GOP holds financial advantages in special House elections less than a month before voters hit the polls

02/14/2016 10:43 PM

UPDATED Republicans in three of four special House elections hold a collective 3-to-1 cash advantage on their Democratic opponents in three of four contests, with pro-GOP groups enjoying a $872,377 edge on their counterparts across the aisle with the March 8 contests upcoming, campaign finance filings show.

The cash disparity comes less than a month until voters in Scott, Owen, Fayette, Greenup, Boyd, Casey, Boyle, Trigg and Christian counties hit the polls and Democrats clinging to a 50-46 majority in the chamber.

Hopkinsville businessman Walker Thomas, the Republican nominee in the 8th House District special election, has the widest margin against his Democratic foe, retired realtor Jeffery Taylor. Thomas has $50,257 in his campaign coffers to Taylor’s $5,969.25, a $44,287.75 advantage, according to their filings with the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance.

Thomas raised $24,100 from a Feb. 9 Hopkinsville fundraiser and netted $8,500 from political action committees belonging to the likes of U.S. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, Congressman Hal Rogers, Thomas Massie and Brett Guthrie, Kindred Healthcare Kentucky, James River Coal and Alliance Coal, all of which contributed the maximum $1,000.

Taylor had just two individual donors totaling $725, relying mostly on $10,000 from the House Democratic Caucus Campaign Committee and $2,000 from labor PACs.

Those broad fundraising themes — the House Democratic caucus and labor PACs funneling money to the Democratic candidates and congressional Republicans and coal PACs backing GOP contenders — were repeated in reports filed with KREF.

The 62nd House District, comprised of Owen and parts of Scott and Fayette counties, has drawn the most money between the candidates, who have raised a combined $100,269.

Republican Phillip Pratt, a Georgetown businessman, has $64,002.11 cash on hand compared to $28,769.59 for Chuck Tackett, a Georgetown farmer who unsuccessfully tried to unseat current Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles in the district in 2014.

Tackett brought in $10,000 from the majority caucus campaign account and $8,000 from labor groups while Pratt netted $10,300 from outside groups and $10,000 from his own pocket, KREF reports show.

The closet race in terms of candidate-to-candidate cash is the 54th House District special election, although the 32-day, pre-election report for the Democratic candidate in the 98th House District race, retired Greenup County judge Lewis Nicholls, had not been posted to KREF’s website as of Friday.

Republican nominee Daniel Elliott, a Danville attorney, has the cash lead in the 54th House District, with $35,184 on hand to Democrat William Noelker’s $11,538.

Elliott collected much of his money from a $13,434 Danville fundraiser and $10,000 in PAC receipts while nearly half of Noelker’s $28,295 haul came from $10,000 from the House Democratic caucus and $4,000 from outside groups, according to their KREF reports. Noelker, a Danville attorney, also benefitted from a $2,400 Danville fundraiser.

Republican Tony Quillen, an engineering consultant and commissioner on Greenup County Fiscal Court, raised $16,740 and spent only $820, leaving him $15,919 in his race against Nicholls, his KREF report shows. Nearly half of his money came from $7,000 in PAC contributions.

The 32-day, pre-election report for the Democratic candidate in the 98th House District race, retired Greenup County judge Lewis Nicholls, had not been posted to KREF’s website as of Friday.

Elizabeth Cantrell, who reached out to Pure Politics on behalf of Nicholls, said the retired judge had raised $24,568 with $17,057 in cash on hand, giving him a slight fundraising lead on Quillen.

GOP has edge in outside spending

The four special elections have taken on even more importance with Republicans trying to wrest control of the House from Democrats for the first time since 1921 and pro-GOP groups gaining a nearly $875,000 fundraising edge on their opposition.

While the Republican Party of Kentucky enters the March contests with $980,574 in its coffers after a GOP wave swept the party’s nominees into five of the state’s seven constitutional offices, the Kentucky Democratic Party is limping into the campaigns with just $90,472 in its state and federal accounts, according to the parties’ latest filings with the Federal Election Commission and KREF.

Those trends didn’t hold for the caucus campaign committees, however, as majority Democrats netted $549,745 cash on hand as of Nov. 30 to the minority Republicans’ $57,000, a nearly 10-to-1 margin, KREF filings show.

The differences in funding for Democrats come as Rep. Sannie Overly assumes dual roles as chair of the KDP and House majority caucus, and she has said her focus as the new head of her party will be defending its majority in the lower chamber of the General Assembly.

The pro-GOP super PAC Kentuckians for Strong Leadership has a sizable monetary lead on one of its primary partisan rivals in the House special elections, Kentucky Family Values. Kentuckians for Strong Leadership has $829,484 in cash on hand to Kentucky Family Values’ $306,594, according to FEC and KREF filings.

The Republican super PAC transferred its funds to the special elections in KREF while its latest FEC filing shows contributions totaling $300,000 in the final three months of 2015, including a $20,000 donation from RPK Chairman Mac Brown. Kentucky Family Values, meanwhile, collected sums of $150,000 from Better Schools Kentucky, $40,000 from the National Education Association Advocacy Fund, $7,000 from electrical and sheet-metal workers PACs, $25,000 from a law firm named Wilkes & Hugh.

Kentucky Family Values has spent $7,000 on polling and $23,999 on a radio advertising buy, according to its KREF filing.

But those filings don’t account for other outside groups spending money to push their preferred candidates across the electoral finish line. GOPAC announced its plans to spend $100,000 in digital ads in attempts to tie Democratic nominees with President Barack Obama and the Republican State Leadership Committee unveiled a six-figure, multi-platform ad campaign in the special elections, according to reports by the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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