In a campaign attracting big money Iowa 4th congressional candidate Christie Vilsack, an Ames Democrat, is getting help from some well-known out-of-state donors in her bid to oust Republican incumbent Steve King of Kiron.
Former President Bill Clinton and current President Obama adviser David Axelrod each have given Vilsack $2,500. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett and his wife Susan, from nearby Omaha and supporting numerous Democratic candidates, have given $3,500. Steven Bochco, the producer of television shows like Hill Street Blues, LA Law and NYPD Blue, and his wife have donated $1,500. Former Clinton adviser Doug Band and his wife have contributed a total of $9,500, another former Clinton adviser, Paul Begala, has given $500 and former New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine has tossed in $1,500.
Although none of them will vote in November, several donors in urban, largely Democratic areas have poured money into Vilsack’s campaign, an IowaWatch review of campaign donation records shows. That review of Federal Election Commission data covering expenditures through June 30 showed $164,635 of her $1.34 million in direct individual donations had come from New York. Another $94,039 was from California.
Other amounts from out of state, as of June 30, included: $87,296 from neighboring Illinois, $81,795 from the District of Columbia, $52,400 from Pennsylvania and $47,477 from Massachusetts. President Obama won all of these states with at least 55 percent of the vote in 2008.
South Dakota was King’s largest out-of-state source of direct individual donations with just $49,650 through June 30, the IowaWatch review showed. Texas was next at $35,200.
The funding sources show a stark contrast between the two candidates in this heated race between the Tea Party-backed congressman and the wife of a former Iowa governor and current secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack. King, 64, had received as of the June report $768,550, or 70 percent, of his individual donations from Iowa, with business owners and farmers showing up frequently on the list. Christie Vilsack, 62, had received $818,125 from out-of-state donors, amounting to 61 percent of the individual donations she has received. (see chart)
King’s office has been quick to respond to the difference. When IowaWatch contacted his campaign in late June for an interview leading up to this story the campaign quickly published a press release touting information from OpenSecrets.org about Vilsack’s out-of-state donations and accusing her of being out of touch with Iowans. The OpenSecrets information, while accurate, only included donations of $200 or more through mid-May. IowaWatch’s research included donations of any amount and was updated to include the most recent reports.
Both King communications director Jimmy Centers and Iowa Republican Party communications director Megan Stiles see Vilsack’s out-of-state donations as a sign that Vilsack is would be little more than a rubber stamp for the policies of Obama and former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“With Steve King, you know that he’s not afraid to stand up to Washington and fight for low taxes and the repeal of Obamacare. Christie Vilsack moved across the state (from Mount Pleasant to Ames) to run a campaign funded by out-of-state, tax-and-spend liberals whose policies have failed,” Centers said. He also charged that Vilsack had not taken a side on Obama’s controversial health care reform law, although Vilsack announced on June 28 a seven-point proposal to reform parts of the health care law that she says will cut costs.
Vilsack communications director Sam Roecker argued that Vilsack has plenty of in-state support, already receiving 6,000 donations from Iowans. “We really don’t have any control of what other Democratic groups do. We’re focused on our campaign and presenting Christie’s ideas for creating layers of economic opportunity across the 4th District,” he said.
Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Sue Dvorsky called Vilsack’s candidacy a “perfect storm” because the district has new boundaries and because of Vilsack’s name recognition. Dvorsky countered Republican claims about Vilsack’s donors by noting that out-of-state PACs like Americans for Prosperity, Club for Growth and Koch Brothers Industries were running radio ads in support of King in the Sioux City, Ames and Mason City media markets.
“Steve King has made his reputation on shows like the Colbert Report and The Daily Show for the outrageous statements he’s made,” Dvorsky said, referring to past comments by King on immigration and Obama. “He throws the reddest of red meat to his Tea Party supporters. Christie Vilsack’s goal is to make sure that infrastructure, wind energy and technology help Iowans in the 4th District succeed.”
Candidate supporters pay attention to the numbers, others not so much
Timothy Hagle, University of Iowa associate professor of political science, said that while Clinton’s support could help Vilsack, both campaigns’ charges about campaign finances speak more to their bases than to independent voters. “Generally, having a large percentage of in-state donations shows support from the voters in the district,” he said. “The difference between 60 and 70 percent probably isn’t enough to make that much of a difference to voters, but as King has the higher percentage, it’s not surprising he’d mention it.”
Hagle added that high-profile donors for both candidates likely are to be used as ammunition against the other.
Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said, “I don’t think voters care about where money comes from unless it’s crooked, which doesn’t seem to be the case here. Endorsements make headlines, but don’t sway a lot of voters. They send messages to elites in the race. The money candidates spend on advertisements have more effect than where the money comes from.”
