Common sense would suggest that waging a local election campaign in the teeth of an ongoing pandemic might be tough.
While national politicians can rely on television and radio commercials and well-publicized rallies to get their word out, local hopefuls for office typically press palms at parades, shake more hands at festivals, schedule meet-and-greet events and hold fundraising events, such as trivia nights, mouse races and dinners.
And candidates walk around, knocking on doors and speaking with whoever’s willing to answer.
While COVID-19 has affected the manner in which local campaigns have been run in 2020, it hasn’t cut into the bottom line of most candidates, according to recent campaign finance reports filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission.
The Nov. 3 election has only four contested local races in the Leader’s coverage area – all for seats in the Missouri House of Representatives.
Three of those races involve a Republican incumbent running against a Democratic challenger. In all three, the incumbents had raised more money as of Oct. 15, the date of the most recent report, than they did in 2018.
In the fourth, an open seat for District 115, the Republican candidate, Cyndi Buchheit-Courtway of Festus, raised more funds than Republican Elaine Gannon did in 2018.
In 2018, Gannon reported $12,852 for the entire campaign. As of the Oct. 15 report, Buchheit-Courtway has reported raising $45,987.
The races are dissimilar. In 2018, Gannon had one challenger in the primary and none in the general election. This year, Buchheit-Courtway had competition in both contests.
Gannon is running unopposed this fall for the District 3 seat in the Missouri Senate.
Under Missouri election law, individuals are limited to contributing $2,046 to any state representative’s campaign. The limit is applied separately to primary and general elections.
Buchheit-Courtway’s major contributor has been the Laborers International Union Local 110 Political Action (LIUNA) Committee, which wrote a check for the $2,046 limit in July.
The Carpenters Help in the Political Process (CHIPP) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 PACs and the Missouri Hospital Association have each given $2,000 to date, and Elizabeth McCormick of Cedar Hill has given $1,500.
Her Democratic challenger for Nov. 3, Cynthia Nugent of Bloomsdale, reported raising $2,052 through Oct. 15, the lowest of any local House candidate.
Almost half of that came from Joyce Aboussie, a St. Louis-based consultant who was affiliated with former U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt for more than 30 years. Aboussie donated $1,000.
State representatives receive a $35,915 annual salary plus mileage and $115 per day in expenses for each day the General Assembly is in session.
Incumbency has advantages
Two local incumbent Republicans – District 111’s Shane Roden of Cedar Hill and District 113’s Dan Shaul of Imperial, both seeking their fourth (and, because of term limits) final two-year term in the House – are easily outraising their Democratic challengers.
Roden, who raised $14,100 in his reelection bid two years ago against Democrat Phoebe Ottomeyer, had generated $24,443 in donations against this year’s opponent, Daniel “Vern” Cherry, a Democrat from Dittmer.
Roden’s only donation over $1,000 has come from CHIPP, which gave the maximum $2,046 to both his primary and general election campaigns.
Cherry lags far behind in fundraising, having reported donations of only $2,864 to date.
Of that amount, $1,000 has come from Jane Otto of Dittmer, a dentist, and $500 from the Missouri Dental PAC. Cherry is a retired dentist.
Shaul typically raises a lot of money for his campaigns and this year is no exception, as he stood at $65,985 through Oct. 15. Still, he’ll have a have a last-minute push to reach the $87,500 generated during his successful 2018 reelection bid against Democrat Karen Settlemoir-Berg.
“I think we’re successful raising money because of the relationships we’ve made through the years,” Shaul said. “I think people view me as being honest and truthful.”
Shaul said contributions may be down a bit because of the pandemic.
“There is a limited amount of funds available from many households and organizations because of COVID,” he said. “People are being very thrifty these days, with so much uncertainty. But I think I’ve been successful because they see me as someone they can trust with a record that they can point to.”
He said he has modified his campaign tactics some because of the pandemic, but not to a great extent.
“I’m still knocking on doors and talking with people who want to talk with me,” he said.
Shaul said a successful idea was hiring a Kona Ice truck to visit four neighborhoods in his district. A free snow cone was offered to anyone who wanted one, and Shaul said he was available to speak with anyone who wanted to engage him.
“In late May, I think people were getting tired of being stuck at home, so I contacted Kona Ice, which is a local, small business that was being hurt earlier this year. Anyone could get a snow cone for free, no strings attached, no speeches. They could meet and greet me if they wanted, which some people did. Others just got their snow cones and went home, and that was OK. We had kids lined up on bikes.”
Campaign finance reports indicated that Shaul spent $1,491 on shaved ice.
“I think we had a great response, and it was a win-win, because I got to meet some people, and a local business that was struggling got some business,” he said.
Shaul’s Democratic opponent, Terry Burgess of Barnhart, stopped fundraising events after the pandemic shutdown in the spring.
“I really stopped fundraising once we had the lockdown, just because people were having to stay home from work and bills piled up,” Burgess said. “I did not think it was right to ask them for money. We had a lot lower of a total than my opponent because we stopped fundraising. I felt it would be unreasonable to go door-to-door since there were people who did not like contact.
