory Booker's base is out of state and the Democratic organizations in New Jersey are fully aware that Cory Booker has never done anything to help them, financially or otherwise, and they're now likely to return the favor.

If observers remember how turnout was suddenly lower than expected for former New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine in November 2009 (against Christie) in major urban centers in Essex, Hudson and Union Counties, that phenomenon may repeat itself this week.

This is an "elbow grease" election. As in sports, the side that works harder often can and does win. 

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