Kondik predicts that this race will be highly contested and nasty. “King is one of the more outspoken conservatives in the country, which delights some and enrages others. Vilsack, the former Iowa first lady, has some built-in name recognition of her own, and she also can more easily attract support, especially from national donors, because many liberals would love to see King defeated,” he said.
The William J. Clinton Foundation declined an interview request about the former president’s donation.
Campaign finance reports show who cares
The most recent Federal Election Commission totals as of June 30 show Vilsack had received $2,068,021 in total contributions. She had spent $1,224,720, the reports show.
King, who has served western Iowa’s old 5th District for the last 10 years, had raked in $2,112,065 as of June 30. He had spent $1,034,135, the reports show.
Knapp Properties CEO and board chairman William Knapp II of Des Moines, a frequent Democratic supporter who has contributed $5,000 to the Vilsack campaign, said he gave because he was impressed with her tenure as Iowa’s first lady and has known her for years. “She will be a smart and effective leader who is a good communicator and will be open to compromise and not insist on her own way on every issue – a dangerous trend in Washington. I view Steve King as an extremist who insists on his own way with no willingness to compromise – even if he sinks the ship,” Knapp said.
Barry Bergman, a farmer from Arthur, Iowa, who has donated $4,900 to King’s campaign since 2008, paints a different picture of King, calling him honest and consistent. Bergman met the congressman while King’s wife taught Bergman’s children in school. “He had his own business, and he knows that you have to make a product that people want,” Bergman said. “Unlike Christie Vilsack, he’s always lived in this district and will continue to work for the good of this country.”
The Federal Election Commission’s June 30 data also show that King had collected $649,781 in unitemized individual contributions; Vilsack had collected $380,839.
Political Action Committee donations to the candidates ran close to even, with King receiving $356,850 and Vilsack $334,626 as of June 30.
Some of King’s most notable PAC supporters include Citizens United, Club for Growth, the AT&T Inc. Federal PAC, Exxon Mobil and Koch Brothers Industries.
Vilsack’s biggest PAC donations have come from labor unions, with the top givers including the American Federation of Teachers; American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; Sheet Metal Workers International Association; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, International Union of Operating Engineers; United Food and Commercial Workers and the International Association of Firefighters.
Running in historically Republican territory
In his last two congressional races, King won all 32 counties and at least 60 percent of the vote in the old 5th district against little-known challengers Matt Campbell and Rob Hubler. The University of Virginia’s Kondik noted a Cook Partisan Voting Index for the new 4th district, which includes Ames, Fort Dodge and Mason City and which no longer has rural southwest Iowa, that gives Republicans, and thus King, a +4 rating. That is down from a +9 given the 5th district King represented from 2002 until this year but still on the plus side, even though only 18 of the 39 counties in the new 4th district were part of King’s former district.
The current 4th district supported John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, giving him 50 percent of the vote and Obama 48 percent in what Kondik called an “artificially Democratic” year, or a year in which Democrats gained large majorities in the House and the Senate while Obama won the presidency.
“Given that Vilsack probably needs to win two-thirds of the district’s independent voters, she is going to try to position herself in the center, as so many Democrats try to do in districts that on paper are more favorable to Republicans,” Kondik said. “With lots of national money flowing into the district, and two capable, feisty candidates, this race has been – and will be – pretty nasty.”
IOWA’S OTHER CONGRESSIONAL RACES
The 4th Congressional District race is getting the most attention in Iowa in terms of funding. Moreover, the out-of-state interest in Christie Vilsack’s Democratic candidacy far exceeds that given to any other candidate when it comes to direct, itemized donations to Iowa’s main congressional candidates, an IowaWatch analysis shows.
Below are the campaign sources for Iowa’s Democratic and Republican party candidates in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd congressional districts, as of June 30, 2012, and reported to the Federal Election Commission. While some PAC funding comes from Iowa most comes from out of state:
Bruce Braley – D
Itemized individual contributions — $1,195,494
Unitemized individual contributions — $1,568
Party committees from Iowa — $5,152
PACs — $632,219
Ben Lange – R
Itemized individual contributions — $326,977
Unitemized individual contributions — $68,053
Party committees from Iowa — $0
PACs — $27,750
Dave Loebsack – D
Itemized individual contributions — $301,565
Unitemized individual contributions — $107,435
Party committees from Iowa — $100
PACs — $639,762
John Archer – R
Itemized individual contributions — $278,936
Unitemized individual contributions — $36,087
Party committees from Iowa — $0
PACs — $11,000
Leonard Boswell – D
Itemized individual contributions — $467,505
Unitemized individual contributions — $96,582
Party committees from Iowa — $465
PACs — $605,726
Tom Latham – R
Itemized individual contributions — $822,297
Unitemized individual contributions — $87,796
Party committees from Iowa — $5,300
PACs — $1,650,990