Political analyst: Many small donations a sign of enthusiasm for Dem in 11th District

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Pennsylvania's 11th Congressional District candidate Jess King, of Lancaster City, is interviewed in her office at her campaign headquarters in Lancaster City, Friday, July 13, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert

Democrat Jess King is giving her opponent in the 11th Congressional District a run for his money.

The political novice from Lancaster County has more cash on hand than GOP incumbent Lloyd Smucker, has almost no debt, and almost all of her contributions are coming from individuals — a sign of voter enthusiasm, according to one political analyst.

Smucker is still ahead in overall fundraising — having taken in more than $1 million since April 2017 — but his campaign also has spent more than double the amount King has spent.

Also, Smucker's campaign finance reports show a majority of his donations coming from leadership PACs, insurance companies and general contractors, according to The Center for Responsive Politics.

King said her grass-roots strategy and distance from political action committees is what distinguishes her from fellow Lancaster resident Smucker.

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"Right now the average member of Congress is a millionaire," she said, her tone resembling that of Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont. "The influence of big money in politics is totally perverse and completely wrong. I believe it takes away the voice of individuals at the grass-roots level."

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center of Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, said King is energizing voters.

Director of the Franklin & Marshall College Poll and Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College Dr. G. Terry Madonna leads a political discussion, 2016: Presidential Politics in the Nation and State, at Yorktowne Hotel in York City, Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2016.

"She has created excitement, particularly among Democratic voters," Madonna said. "The district is fairly red, but she's running a vigorous, energetic campaign. Smucker is running a conventional incumbent race, but King's generating a lot of excitement about change."

Madonna noted that a reliance upon individual donations isn't a new phenomenon in politics, but it is being popularized by more left-leaning politicians in the Democratic party.

"What's going on now is a lot more candidates, particularly Democratic, are getting monies on the prospects that they can win the House and mark a dramatic shift in the party to a more progressive platform," he said.

King is heavily critical of her opponent's reliance upon political actions committees  for funding.

"Smucker takes a ton of money from corporate PACS, but we still have more money by knocking on doors and engaging our community," she said.

On July 16, King's campaign released a statement announcing the campaign not only has more cash on hand than Smucker, but she also has nearly nonexistent debt.

As of the second quarter, King's campaign has more than $350,000 cash and has less than $2,000 of debt, according to the Federal Election Commission. 

That's a marked difference from Smucker's campaign, which has just more than $300,000 cash on hand and has more than $135,000 in debt.

Smucker did, however, leave the King campaign trailing in the most recent quarter, raising more than $390,000 compared to King's $266,000.

King has raised more than $780,000, 98 percent of which came from individuals, according to the FEC.

The campaign has refused all corporate PAC money and donations from fossil fuel executives.

Lloyd Smucker

While King's campaign has spent just shy of $430,000, Smucker's campaign has spent nearly $980,000, according to the FEC.

Mike Barley, Smucker's spokesman, said he didn't want to detail how the campaign spent the money, but he offered a general layout.

"Like every campaign, we're working on identifying voters, messaging and also working on getting our volunteers out there," he said. "We feel very confident, and we're looking to get through the election."

The FEC, however, lists campaign expenditures on its website, which provides details on Smucker's spending.

In April, his campaign spent $135,000 on advertising with the conservative, D.C.-based political consulting firm BrabenderCox — the most the campaign has spent at once during this election season. 

In May, the campaign spent nearly $130,000 for the same purpose, with the same company.

Most of the payments consist of advertising purchases, consultations and loan repayments for Smucker's personal contributions, according to FEC data.

King's campaign, however, has only ever spent as much as $15,000 at once.

The payment was for consultation about digital campaigning with Middle Seat, a consulting firm that was started by the digital and organizing staff of Bernie Sanders' 2016 campaign.

The campaign's spending mostly consists of small, similar payments for consultation, web development and video production, according to FEC data.

King's campaign is still confident that it can come out on top in November without spending even half of what her opponent does.

"We're talking to voters every day about building an America that truly works for all of us, not just the corporate CEOs and lobbyists," she said. "We’re not paying consultants in D.C to tell us what to say. We’re investing in a volunteer-driven campaign, and we’re building a movement of working people that can win."

Guido Girgenti, King's spokesman, added that the campaign largely focuses on town-hall meetings, which are an efficient, inexpensive way to reach out to voters.

This differs from her opponent, as Smucker hasn't yet held a public town-hall meeting.

In late January, the state Supreme Court imposed a new congressional map that split York County — which had been fully in the 4th District — between the 10th and 11th congressional districts.