Financing the Kuster-Swett race

Last modified: 5/23/2010 12:00:00 AM
Ann McLane Kuster and Katrina Swett, the Democratic candidates for the 2nd District seat in Congress, have far fuller campaign accounts than their Republican counterparts. Their accounts have been filled from near and far. Respectively.

Sixty-one percent of Kuster's reported fundraising through March came from donors in New Hampshire, with her highest-netting ZIP codes including Concord, Contoocook, Portsmouth and Hanover, according to an analysis of federal campaign filings by the Washington-based Center for Responsive Politics. Swett, by contrast, had raised 11 percent of her money this election from in-state donors. The ZIP codes giving her the most money included Greenwich, Conn.; New York City; and the suburbs of northern New Jersey.

Kuster, an attorney and activist from Hopkinton, reported donations from 438 New Hampshire donors. If smaller donations are included, the campaign says she has now received money from 1,260 people in the state. Swett, a human rights activist and university lecturer from Bow, reported receiving money from 43 New Hampshire donors, though her campaign says she has received money from 500 people in the state.

The distinction is one voters may hear trumpeted by the Kuster campaign as the Democratic nominating contest proceeds.

"You better believe we're going to be pointing out Annie's broad grassroots support," said Colin Van Ostern, Kuster's campaign manager.

Van Ostern attributed the proximity of his candidate's money to on-the-ground campaigning, old New Hampshire ties - her father was mayor of Concord and an executive councilor and her mother a longtime state lawmaker - and extensive volunteer work. And he said the saturation of her fundraising - donations have come from more than 100 2nd District towns - is something voters should care about.

"Not only does it give us a strong campaign, but it tells voters who Annie's going to represent," he said.

Of course, the Swett campaign sees things differently. The bulk of its money may be from elsewhere, but campaign manager Meagan Coffman said Swett is proud to have received money from 500 in-state donors.

"Most of those are really small donors," Coffman said. "We're really proud of that."

Both Democrats lead the Republicans significantly in fundraising, though a 2007 Senate run has left Swett's campaign with twice Kuster's amount of cash on hand. Kuster had received $841,634 through March, when campaigns last had to report, after beginning to raise money about 11 months earlier. After expenses, she had $563,063 in the bank. Swett came into the campaign with $896,826 left from her suspended Senate campaign. She has gone on to raise another $346,867 this cycle, leaving her with more than $1.08 million on hand.

That puts each campaign's fundraising far ahead of the Republican side of the race, where Charlie Bass leads with $264,691 reported in the bank. Jennifer Horn and Bob Giuda reported between $42,000 and $45,000 cash on hand.

Coffman said Swett has received strong support outside the state because of her work in human rights. Swett is president of the Concord-based Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, founded by her family in memory of her father, California congressman Tom Lantos, who founded the Congressional Human Rights Caucus and was the only Holocaust survivor elected to the U.S. Congress. Swett also worked to bring attention to human trafficking in Denmark while her husband, former New Hampshire congressman Dick Swett, was ambassador there, and she teaches about human rights at Tufts.

"The biggest reason is Katrina's been active on human rights issues that frankly transcend state boundaries and sometimes even political affiliations," Coffman said.

That's one reason Peter Yeo, a resident of Chevy Chase, Md., and a vice president of the United Nations Foundation, said he contributed to Swett's campaign. Yeo, who served as deputy staff director of the House Foreign Affairs Committee while Lantos was chairman, said he believes Swett is a smart, articulate candidate who would represent New Hampshire - and the interests of oppressed people worldwide.

"For years she's been interested in human rights," Yeo said. "She's made a real contribution to the field. I'd love to have someone in Congress who worked on these issues."

With so much money carried over from 2007, Coffman said the campaign isn't worried about seeking donations.

"We've been successful," she said. "We feel like we're in a strong position in terms of the resources we have. It's really not a focus right now."

The proportion of high-rolling donors also differs between the candidates. Of 684 people reported so far who have donated more than $200 directly to Kuster, 81 gave at least $2,400, the most a person can give a candidate for the primary. (They can give another $2,400 for use in the general election.) Of 165 Swett donors, 58 had given at least $2,400. In 2007, her campaign reported 255 out of 735 donors giving the maximum primary donation.

What does all this mean for the average voter, the one who spends more time watching TV than poring through Federal Election Commission filings? Political analyst Dean Spiliotes said it depends how much attention the campaigns bring to the source of their money and their competitor's. But it may not matter.

"The places where you run ads, on radio, television, etc., they don't look at what kind of money it is," Spiliotes said. "In the end it's something that may resonate with people who pay close attention to the race. But the people who are only casually following the race on TV? They're still going to see a lot of ads."

At this early stage, nearly four months before the state's primary elections, voters aren't even seeing congressional campaign ads. But the people who are bankrolling the campaigns so far are obviously paying attention. Donors from New Hampshire and beyond said this week they are supporting the primary campaigns for reasons ranging from old family ties to considerations of a candidate's positions and experiences.

Josh Denton, a law student who enrolled at Franklin Pierce Law Center after serving in the Army in Baghdad, has donated $10 a month to the Kuster campaign since attending one of the candidate's house parties in the fall. Denton said he considers Kuster a more progressive candidate, and he believes Swett has an "air of entitlement" rooted in her father's and husband's elections to Congress.

"Annie to me seems more like a grassroots candidate, a true candidate of the people, rather than someone who can buy their way with money or their last name to a nomination," Denton said.

Both Kuster and Swett received donations from Deirdre Sheerr-Gross, an architect with a small firm in New London. An independent who grew increasingly liberal during the presidency of George W. Bush, Sheerr-Gross said she believes New Hampshire needs to elect representatives who "believe in we instead of me." While she has known each woman for years, Sheerr-Gross said she considers Swett the more experienced candidate.

"I just know she has a background and an upbringing, and she has a much more worldly and national view than Ann does," she said.

Some out-of-state donors, like Gretchen Schmidt of Palo Alto, Calif., are donating because of personal loyalty to a candidate. Schmidt came to know Susan and Malcolm McLane through political activities years ago, when Schmidt lived in Concord, Mass., and she was always impressed with their daughter.

"She is pragmatic, she is proactive, and she is a person of unquestionable integrity," said Schmidt, now 77. "She represents this new generation."

Plus, she said, "I'm partly interested in seeing that good women are getting a fair shake."

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