As the 2012 election cycle ends candidates who donated large sums of their own money to their campaigns are waiting to see if those investments will pay off.
Of the 11 gubernatorial races in 2012, Missouri’s is the only one that involves significant self-finance. Republican candidate Dave Spence donated more than $6 million to his bid for governor, while opponent Jay Nixon received all of his funding from outside sources.
Rhonda Wrzenski, an assistant professor of political science at Indiana University Southeast, says her research shows mixed results for self-financed candidates.
“Self-finance can reduce political opposition and it could be a successful technique, particularly in the primary. However, you find that self-financed candidates are not as successful as candidates that are raising contributions the traditional way,” Wrzenski said.
A study from the National Institute on Money in State Politics found that self-financers across the nation were less likely to win office than those who received their funding from other sources. In 2010, eight of the top 10 self-financers nationwide lost their races. This was true for state and federal elections. Wrzenski says there are characteristics of self-financers that may contribute to this lack of success.
“Self-financers are more politically inexperienced, they tend to lack name recognition, and they also tend to lack a strong donor network,” Wrzenski said.
Although a strong donor network may be unnecessary during the election for a candidate with a lot of money, the lack of support may hurt the candidate after he or she is elected.
“The potential downside of this is you get into office and no one has invested in your campaign. And it can be difficult to get individuals to come to the table and work with you to achieve your policy objectives and goals,” Wrzenski said.
Wrzenski says the positive side to self-finance is that the candidate can be presented as one who is free of lobbyist influence. Jared Craighead, Spence’s campaign manager, supports that idea.
“You’ve got a successful businessman who wants to do the right thing for Missouri and he’s willing to invest in its future by investing in his campaign, which I think is noble and good for Missouri because when he gets elected he won’t have all these special interests that he’s beholden to,” Craighead said.
Spence paid about two-thirds of his campaign expenses out-of-pocket, but Craighead noted donations from a variety of industries and $2 million from the Republican Governor’s Association. And even though Spence’s self-finance is significant, it pales in comparison to the record $140 million Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman used to self-finance her unsuccessful run for governor of California in 2010. Of course, many people who run for office can’t afford to spend millions of dollars on a campaign. Wrzenski says those candidates just have to find money somewhere else.
‘There just aren’t restrictions on self-financing and there’s nothing built into the system to help out candidates who are facing massively self-funded opponents,” Wrsenski said.
Although campaign funding is important, past elections have shown that money isn’t everything. Craighead says people should place some more value on endorsements.
“Campaigns aren’t all just about money, either. Dave has all of these organizations, pro-growth, pro-agriculture, pro-Missouri groups, that are supporting his campaign and a lot of times that kind of support can be more important than financial support,” Craighead said.
John Wright is running for state representative in Missouri’s 47th district, and he’s in second place in the state for self-financing. Wright donated more than $180,000 to his campaign, which also amounts to about two-thirds of his total funding. Wright and Spence are both running for office for the first time.