As strange as it may sound, I find it fascinating to peruse the Federal Election Commission (FEC) campaign finance database. It’s both fascinating and depressing to realize how money drives our election system. Big money donations know no party affiliation, but sometimes there’s a story in the numbers worth telling. In this case it’s the open Indiana 5th congressional district pitting Democrat Christina Hale against Republican Victoria Spartz.
Ostensibly, each candidate has roughly the same top-line level of funds – $1.47M for Hale and $1.36 for Spartz. However, my curiosity was piqued when I saw that most of Spartz’s funding (78%) was in the form of a personal loan from herself to her election committee. There were also only 160 donors who contributed $315,222 or $5,253 per donor.
In contrast, Hale made no personal loans to her campaign and has received donations from 897 distinct entities. There are no great surprises in how Democrats raise money versus Republicans, but the question that keeps coming to me is why would anyone risk over a million dollars of their own money to a run for a House seat? (See supplemental material section for FEC summaries)
Spartz does not appear to come from an ultra-wealthy family. In fact, she comes from Ukraine and has used her childhood in the Soviet Union as a reason she wants to go to Congress so she can fight socialism. Personally, I’d prefer to fight problems that are real.
Self-financing of campaigns is usually reserved for the ultra-wealthy. But Spartz reportedly said in an interview that “she and her husband decided to invest in the political race after at first intending to buy or build a new house.” (source) That’s a bothersome characterization. I think of an investment as putting money into something that will appreciate in value and eventually, you’ll end up with more money than your original investment. That’s not a definition that economists would use, but it does cause me to wonder exactly how Spartz will realize a return on that million-dollar investment she’s made in a political campaign. Is being a member of Congress so lucrative that she’ll earn back her million dollars and then some? Is her plan to turn a profit being in Congress like Trump has personally profited by being President? If that’s her plan, then my sense is that she would clearly be looking out more for her own interests and not those of her constituents.
Another curiosity about the Spartz campaign is her signage. She has some really awesome, big signs. I’m serious, Hale’s signs don’t come close to hers. Hale may have more, but I haven’t seen any as large. They must have cost a pretty penny. At some point, I realized that the reason Spartz is investing in signage is that doing audio or video commercials is risky due to her self-acknowledged Russian/Ukrainian accent. I think rational immigration is good for our country, but my bias is that anyone identified as an immigrant is likely to be better received by Democrats than Republicans. One can’t alienate your own party to have any chance of winning. And, why all the blue in her sign – isn’t that supposed to represent Democrats?
I have no intention of casting dispersion on Spartz beyond questioning her million-dollar loan and why she hasn’t been able to raise money any other way. I think the DCCC did enough dispersion casting in their 396-page book detailing many questionable activities. (PDF) They also have a summary in their June 3rd press release. It was unlikely I would have voted for Spartz based on her known positions, but to be honest, the DCCC research did make an impression. Then there’s also her close relationship with the NRA and protecting a 2nd amendment that needs no protection (video) that is troubling.
Back to the subject at hand. Why the million-dollar loan? I don’t know, but it still seems peculiar.
I increasingly have disdain for politics, but for the Indiana 5th, the choice for me is clear. If I had a million dollars to lend myself, I might think differently. The most important thing I can do and you can do is to vote!