This is an opinion piece written by and republished with the permission of Richard Stewart, who runs the left-leaning blog, “New NY 23rd.” 

Should anyone wish to write a response, we would gladly run it. The original column, published first here in late July, is about the Congressional election in New York’s 23rd District (which includes Ithaca). Democrat and Tompkins County Legislator Martha Robertson is running against incumbent Republican Tom Reed.

— Jeff Stein


It doesn’t take long to realize money plays a pivotal part in today’s political campaigns. Federal campaigns are required to report their funding records with the Federal Election Commissions every three months. The last report was due July 15; it recorded the campaign financial activities as of June 30.

The media reported that Rep. Tom Reed had received $661,000 in the April to June reporting period. A personal high for him. Martha Robertson received $461,000, a personal high for her. Most articles focused on the campaigns’ quarterly and cumulative totals. In the Center for Responsive Politics’ Open Secrets’s site we can also explore the details.

The belief is generally the campaign that raises the most money wins. According to a Washington Post article in April, in 2012 the congressional candidate that raised the most money won 91% of the time. The article has a chart looking at the data in detail worth looking at. (An article in PolitiFacts states in 2010, the rate was 94%)

Ninety-one percent is very impressive, but it gives some room for upsets. We only have to go back to June to remember the Eric Cantor/David Brat Virginia Republican Primary upset. Cantor out raised Brat 10 to 1, and out spent him 14.7 to 1, and lost.

I know that was a rare case, but it happens. The pundits looking at the race after it was over pointed out three key inter-related details that fell in place for Brat—Issues, Grass-Root Support, and Voter Turnout. The Issues, which have been discussed in an earlier New NY23rd article, motivated the grass-root supporters to get a heavy voter turnout:

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary a definition of Grassroots is: Ordinary people regarded as the main body of an organization’s membership.

Martha Robertson seems to claim to have the grass-root support needed to win in November:

“As of today over 6,000 individual donors have stepped up to support our campaign and I am very honored by their faith and support.” Robertson said. “The people of the 23rd district are giving us a message loud and clear that they want a representative who will fight to protect Social Security and Medicare and someone who will bring economic prosperity to the region, rather than Congressman Tom Reed who continues to vote to cut Medicare and to raise taxes on the middle class in order to protect millionaires like him and corporations that ship jobs overseas.”

(Courtesy of Robertson for Congress)

The information is what Ms. Robertson is excited about. This is data on the people who contributed to the campaigns (as opposed to Businesses, Corporations, and PACs.):

— Notice that 61% of Reed’s individual donations came from New York State, compared to 85% of Robertson’s donations. Translated into real money, that’s over $99,000 more than Reed.

— Only 22% of Reed’s individual donations came from within our district, which is where Robertson received 61% of her donations. She received 2.3 times as much money from the NY 23rd as Reed. These people have lived with Reed as their Representative, and have decided they don’t want him again. Once a person donates to a candidate they tend to work to get that candidate elected.

Another set of data points that “Ordinary People” tend to support Ms. Robertson. Small Contributions (less than $200) made up 21% of Robertson’s individual contributions, but only 3% of Reed’s. In real dollars, she received 3.7 times as much money from Small Contributors than he did. Their Large Contributions totals were closer, but Robertson still out raised Reed by more than $46,000!

Individuals have given Ms. Robertson 8.4% more than Rep. Reed.

Politically Action Committees overwhelmingly supported Reed over Robertson by more than $1,182,000. He has received 55% of all of his funding by PACS. Although not all PACs represents Corporations, some represent Labor and Ideological Groups, Reed received over $1 million from Business PACs, when Robertson received only $5,000.

The data points out that Martha Robertson has the Grass-Root advantage over Tom Reed. The next step is to get the donors mobilized to bring in a large voter turnout. Voter turnout is traditionally down during a non-Presidential Election year. Being the challenger places the odds of winning against Martha, but this quarter’s fund raising information is good news for the challenger.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.