“I focused on advertising in the Leader paper. We did a lot of social media to get our message across. We got $2,600 out of our campaign funds for American-made, union-made T-shirts with our campaign logo on it and gave hundreds out to people who wanted them, for free.”
Burgess thinks fundraising should not be a focal point in political campaigns.
“When our country was founded, anybody who served in public office actually served the public,” he said. “Politics was never supposed to be about money. One of the reasons I chose to run was to get big money out of politics. Politics has come down to money raising and it was never meant to be that.”
Three PACs – Mighty Missouri, the RQC PAC of New Bloomfield and the Missouri Coin Operators Association – topped Shaul’s donor list by chipping in $2,000 each, an amount also donated by Zachary Mangelsdorf of Home Service Oil. By Oct. 15, no individual or group had given the maximum to Shaul.
Shaul’s Democratic opponent, Terry Burgess of Barnhart, had raised $23,133 as of Oct. 15, according to the reports.
Four PACs had given at or near the maximum to Burgess’ primary and general election campaigns – the Laborers Union of North American Local 42, the Missouri and Kansas Laborers and CHIPP each gave $4,046 for the year; LIUNA added $4,092. Other labor unions (Laborers Local 660, $2,000, and Local 1290, $1,500, and the Sheet Metal Workers $1,000) have been other major contributors.
Kiehne bucks the trend
The District 110 race is different, in that the Democratic challenger, John Kiehne of Pacific, is raising more money than the Republican incumbent, Dottie Bailey of Eureka, who is trying for her second term.
The margin isn’t considerable, but it is a contrast to the other local races.
By Oct. 15, Kiehne had raised $34,604 in donations to Bailey’s $30,467.
Still, Bailey is way ahead of her pace of her first campaign in 2018, when she reported accepting donations of $11,603.
Kiehne, a free-lance musician who ran an unsuccessful state Senate campaign in 2018, said he’s been challenged running a campaign during a pandemic.
“I had an event around Christmas, but I had to shut down the campaign in mid-March,” he said. “During a campaign, you want to fill rooms with people, and that’s a great way to get COVID.”
He said several family members were in the high-risk category, so he knew he had to limit contact.
“I can’t risk going door-to-door – for myself or the people I’d be visiting, so I’m concentrating on social media, phone calls, contact-free (campaign material) drops and what I call corner rallies. It’s kind of a DIY, punk music ethic, I guess. A group of eight to 10 people show up on a street corner in Eureka, Pacific or Wildwood and we can talk to folks, and try to get the message out.”
Kiehne said his success at raising money has been largely his ability to reach potential voters on the phone.
“I’m a musician, so I’m used to hustling for jobs, for my next gig, for my next tour,” he said. “It’s strange calling people up and asking for money, but what I try to do is introduce myself, tell them what I stand for and what my opponent stands for, and … wait.”
He said the approach has been successful. Of his 750 donations by Oct. 15, 730 came from individuals.
“I think my average donation is $29, but that may be from a little old lady who only has $29 to give and I’m proud to get it. I think of a large sign that may cost me $65, and that’s donations from two little old ladies plus some change.”
One of those donors, Kiehne said, has chipped in with much more than the average. A family friend and retired teacher, Susan Cunningham of Pacific, has donated $855 so far.
“She’s been great,” Kiehne said. “But in these days this year, I’m not going to ask an 81-year-old woman to come out to a rally with a bunch of people and risk getting the virus.”
The Franklin County Labor PAC tops Kiehne’s donor list at $1,500, and Wallis Warren, an insurance agent in Eureka, has written several checks totaling $813 to date.
Bailey also has relied on many individual donors, although five groups have contributed more than $1,000 this year: Missourians For Life ($2,000), Dealers Interested in Government, a PAC of auto dealers ($2,000), the Missouri Independent Bankers Association PAC ($1,650), the 417 PAC of Springfield ($1,500) and the Missouri Relators PAC ($1,250).
Bailey didn’t return Leader phone calls asking for comment.
U.S. rep races draw big money
Even though the individual contribution limit for candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives isn’t that much different from the state limit, the three Congressional races for districts that represent Jefferson County have generated more money – a lot more.
The individual limit for contributing to a candidate for president and Congress is $2,800 per election this year, although other rules govern contributions to PACs and political parties.
U.S. representatives are paid $174,000 per year.
The most competitive race for local Congressional seats is District 2, in which Republican Ann Wagner of Ballwin is facing a challenge from Democrat Jill Schupp of Creve Coeur.
According to the most recent reports filed with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and dated Oct. 15, Wagner had raised $4,419,794 to Schupp’s $3,803,103.
The Libertarian in the race, Martin V. Schulte of Ballwin, did not file a report, indicating that he had not raised or spent more than $5,000 during his campaign.
In District 2, Republican incumbent Blaine Luetkemeyer of St. Elizabeth reported raising $1,833,225, while no information was available for Democrat Megan Rezabek of Imperial. The Libertarian Party candidate in the race, Leonard Steinman II of Jefferson City, has not filed a report.