Posted: Feb. 21, 2014
DOLLARS FOR DEMOCRATS
By Celia Cohen
Back in the day, before Ruth Ann Minner became the only woman in Delaware history to be the governor, when she was just a Democratic legislator, she was once asked what political advantage she would like to have for a campaign.
The power of incumbency? Voter registration in her favor? Money galore?
"No opponent," Minner quipped.
The Democrats have it all, starting with no opponents in sight, for the top statewide races in 2014.
They have sitting officeholders up for re-election with Chris Coons for senator, John Carney for congressman and Beau Biden for attorney general. They have 123,000 more Democratic than Republican voters. They have money, too.
A new round of campaign finance reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission and the state election commissioner's office, shows what Coons, Carney and Biden did in 2013.
They collectively bankrolled $4.5 million to the Republicans' goose egg, because the Republicans have yet to come up with any candidates to raise any money, with five months to go until the deadline to get on the ballot.
The financial situation is not so clear in the other statewide races, except to note that incumbency does not look like all it is cracked up to be for Chip Flowers, the Democratic treasurer, and Tom Wagner, the Republican auditor.
Flowers, a lawyer, largely self-financed his campaign in 2010, and he appears ready to do it again. He might not have a choice, not since a litany of troubles in office put him at odds with all sorts of his fellow Democrats, including the governor, the attorney general and the legislative leadership.
Flowers' woes have attracted opponents from both parties, although they did not have to file campaign finance reports for 2013 because they were not officially candidates then. Still, they look like they could have fund-raising potential.
Sean Barney, the other Democratic candidate, was an aide to Jack Markell, the Democratic governor, and to Tom Carper, the Democratic senator, and knows his way around a campaign.
Ken Simpler, Jr., the Republican candidate, did well for himself in a career as a financial professional. In addition, he was part of a group that started a political action committee called Fiscally Sound Delaware, which took in $108,000 in 2013.
Simpler says the PAC was set up to engage in research and advocacy and not to be associated with his campaign. Whatever, it certainly has a knack for bringing in the green.
While state candidates for statewide office cannot accept more than $1,200 from individual contributors, state-based PACs can receive unlimited amounts, although there are restrictions on how they spend the money. Fiscally Sound Delaware raked it in.
The PAC got $25,000 from Vance Kershner, who founded LabWare, a maker of software for laboratories, and earned lasting good will in northern Delaware as a member of the partnership renovating and reopening Buckley's Tavern in Centreville.
Also among the top contributions, the PAC took in $25,000 from Simpler's parents, $10,000 from Simpler himself and $10,000 from a trust for Joseph Schell, a retired investment banker whose sons formed Schell Brothers, the Sussex County real estate development firm.
The auditor's race was hardly a cash cow and maybe not even a cash calf.
Brenda Mayrack, a lawyer who used to be the Democrats' executive director, took a gamble when she declared her candidacy in December, because it meant she would have to file a campaign finance report that would be compared to the one for Wagner, who has been in office for 25 years.
Her report showed $15,000, including $3,000 she loaned the campaign. His showed $26,500.
It worked out for Mayrack, and it was no way for Wagner, the last Republican in statewide office, to go into the election year with so little money. Not without the political magic of no opponent.