Leading Senate Recruits Reliant on Out-of-State Money

Several highly touted candidates have more financial support nationally than they do in their home states.

Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes announces she will seek the Democratic nomination to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell in 2014, during an afternoon news conference in Frankfort, Kentucky, July 1, 2013. (Charles Bertram/Lexington Herald-Leader/MCT)
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Scott Bland
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Scott Bland
Feb. 20, 2014, 3:03 p.m.

On pa­per, Alaska Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate can­did­ate Dan Sul­li­van looks like a dream re­cruit for Re­pub­lic­ans. A former state at­tor­ney gen­er­al and nat­ur­al re­sources com­mis­sion­er, Sul­li­van brings to the race statewide gov­ern­ing ex­per­i­ence and a mil­it­ary back­ground with the Mar­ine Corps, to boot. He also set a tor­rid fun­drais­ing pace since en­ter­ing, rais­ing $1.2 mil­lion at the end of last year — num­bers that ce­ment his stand­ing as a top-tier can­did­ate.

But be­hind those fun­drais­ing num­bers lies an un­com­fort­able truth: Most of the money he’s raised has come from out­side of Alaska. And that un­der­scores his biggest vul­ner­ab­il­ity in the Sen­ate race: He’s spent most of his life out­side of the state.

Fight­ing the per­cep­tion of be­ing an out­sider — while rais­ing money from ideo­lo­gic­al donors in­stead of in-state con­trib­ut­ors — is a chal­lenge faced by sev­er­al top Sen­ate re­cruits from both parties. In Ken­tucky, Demo­crat Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes has been lam­basted by Re­pub­lic­ans for re­ceiv­ing siz­able dona­tions from Hol­ly­wood big­wigs like Jef­frey Katzen­berg. Iowa Re­pub­lic­an Sen­ate can­did­ate Mark Jac­obs is rais­ing most of his money from Texas, where he was an en­ergy ex­ec­ut­ive. Sul­li­van has raised more money from his birth­place of Ohio than he has from Alaska so far.

In this era of big-money Sen­ate cam­paigns, it’s not at all un­usu­al for a ma­jor­ity of a can­did­ate’s money to come from out of state. But hav­ing any one state sup­ply more cam­paign cash than a can­did­ate’s home state is rare, and that’s ex­actly what has happened with Sul­li­van, Grimes, and Jac­obs. It’s also a sign that their can­did­a­cies are be­ing driv­en as much by out­side in­terests as they are by grass­roots sup­port.

Grimes has dis­closed rais­ing just over $1 mil­lion from Cali­for­ni­ans and just un­der a mil­lion from Ken­tucki­ans so far, ac­cord­ing to a re­view of her cam­paign fin­ance re­cords, while the ma­jor­ity of Jac­obs’s dona­tions (nearly $250,000) come not from Iowa but from Texas. In Sul­li­van’s case, more than $410,000 from Ohio — where Sul­li­van was born, and where his broth­er runs the fam­ily’s paint-man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany — made the Buck­eye State his top sup­pli­er of cam­paign funds.

Sul­li­van raised more than $130,000 in item­ized dona­tions from over 100 Alaskans last year, but he brought in over three times as much from al­most as many Ohio donors at the same time. In Iowa, Jac­obs col­lec­ted about $125,000 from loc­als, ac­count­ing for a little more than half of his total dis­closed dona­tions. (Jac­obs has also giv­en his own cam­paign more than $300,000.)

Both Re­pub­lic­ans just com­pleted their first dis­clos­ure peri­od as can­did­ates, and if they fol­low the same pat­tern as Grimes, their in-state dona­tions may tick up as the cam­paigns hit full gear. Grimes raised more Ken­tucky money than Cali­for­nia money in the last fun­drais­ing peri­od of 2013, but big dona­tions from a small num­ber of Cali­for­ni­ans — in­clud­ing act­ors Tom Hanks and Ren­ee Zell­weger, pro­du­cer Judd Ap­atow, and former box­er Sug­ar Ray Le­onard — main­tained the Golden State as Grimes’s primary source of funds.

The can­did­ates’ out-of-state fun­drais­ing suc­cesses re­in­force some of their op­pon­ents’ key nar­rat­ives. Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Be­gich and Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Tread­well, a Re­pub­lic­an can­did­ate, have cast Sul­li­van as an out­sider in a state that’s wary of them. (Tread­well, who was born and raised in Con­necti­c­ut, mem­or­ably said, “I’ve got a jar of may­on­naise in my re­fri­ger­at­or that’s been there longer than Dan Sul­li­van’s been in Alaska.”) Al­lies of Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell have called Grimes’s Cali­for­nia fun­drais­ing an in­dic­a­tion that she’s out of touch with Ken­tucky voters. And an­oth­er GOP con­tender in Iowa, Joni Ernst, has at­tacked Jac­obs’s Texas con­nec­tion be­fore.

But these ar­gu­ments have a flip side. Grimes ac­tu­ally raised a great­er share of her money in-state than Mc­Con­nell has, and in the most re­cent dis­clos­ure peri­od, Grimes out­raised Mc­Con­nell in Ken­tucky. Jac­obs’s Iowa haul “ba­sic­ally matched” those of his GOP com­pet­it­ors in their first quar­ters, ac­cord­ing to the Iowa Re­pub­lic­an. And if you count small, un-item­ized dona­tions, Sul­li­van ac­tu­ally nar­rowly out­raised Be­gich among Alaskans in the fourth quarter, ac­cord­ing to the Sul­li­van cam­paign.

More im­port­antly, the can­did­ates can use their out-of-state money to build up their im­ages in-state, which mat­ters much more than ac­cus­a­tions about fund­ing sources in the end. Jac­obs has been run­ning TV and ra­dio ads in Iowa since the end of last year, and Sul­li­van is already on the ra­dio in Alaska, too.

“The Sul­li­van for Sen­ate cam­paign is honored and humbled by the sup­port we have re­ceived from hun­dreds of Alaskans and Amer­ic­ans across the coun­try who re­cog­nize the im­port­ance of the Sen­ate race in Alaska,” Sul­li­van spokes­man Mike An­der­son said in a state­ment.

The out-of-state fun­drais­ing re­flects how dif­fi­cult it is to fin­ance a big-tick­et Sen­ate cam­paign these days. None of these states — and few states at all, any­more — have the donor power to sup­ply most of the money for an eight-di­git spend­ing war. In Iowa and Alaska, GOP primar­ies have ad­ded an ex­tra de­gree of dif­fi­culty, split­ting the pie there and even in­du­cing some donors to sit out the nom­in­at­ing con­test and wait to donate to the even­tu­al nom­in­ee.

In the mean­time, though, these can­did­ates have to deal with the real­ity that out­siders are provid­ing more of their re­sources than people in their states.

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