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The numbers. What do they mean?

Ah, days like today are what political nerds live for.

Campaign finance reporting day.

These are also confusing times for the political layperson. The number of variables that go into analyzing fundraising totals can easily be misinterpreted.

Sooooo I’ll try to help.

There are two primary types of numbers being discussed right now. Cash-on-hand (total amount in the bank as of the finance deadline) and total raised (the total amount raised over the reporting period).

This reporting period started on January 1st of this year and ended on June 30th.

While everyone agrees that cash-on-hand is an important number, it isn’t what’s most important right now. The money being raised isn’t yet being spent in mass quantities for things like satellite offices in Toledo and commercials to be aired in Southwest Ohio. Campaign offices or hired consultants are bare bones operations that are focusing on only four things; preparing the grassroots organization, fundraising, formulating policy proposals and representing the candidate in the media.

The point of all this is simple: you can have all the money in the world right now, but what’s most important is the cash you have on hand as you get ready to actually spend it, and that doesn’t begin until early 2010 at the earliest.

So then we are left with analyzing what the candidates actually raised. Now, it’s easy to simply look at the total number and say this or that campaign did better. But that doesn’t take into account a number of factors. For example, when did the candidate enter the race and did they transfer any funds from other campaign accounts?

Taking this into account, let’s take a look at the Ohio Treasurer’s race.

Current Treasurer Kevin Boyce raised $511,000. Not bad, right? Well, not if you consider that he’s been fundraising since January. And not if you consider almost half of it comes from a donation from the Ohio Democratic Party. Even with that large sum included, Boyce has only been raising $85,166 a month.

What about Republican Josh Mandel? The Plain Dealer had a headline late this afternoon touting the Treasurer candidate’s “big fundraising number”. Mandel’s is a special case. He only announced for Treasurer in late May, but he was able to transfer his funds from his State Representative campaign account where he was well known as a top fundraiser. Since January, he raised upwards of $977,500. That averages out to $162,916 per month. Very solid.

Clearly, the most fair way of gauging the quality of fundraising is by their rate of contributions per month.

So, let’s take this to the all-important gubernatorial race: Kasich vs. Strickland.

Lots has been written already in the Ohio blogosphere taking advantage of the vastly different circumstances of each candidate. Kasich just kicked off his campaign on June 1st, leaving one month for fundraising. Strickland, as was documented in this morning’s Dispatch, has been hard at work traveling in and outside of Ohio to raise cash since January 1.

6 months of fundraising versus 1.

So what was the total raised by Strickland? $2.5 million.

And Kasich? $516,000.

Ouch, right?

Wrong. It’s simply intellectually dishonest to consider Strickland as being a more successful fundraiser when you take into account that he raised a full $100,000 less per month than Kasich, despite his 40 trips outside of Ohio for fundraisers.

And how many major fundraisers did Kasich attend on his own behalf? None.

Now, it’s only fair to forecast where these two will stand come August of next year when everything really heats up and cash-on-hand really matters.

If they continued to raise money at the same rate (which neither won’t, but it’s all we can go with based on the data we have), spend none of it, and include what they have on hand as of the June 30th deadline, Kasich will have approximately $7,159,000 and Strickland will have $9,416,000.

Obviously, Strickland’s head start is an advantage.

But there are four important variables to consider as we move forward, and all are beneficial to Kasich.

  1. In June, poll numbers still had Strickland with a massive lead. It wasn’t until July 3rd, after the finance deadline, that the Quinnipiac poll came out showing Kasich quicky closing the gap to within the margin of error. Needless to say, it’s much easier to raise money when people think you have a serious shot to win.
  2. Since the deadline we’ve seen a consistent theme in the MSM of targeting Ohio as the state to watch and the one the GOP must win in 2010 election. This means more of a focus and an increased effort at the national level to make sure Republicans are competitive. And that means money.
  3. Fundraisers. Kasich is actually going to have some.
  4. Finally, the high quality of very electable statewide GOP candidates makes it much more difficult for the Ohio Democratic Party to spend the kind of money they want to on Strickland. In order to maintain the apportionment board they’ll need to focus elsewhere.

A long post, I know, but it’s a complicated issue and I figured I owed it the time necessary.

Now quit reading this and go out and have a good time.

UPDATE: After going through the report again, Kasich actually received his first contribution on May 19th, not June 1st. If you take out the contributions before June 1st, Kasich raised about $467,000 in one month alone, and all without any fundraisers or major drives to raise cash. This is still higher than Strickland’s per month average of $416,000.

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Third Base Politics is an Ohio-centric conservative blog that has been featured at Hot Air, National Review, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and others.


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