Walberg Faces Fundraising Challenge

Posted February 5, 2008 at 5:58pm

As a minister, asking for money should come easily to freshman Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.).

But his fundraising track record in Congress and in the Michigan state House show otherwise. Recent online fundraising records show Walberg raised $153,000 in the last quarter of 2007 — less than half that of his presumptive Democratic challenger’s $355,000 haul.

“He’s a Baptist minister,” Michigan Republican strategist Denise DeCook said. “He’s a very conservative guy and asking for a $1,000 check is something in his entire life he never thought possible. … Now asking someone to give $1,000 to his church for a mission purpose, he’d have less of a problem.”

The underwhelming fundraising number has once again raised Republicans’ concerns about whether Walberg can hold onto the district in a race against state Senate Minority Leader Mark Schauer (D) — or whether the seat is perhaps better suited for another Republican.

In fact, a recent column in the state Capitol insider newsletter Michigan Information & Research Service Inc. reported that some Republican party activists are looking for another Republican to run against Walberg in the primary, citing the Member’s poor fundraising and lack of centrist appeal.

And in a phone interview last week, former Rep. Joe Schwarz (R-Mich.) said he was not ruling out the possibility of running for his old seat again.

“I don’t know if [Walberg] is going to have the political armament to raise the money needed for a 2008 race,” DeCook said. “That has been a problem for him his entire career. But as you continue up on the rungs of office, it becomes more of an issue.”

Walberg produced modest fundraising totals as a state Representative in the mid-1990s. According to online fundraising records from the Michigan Department of State, Walberg raised about $35,000 for his first race in 1994 and $67,000 for his 1996 state House re-election campaign.

But those numbers pale in comparison to Schauer’s fundraising progression in a nearby state House district. Schauer raised about $70,000 in 1996 for his first state Representative campaign, but more than doubled that total for his 1998 re-election campaign. And when Schauer ran for state Senator in 2002 and 2006, he raised $268,000 and $430,000, respectively.

“[Walberg’s] not somebody like a Schauer, who is already a very ambitions, chameleon-like politician who ingratiates himself with as many groups as he can,” said Inside Michigan Politics Publisher Bill Ballenger. “That’s not Walberg … first based on his own inclination and then based on his history as a candidate, has never really had to raise a lot of money to get elected as a candidate himself.”

By comparison, Walberg raised about $174,600 for the 2004 Congressional Republican primary campaign, which Schwarz ultimately won. In a six-way Republican primary to replace retiring Rep. Nick Smith (R), Walberg came in third in the polls — but was last in fundraising.

In that highly contested primary, the Club for Growth backed Brad Smith, the son of the retiring Congressman, and the Right to Life of Michigan endorsement went to Clark Bisbee, a state legislator.

But things changed when Walberg launched a primary bid out of right field against the politically moderate Schwarz in 2006. In that race, Walberg raised $1.2 million and defeated Schwarz in the Republican primary with the help of outside groups — most notably the Club for Growth and anti-abortion groups. The club helped put more than $1 million into the race on Walberg’s behalf that cycle, according to The Associated Press.

“Let’s put it this way, he was a darn good fundraiser in 2006 if you count Club for Growth,” Ballenger said.

In January, the club endorsed Walberg again, though a spokeswoman for the group said it was unclear yet how much it could spend on Walberg’s re-election.

The Right to Life of Michigan endorsement does not necessarily bring big bucks with it, but candidates do have access to the group’s potent mailing lists, according to Right to Life of Michigan Political Action Committee Director Larry Galmish. RLM-PAC has not endorsed yet for 2008.

Galmish said that in 2006 the RLM-PAC did a 10,000-piece mailing for Walberg in the Republican primary and donated $500, in addition to doing get-out-the-vote calls to 30,000 households and a endorsed candidate mailing.

But with Republicans playing defense this cycle and the National Republican Congressional Committee strapped for cash, some local political observers doubt whether Walberg, like other vulnerable Republican Members, will be getting much financial support from outside groups.

“It is too early in the cycle to decide how and where our financial resources will be allocated, but I can say that we will have every resource we need to be competitive in November,” NRCC spokeswoman Julie Shutley said. “Mark Schauer’s record in the state legislature of voting for higher taxes and driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants will speak louder than any amount of money to Michigan voters.”

But as Schauer’s track record in Michigan shows, it’s more than likely that he might beat Walberg in the fundraising race this cycle. After entering the contest in late August, Schauer showed about $501,000 in cash on hand compared with Walberg’s $438,000 at the end of the year.

Ballenger points out that Schauer, known for his fundraising track record, can outraise Walberg and still lose the race.

“It may be misleading because [Walberg] trails Schauer in cash on hand at this point, because he may very well get what he needs to hold onto the seat in 2008 in terms of fundraising dollars,” Ballenger said.