Posted: June 19, 2015


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

A landslide on Election Day costs so much more these days.

When Tom Carper was re-elected in his last race as the Democratic congressman in 1990 by polling a nifty 66 percent, before he went on to be a governor and senator, his campaign cost $521,000.

John Carney had to spend roughly twice as much to get re-elected as the Democratic congressman in 2014 with a comfortable 60 percent of the vote, when his campaign outlays were $1.1 million.

It helped that federal campaign contributions have kept pace with the spending.

Back in 1990, Carper could take up to $1,000 from an individual contributor, but the maximum jumped to $2,000 in 2002 and has been indexed since, with candidates for federal office able to collect checks up to $2,700 for the 2016 election.

Not so for state races in Delaware. There has not been donation inflation, but stagnation.

The last time Carper ran for congressman was the last year the limit on state contributions went up -- from $1,000 to $1,200 for statewide candidates and from $500 to $600 for local candidates in legislative or county elections.

It has not budged since. It could now, or maybe not.

There is a proposal before the General Assembly in Dover to raise the maximum contribution to $2,000 in statewide races and $1,000 in local races. It would also let contributors give as much as $30,000 each election to a political party, up from the current limit of $20,000.

The legislation, now in the form of a substitute version of House Bill 128, was drafted with the blessing of the Democratic and Republican state parties.

"It's bipartisan. Both parties want it. The bill is their bill," said Earl Jaques, the Democratic representative who is the prime sponsor.

That sort of backing would appear to be enough, but the bill has stalled.

It was scheduled for debate on Tuesday in the House of Representatives, but it never came up, and the Democrats say the main reason is the Republicans are reneging on their support.

There was also the matter of a rebellion from a knot within the Democratic caucus, John Kowalko chief among them.

"There was an agreement. All of a sudden, you see the Republicans trying to back up," said Pete Schwartzkopf, the Democratic speaker.

As far as Schwartzkopf is concerned, it is up to the Republicans what happens next. "Anybody who runs for election obviously wants the bill. If it passes, it passes, if it doesn't, it doesn't," he said.

The Republicans acknowledge they had second thoughts as they focused on the bill.

"It would look like it was self-serving, wanting more money," said Debbie Hudson, the House Republican minority whip.

Furthermore, the Republicans wondered about the need. "We don't have television. We're doing a lot more e-mail. Maybe we need to pay for a new pair of shoes," Hudson said.

Still, the bill does have some measure of Republican support. Dan Short, the House Republican minority leader, is listed as a co-sponsor, and Greg Lavelle, the Senate Republican minority whip who is watching from afar, has no problem with it.

Lavelle brings a singular understanding to the situation, because he holds the record among current legislators for campaign spending. He unseated Michael Katz, a Democratic senator, in 2012 in the state's only half-million-dollar legislative race, which cost Lavelle $236,00 and Katz $301,000.

"I don't think it's unreasonable at all. It hasn't been raised in 20-plus years. Campaigns have gotten more technical and consultant-driven," Lavelle said.

The bill may yet pass, either in its current form or an amended version, either before the legislative session ends for the year on June 30 or after the next one starts in January.

"We can patch it up. We can work out something, I think," Hudson said.

One idea behind the legislation is it is supposed to lessen a reliance on mega-contributions flowing to PACs, which can accept unlimited amounts, from political financiers who have come to be well-known for their five-and-six-figure largesse, like Stuart Grant, a lawyer who gives to Democrats, and Dan Anderson, a retired developer who gives to Republicans; but really.

There are stronger arguments for evidence of the tooth fairy.

Common Cause, the good government group, has also come out against bill. It asserts there is already too much money in politics.

Not much unites the Republicans and Common Cause, but there it is. It is not quite as weird as an alliance would be between Vladimir Putin and Pussy Riot, but close.