Why Money Matters in Political Races

July 18 2007, 11:49 AM
On Sunday the Federal Elections Commission released the second quarter fundraising numbers for Colorado political candidates, and the results help clarify the early positioning for several high-profile races. I've written before about why fundraising numbers matter in more ways than the obvious, and it has to do with perception. Much of politics is about perception, because you have to look like a winner before you can be a winner. Candidates need money in order to get their message out next summer, but the amount of money they raise in the early going helps indicate how much support they have already. By and large, people give money to candidates who they think can win, not just candidates whom they like or agree with on policy issues, so the early fundraising reports say a lot about the perception of a particular candidate both locally and nationally. Democrat Betsy Markey, who is challenging Angie Paccione for the party's nomination in CD-4 (Greeley, Ft. Collins), is a good example of how fundraising is a window into the perception of a candidate. Markey is a relative unknown compared to Paccione, and despite a string of good endorsements when she announced her candidacy in May, she only managed to raise $36,000 in the second quarter. Thus she was the first candidate of the 2008 cycle to make the predictable complaint about fundraising being too important. As Markey told Colorado Confidential: "The focus on money raising is out of control, so I'm keeping my focus on building a good organization." Markey's statement reminds me of a quote from Sean Connery's character in the movie "The Rock." As Connery says to Nicholas Cage's character, "Losers always whine about doing their best." Likewise, in politics the people who can't raise money are always the first to complain that the money race is too important. Markey may think that the focus on raising money is out of control, but it doesn't matter what she thinks. Money matters, and if you can't raise it, you can't win. That's the simple reality here; Markey can have the best "organization" in the world, but it won't make a lick of difference if she doesn't have money to spend on advertising. Markey's $36,000 raised pales in comparison to Paccione's $91,000, which itself doesn't stand up well to Republican incumbent Rep. Marilyn Musgrave's $243,000. What Markey's weak Q2 says to political observers is that she may not have much of a fundraising ability, which also means that she may not have the high-level political contacts necessary to make her a serious player. Is this true? Maybe, maybe not. But that's the perception when you raise only a third of the money that your closest opponent raises. And in politics, perception can be everything.