Warner Vs. Warner: The Personal Fortune At Stake In The Bitter Virginia Race
By Dwight L. Morris
It's true that the Virginia Senate race is not a cornerstone in the Democratic strategy to seize control of the chamber from the GOP this year. The contest, pitting incumbent Republican Sen. John Warner against Virginia businessman Mark Warner (no relation) has not, so far at least, looked encouraging for the Democratic Party. (The PoliticsNow ratings and our columnists put the race in the "comfortable GOP" category.) Despite controversy over a recent advertisement, the incumbent is widely acknowledged to be ahead just two weeks before the election.
But if the Democratic challenger is defeated, it won't be because the candidate lacks the financial resources or the willingness to use them freely. In fact, the candidacy of Mark Warner has relied heavily on pouring his personal fortune into the campaign a la Michael Huffington.
Through September 30, Mark Warner had spent $6.5 million, including $5.6 million of his own money. If one throws out Huffington's obscene and unsuccessful $30 million effort to unseat California Sen. Dianne Feinstein in 1994 more than $28 million of which came from his own bank account Mark Warner's spending through September was already three times as much as the average Senate challenger spent in 1990, 1992, and 1994.
Importantly, Mark Warner's self-financed spending spree was nearly $2.1 million more than John Warner had put into the defense of his seat and the Republican faced what was considered a formidable challenge in the primary from the far right by the Ollie North-backed candidacy of James C. Miller III.
Five Percent For Fund-raising
The typical challenger's expenditure in 1990 and 1992 for fund-raising was roughly 20 percent of the overall budget. If Huffington's self-financed campaign is excluded from the calculation, the same could be said about the 1994.
In none of the past three election cycles (again excluding Huffington) did the average challenger put more than 45 percent of his or her resources into television and radio commercials. While some clearly spent far more (Huffington spent $28 million) and others spent far less, Mark Warner had, by September 30, already spent more than twice as much as the typical challenger paid for such ads during the campaigns of 1990, 1992, and 1994.
No statewide campaign can be waged without a substantial organization, and Mark Warner's challenge is no exception.
Through the end of September, he had invested more than $1.3 million in overhead, including $798,320 in net staff salaries, benefits, and payroll taxes. His office rent payments totaled $92,703, and his telephone bills amounted to $135,755, including $13,882 for cellular phone usage. Warner's travel bills totaled $89,666, including $24,688 spent on air charters and a $424 payment to Alexander Manufacturing in Mason City, Iowa, for use of it's corporate aircraft.
Computer equipment, software and system maintenance had cost Mark Warner's campaign $138,248. Another $27,987 was paid to UUNET of Richmond, Va., for "on-line services," which we have counted as other advertising. His home page on the Internet currently provides users with the complete text, audio and video to his most recent "response" ad, as well as a host of other campaign-related information.
Constituency of Gratitude
Unlike many incumbents, John Warner did not invest heavily in a permanent campaign operation.
Between January 1, 1991 and December 31, 1994 he spent just $214,278, including $58,915 (27 percent) donated to other Republican candidates, party committees, charitable organizations and causes. He did not maintain a permanent campaign office. His total payroll and payments for staff benefits during this four-year period amounted to only $15,372. He did not tap his campaign treasury to cover the cost of an automobile. Campaign-related travel cost $34,682, including $25,169 for air charters. Meals with Republican leaders across the state, as well as meals at the Senate restaurant, totaled $24,067.
Recognizing that he would face a stiff challenge from within his own party and virtually assured of a strong Democratic challenge, Warner spent more than $1 million on his campaign in 1995. After spending just $15,966 to raise $63,234 during the first four years of the election cycle, Warner pumped $381,817 into his fund-raising operation in 1995 an investment that helped him raise nearly $1.6 million. He opened a campaign office and paid out staff salaries and benefits totaling more than $200,000.
Once the primary was over and Miller repudiated, Senator Warner turned his attention to his Democratic challenger. However, with polls showing him with a comfortable lead throughout the summer and early fall, the incumbent has not tried to match his opponent's advertising spending. Between July 1 and September 30 while Mark Warner was spending $2,813,717 on ads that have turned increasingly negative as he failed to close the gap John Warner spent "just" $564,218 on commercials.
This article originally appeared on the PoliticsNow Web site.
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