Money in N.Y. Special a Telling Sign

Posted October 21, 2009 at 6:37pm

When the candidates in upstate New York’s 23rd district special election file their first comprehensive fundraising reports tonight, it will become clear just how big of a financial toll the ideological rift among Republicans is taking on the party’s nominee, state Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava.

Democrats, meanwhile, are unified behind attorney Bill Owens, whose campaign has been flooded with donations from Democratic Caucus members across the spectrum, regardless of their political lean.

The campaigns have already provided a peek into their fundraising performances, thanks to a requirement that they disclose all donations more than $1,000 in the final weeks of the race. Those disclosures confirm that Owens, a first-time candidate, is building a big financial edge — he has reported more than $60,000 in $1,000-plus donations since Oct. 15, compared with $48,000 for Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman and just $31,500 for Scozzafava.

Especially stark is the contrast in giving between Republican and Democratic Members — in the last six days Democratic giving has outpaced that of the GOP 20 to 1, the disclosures showed. Thirteen Members — from liberal Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) to Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.), who co-chairs the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition — have chipped in $20,000 for Owens, a centrist who was not a registered Democrat until recently.

Scozzafava reported just one donation from a Member since Oct. 15 — $1,000 from Rep. Greg Walden’s (R-Ore.) New Pioneers political action committee.

Republicans acknowledge that the party is split, with a number of prominent conservative groups peeling off to support Hoffman, claiming Scozzafava is too moderate. Party leaders counter that Republicans need to rally around Scozzafava to keep the district — vacated by former Rep. John McHugh (R) when he became secretary of the Army in September — in party hands. But despite appeals by GOP leaders on the Hill and prominent national Republicans, including former Speaker New Gingrich (Ga.), the deep ideological divide that has emerged has hurt fundraising.

In her report, Scozzafava is expected to show donations from at least 20 Republican Members, as well as three former House leaders — former National Republican Congressional Committee Chairmen Tom Reynolds (N.Y.) and Tom Davis (Va.) and former Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-Calif.). In their latest PAC and campaign committee reports, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Reps. Kay Granger (R-Texas) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) all reported giving to Scozzafava.

The Scozzafava campaign declined on Wednesday to release a ballpark figure for its fundraising totals through Oct. 14, though spokesman Matt Burns was already talking down the report’s importance, calling it just “a snapshot in time.—

“There’s no question that our campaign will be outspent by special interests,— he said.

Hoffman spokesman Rob Ryan said the campaign does not yet have a final figure for receipts through Oct. 14, in part because “our Internet stuff just started going nuts— since last week. Hoffman has also made a six-figure contribution from his own pocket.

Democrats, meanwhile, are not revealing anything about Owens’ fundraising figures.

And Burns says the campaign will have enough resources to be on the air in the critical television markets over the final stretch of the campaign, as well as to fund targeted mail. Scozzafava launched her second television ad this week, which underscores the likely Republican attacks on Owens in the final days — his background as a lawyer and questions about the number of jobs he has claimed to have created in the district.

The Owens campaign, meanwhile, launched his fourth television ad last week, touting his plans for job creation. Hoffman is on the air with one ad buy, rotating a positive introductory spot with one hitting Scozzafava, but most of his on-air presence is thanks to the anti-tax Club for Growth, which has committed more than a half million dollars to the race already.

The group’s latest move was a $300,000 ad campaign, launched Tuesday, in all three of the district’s principal TV markets. The ad labeled Owens and Scozzafava “two liberals.— The conservative Eagle Forum and Susan B. Anthony List PACs have also made smaller independent expenditures backing Hoffman.

There’s no doubt Scozzafava’s limited presence on the airwaves, combined with more than $1 million in ad spending against her, has hurt her standing. The latest independent poll, released by Siena College last week, showed her trailing Owens by 4 points, after leading by 7 points two weeks earlier. Hoffman has also seen a sharp rise in his vote share, thanks in large part to the energized national conservative movement.

Hoffman’s improving prospects have led to a rise in the negative attacks by the two parties. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have aired ads against him yet, but on Wednesday Scozzafava staged an event outside his office and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a press release attacking his support for “reckless economic policies.— Attack ads could follow if his rise in the polls continues.

Scozzafava’s press conference in front of Hoffman’s Watertown campaign office was held to highlight his unwillingness to participate in more than one debate before the election. Owens has also demurred from all but one, scheduled for Oct. 29.

Ryan, Hoffman’s spokesman, noted that the conservative candidate’s campaign offered to set up a series of debates in August but was turned down by both the GOP and Scozzafava.

Now, multiple debates would have boosted Scozzafava’s campaign as she works to counter her funding disadvantage in the final days with a strong get-out-the-vote operation and earned media.