Big Campaign Spending Means Political Newcomers Face Long Odds In Ohio

Oct 10, 2018

Dissatisfaction with current elected officials has led a number of newcomers to jump into the political arena this midterm election. One of the biggest challenges they face is raising enough money to run a competitive campaign.

During the last election in 2016, nearly $6.5 billion dollars was spent on federal elections: $4 billion for Congress and nearly $2.5 billion on the presidential race. This year, we’re already hearing the race for Ohio governor will be the most expensive ever.

Long-time Democratic political consultant and author Jerry Austin says campaigns are expensive because costs keep rising.

"The first race I did 50 years ago, it was a state representative race in the Lakewood section of Cleveland, had a total budget of $11,000,” Austin says. “That same race today, if it was competitive, would be $300,000 would be spent in that district."

He cites the expense of creating ads for television, as well as "the whole digital thing going on." He also says consultants cost more.

"Everything goes up. It just makes sense it's going to cost more,” he says. “Four years from now, the governor's race in Ohio will cost more."

Austin believes the newcomers in this year's campaigns have a shot at winning if they have a message that can get voters attention. He's impressed by the life experiences of women who are running, especially military veterans who have demonstrated success in overcoming barriers.

"When you have that kind of story to tell, you immediately get attention because of who you are and that helps in raising the amount of money that you need to be competitive,” Austin says. “It doesn’t have to be more than the opponent. You just have to be able to be competitive so you can get your story out."

So far, newcomer Betsy Rader, a Cleveland area attorney, has kept pace in fundraising with the Republican incumbent she's challenging for Ohio's 14th congressional district seat, Rep. Dave Joyce. Rader has pledged not to take money from corporate political action committees (PACs).  

PACs, Austin says, allow donors who've already given the maximum $2,700 individual contribution a way to give more money to a campaign.

"It's a vehicle created by Republicans through Citizens United (the 2010 Supreme Court decision) that allows more money to be put in a campaign,” he says.

Individuals and corporations can give unlimited amounts to PACs, but a PAC cannot coordinate with a campaign. Its spending has to be independent. 

"When the Republicans started this, Democrats had to follow suit and created their own PACs too,” Austin says. “So it's not just a Republican thing now, it's also a Democrat thing. As a matter of fact, I have a PAC."

Austin is using his "very small" PAC to promote Democrats running against incumbent Republicans.

"I do this independently of the campaigns,” he says. “They have no idea what I'm doing. They don't even know I exist."

Austin says, in many cases the candidates with the most money do win, but he thinks many of the women running this year have unique stories that could propel them to victory even though "they probably won't have the most money."

What he sees as more important is a compelling reason to run for office.