It’s good to be the King… or at least Chairman.
That’s what Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean Connaughton could be saying as the campaign donations for his reelection continue to pour in at a brisk pace.
Incumbency has its advantages.
That’s not to say that Connaughton hasn’t worked hard to earn his abundance of campaign cash from supporters, but it’s a very different story from four years ago.
The same is true for Sheriff Lee Stoffregen, who -while in the middle of a political battle with Connaughton – has a quarter million dollars to spend this election season.
In 1999 Connaughton was challenging veteran Democrat Kathleen Seefeldt for the chairman position. Seefeldt’s long tenure on the board allowed her to build up a large campaign bank account, while Connaughton was forced to give himself two loans totaling $45,000 to keep things going.
This year, Connaughton celebrated Labor Day with more than $112,000 in campaign funds, according to campaign finance reports. His challenger, Democrat Rick Coplen, has raised more than $31,000 during his campaign and entered September with just under $6,000 in hand.
The dynamic of campaign donations is always interesting during political races, both nationally and local.
Raising money is a tough task for many challengers. Connaughton, for instance, probably hasn’t deviated far from his campaign message of four years ago. This time around, however, as board chairman from Virginia’s second largest county, big time donors are listening – and reaching for their check book.
Tossing money toward incumbents is almost an impulse reaction for business leaders and entrepreneurs. With cash flowing so smoothly prior to elections, we often think of what Robert McBride said during that campaign for chairman in 1999.
McBride, who was running against Seefeldt and Connaughton on the Libertarian ticket at the time, made an interesting observation when asked about the large amounts of money being spent on the campaign. He said that businesses deal constantly with the monster of government regulation and it’s as if they must throw money at it in order to keep in at bay.
McBride raised and spent only a fraction of the $250,000 spent by the three candidates on that 1999 race, but a quick glance at any incumbent’s campaign donor list is a testament to his original observation.
Campaign finance reform has been the focus of congressional and presidential elections. It even resulted in the latest federal laws on campaign finance. These laws, while trying to even the playing field, do not address the cause for huge donations.
Donations are a form of free speech – whether made by an individual or business. The donors are only reacting to what is at stake during an election cycle.
That’s why the big donors often support the incumbent… or those with a good chance of becoming one.