By Jonathan Mummolo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Democrat Judy Feder, in her second bid to unseat Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), often cites her formidable fundraising as a sign of her support among voters.
In an e-mail to supporters in January announcing that she had raised close to $600,000 in 2007, she wrote that the "incredible outpouring of support for our campaign demonstrates that Virginians are frustrated with the lack of leadership in Washington and are ready for change in 2008."
But a closer look at Feder's most recent financial reports shows that relatively few Virginians contributed to that sum. Nearly three-quarters of Feder's individual contributions of $200 or more came from outside the state, including donations from Maryland, the District, New York and California, according to campaign finance records. That could leave her vulnerable to attacks that she lacks local support, political observers said.
"If I'm imagining myself as a Democratic Party official in my district, I'm concerned about it," said Mark J. Rozell, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "I'd want to be able to show she has a base of support, people who are . . . committed enough that they're willing to make a sacrifice for it. You want it coming from within the district."
Only 28 percent of the money from Feder's individual contributions through the end of last year came from Virginia, according to CQ MoneyLine, a campaign finance data service. Of those donations, which totaled about $140,000, fewer than half the donors listed addresses within the 10th Congressional District, a Washington Post analysis found. Contributions of less than $200 were excluded from the analysis because they are not required to be itemized.
Allowing for some donors who may have listed business rather than home addresses, that means only a small minority of Feder's contributors could actually vote for her in November if she secures the Democratic nomination in June.
The 10th District stretches from McLean to Winchester and touches Clarke, Fairfax, Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun, Prince William and Warren counties.
Feder, who said she saw an increase in local support as her last campaign progressed, said she is seeing the same uptick this time around. She also said she is "proud" of her out-of-state support, composed largely of academics and think-tank employees who she said share her views on such issues as health care.
"I've spent my career in promoting good policy," said Feder, who worked on the failed Clinton health-care initiative in the 1990s and cites affordable health care as a top goal. "I am enormously proud of the support I've gotten from the policy community."
By contrast, Wolf -- who has been solidifying support in the district for more than two decades -- received 72 percent of his funds raised through individuals this campaign cycle from Virginia. Of those in-state donations, which totaled about $340,000, about 70 percent of the donors had addresses in the 10th District.
"When you look at a campaign and all the money is coming from outside . . . that's just an indication of support from the people," Wolf said. His donations, he said, "come from voters that live in this district, that know me, that know what I've done on issues, whether it be fighting gangs or widening I-66. . . . I've raised money from where I represent and where I live."
As of the last campaign finance filings, Wolf had raised $740,298 from all sources, with more than 75 percent coming from individuals. Feder had raised $588,929, with more than 90 percent coming from individuals.
Feder said her individual contributions are just one of many indicators that voters are rallying behind her and are "ready for change."
"It's one of the signs," said Feder, who recently made CQ Politics' top 10 list of best-funded challengers to opposite-party incumbents. "Along with the money come the volunteers, the calls that they're making, the conversations we had at the polls [on primary day]. . . . Support comes in all flavors, and we're getting it in all flavors."
If Feder were to defeat an incumbent with a majority of her money coming from outside the state, it would not be unprecedented. Last month, Prince George's County lawyer Donna F. Edwards, who was largely financed by individual contributions from outside Maryland, bested eight-term U.S. Rep. Albert R. Wynn in the 4th District Democratic primary.
Feder asserted that Wolf was in her position during his successful 1980 campaign against incumbent Joseph L. Fisher (D). In an Oct. 18, 1980, article, The Washington Post reported that "nearly half of Wolf's money has come from political action committees and other special action groups, many of them outside Virginia."
Feder said: "You know that Frank Wolf has had three decades to build a fundraising apparatus in the 10th and around the country, and I've been at it for about two years. Given the relative times there, I think we're doing great."
Analysts noted that Democratic voters are energized this year -- they showed up in numbers twice that of GOP voters in the presidential primary -- and that the geographic source of money may not necessarily be a liability.
"Money is money in politics," said Robert Holsworth, a political scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University. "You can buy the TV ads, you can do the mailings, all of that can be done regardless of the Zip code [of donors]. . . . On the other hand, it doesn't show there's an absolute groundswell of people in the community where she is running."
As of the latest finance filing, Feder lagged Wolf in money raised by about $150,000 and in cash on hand by about $72,000. For her, the challenge will be keeping pace with a congressman practiced in tapping local cash resources, experts said.
"A newcomer has to struggle to find sources of support," Rozell said. "And the reality is that the advantages of incumbency are so huge that the only chance a challenger has is to raise and spend huge sums of money wherever she can get it from."