As TA readers know, we reported a few days ago on U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Hughes' campaign finance report, which just became available, and we were shocked not only by the anemic level of funds he actually raised (less than $300,000, not including his personal campaign loan), but also his rock-bottom bank balance of little more than $22,000, only weeks before the primary election.
Having heard talk that Hughes, a first-time and inexperienced candidate, was spending a lot more on pricey consultants than actual voter outreach, we decided to take a look at his financials. What we found would shock anyone who knows anything about how to run a campaign, and further brings into question what kind of a spender Hughes might turn out to be in the Senate, if by some chance he ever got there.
For starters, pro-life activist Paul Caprio, was paid a total of $12,000 as a consulting fee. One payment of $3,000 was listed as being made on 9/15/09; a second, much larger payment of $9,000 was made on 10/1/09. The significance of the date of the second payment is that it was made the day after the Q3 reporting period closed, so that payment was not known publicly until now. There was some controversy back in fall of '09 as to the exact nature of Caprio's involvement with the Hughes campaign, as he was instrumental in obtaining some early endorsements of well known right-to-life activists (and even called on competitors to quit at one point). I'll let anyone more familiar with the internal politics of the right-to-lifers decide if there's any intrigue there or not. For our purposes here, we simply note that it was a nice consulting fee.
Next, local Lake County political consultant Charlie Johnston, who was involved with Dave McSweeney's unsuccessful bid for Melissa Bean's seat in the 8th Congressional district last cycle, has been paid over $26,000. Hughes' campaign manager, Michael Sullivan has been paid $10,000.
More interestingly, Nick Hahn, who is listed as a "driver," was paid $10,000 over the course of the campaign. How many first-time candidates need a driver? (We will note that recent Senate phenomenon Scott Brown of Massachusetts, probably got a lot of votes due to his folksy image of driving himself around in his own pick-up truck. Brown, Hughes is not, on many levels).
Perhaps most startlingly, the Hughes Campaign Treasurer, Bryan Freel, was paid $20,000 over the course of the campaign, for managing less than $300,000 that the campaign has taken in from contributors other than the candidate. On most campaigns that I've been involved with, the treasurer is not an especially challenging position, and is usually a volunteer to boot.
Finally, a host of high-priced consultants have been doing quite well by the Hughes campaign, including Martin E. Janis & Co. ($16,000), Fortis Strategies ($21,000) and Shirley & Banister Public Affairs ($10,000).
As you can imagine, all of these consultants and staffers did not leave a lot left over for actual voter outreach, such as signs, commercials and airtime. It seems likely that such a flawed strategy is now being reflected in Hughes' lack of traction in the latest polling, which according to the Chicago Tribune has Hughes at only 8% just days out from the election.
Oh, I almost forgot -- it's also interesting that of that $250,000 loan that Hughes made to himself at the beginning of his campaign, he's also quietly begun to pay himself some money back ($3,000 so far) even before we get to crunch time. Given that Hughes' only hope now is to somehow reach the undecided voters, and every dime counts, it is a curious strategy to say the least. I would guess that once people take a look at how the Hughes campaign has spent its money, what little there was in donations coming in may dry up even further.
A final word about donations -- we at Team America took a look at those too. We counted way under 200 total individual donors, with many contributions coming from husband and wife couples, and the vast majority of all donations were in the $1000 to $2400 range. That seems to indicate that Hughes has a small base of fairly well-off supporters, but his outreach and campaign has not benefited by the hundreds or thousands of smaller $25, $50 or even $100 contributions (there weren't even more than 10 donations of less than $100) that you would expect from a true "grass roots" campaign. It appears that the people that Hughes has been addressing on the campaign trail, by and large, have just not felt compelled to open their wallets.
It is too late for the cavalry for Hughes? I suggest it is; but I would bet that even if people were planning to contribute at this late date, knowing what we know about how the Hughes campaign spends their money, I would have some serious concerns about whether it was going to be well-spent.