Should state lawmakers be required to contribute more to their respective caucuses and parties?

07/10/2016 09:00 AM

Heading into the fall election cycle, dollars raised by political parties and caucuses will be key pieces of the electoral puzzle as Democrats and Republicans jockey for position in the General Assembly.

Those investments will help push political newcomers across the finish line or keep wobbly incumbents in office for another term.

With some new attention brought to dues paid by congressmen into their respective national campaign committees, Pure Politics analyzed amounts contributed to state parties and legislative caucuses by sitting lawmakers in Kentucky’s General Assembly since the 2014 elections.

Findings were mixed in a review of Federal Election Commission and Kentucky Registry of Election Finance records.

Democrats in the House of Representatives outpaced the field in percentages of incumbents who contributed to the caucus campaign account and the Kentucky Democratic Party, with 64.2 percent of the chamber’s 53 Democrats giving back to the caucus with contributions totaling $157,566 and 28.3 percent donating $20,575 to KDP.

Senate Republicans had the second-highest contribution rates, with 59.3 percent of their 27 members contributing to the caucus campaign fund for $51,818 and 18.5 percent sending $1,670 to the Republican Party of Kentucky since voters hit the polls in last year’s general election.

Although their participation rate trailed their colleagues in the upper chamber, House Republicans have donated a greater amount to RPK — $6,000 from 14.9 percent of the 47 GOP representatives — in the timeframe. Nearly 30 percent donated back to the caucus campaign fund, totaling $25,369.

Senate Democrats, meanwhile, failed to contribute a penny to KDP since the 2014 general elections, with 45.5 percent of the 11 members giving $9,400 to the caucus.

Spokesmen for both KDP and RPK say there aren’t any formal or informal expectations in place for lawmakers to help boost their parties’ coffers through their own pockets or, in many cases, campaign accounts.

“We’re extremely thankful for the support of lawmakers who give so much of their time and money to public service,” KDP spokesman Daniel Lowry said in a statement to Pure Politics, adding that state legislators “shouldn’t be required to give anything” when asked about instituting such a policy.

“Neither the party nor the caucuses require donations from members but we do encourage members to donate,” RPK spokesman Tres Watson said in a statement to Pure Politics. “Their donations help give the us the resources necessary to protect the our State Senate supermajority and gain a majority in the State House.”

Republican political consultant Scott Jennings suggested that the state fundraising limit should be raised from the current $1,000 cap per election to $2,000 or indexed based on federal fundraising limits, currently at $2,700 per election.

That, he said, would put more influence in the hands of candidates rather than outside spenders. Jennings serves as advisor to two such groups in Kentuckians for Strong Leadership and the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition.

“Over time campaigns for Congress and for Senate have gotten more and more and more expensive, and so to the extent that the national committees can engage and help as many members as possible, but in order to do that it costs more and more money every year,” he told Pure Politics in a phone interview Saturday.

“So if you look at the analogous situation here in Kentucky, the state House and state Senate races used to not cost that much, but in the last few cycles we’ve seen some of those races get more expensive, so it begs the question.”

Democratic political consultant Matt Erwin, when presented with the figures of contributions and participation rates, said he expected more lawmakers to contribute to caucuses and parties given the rising costs to run effective legislative campaigns.

But he added that individuals legislators have “their own campaign to run.”

“A strong and well-funded party is crucial to success across the board,” Erwin told Pure Politics in a phone interview Saturday.

“Parties don’t just fund campaigns directly, but they’re responsible for other very important functions like volunteer engagement, helping develop and disseminate winning communication and increasing the party’s overall positive visibility. It’s pretty hard to be successful when you don’t have a functional support pole on which to develop winning campaigns.”

“It’s in the best interest of everyone — elected officials and candidates alike — to have a strong, well-funded state party,” he added, “and everyone should help play a role in making sure that happens.”

Jennings said he doesn’t see a need to require state lawmakers to contribute to their respective caucuses and parties, saying members of Congress aren’t required to fund such political committees.

The federal contribution system is “a program they try to get them to engage in, but it’s not a requirement, and it’s certainly not something you have to do,” he said.

“But I think one other factor that could possibly motivate this issue is in the House because the numbers are so close,” Jennings said. “Right now you’ve got a Republican minority that’s close and trying to take the majority, and so you may have more motivated members to invest their own campaign resources for the collective thought of grabbing the majority.

“Let’s just say that Republicans were to take the majority but barely, so next cycle you may have extremely motivated Democrats in the minority who are willing to invest more than they ever have to get the majority back.”


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