Terry McAuliffe: The $80 Million Man? (Updated)

Why didn't someone think of this before? If you run a professional fundraiser for office, he's sure to have plenty of money. That, ...
by | January 2, 2009
 

Why didn't someone think of this before? If you run a professional fundraiser for office, he's sure to have plenty of money.

That, despite questions about his electability, is why Terry McAuliffe is a strong candidate for governor of Virginia this year. Everyone knew that McAuliffe would be able to raise a lot of money. He is, after all, the former chairman of the Democratic National Committee who has been a key Democratic fundraiser for nearly 30 years.

But, the figure that popped up in the Washington Post this week still turned some heads:

Virginia is a state with no limits on how much an individual, corporation or union can donate to a candidate running for state office, and some say McAuliffe could wage an $80 million campaign -- triple what Kaine spent four years ago -- if he is the Democratic nominee.

Eighty million dollars really is a ton of money for a gubernatorial campaign in a mid-size state. Fewer than 2 million people voted in the 2005 Virginia governor's race, so McAuliffe could be spending more than $40 per voter and, if he wins, perhaps $80 for every vote he receives.

Of course, those stats are a tad misleading because, before he gets to the general election, McAuliffe faces a tough three-way primary. And, as the Post notes, McAuliffe's quest for campaign cash will be aided by the absence of contribution limits in Virginia.

The lack of contribution limits struck my as unusual and, in fact, it is. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only four other states, Illinois, Utah, New Mexico and Oregon, place no limits on the amount that can be given to candidates for state office.

If you really want to get into the complexities of state contribution limits, this PDF is the place to start. But if you don't want to get into those complexities (and I wouldn't blame you) suffice it to say that a candidate like McAuliffe who can tap into a national network of fundraising contacts has an advantage in Virginia that he wouldn't have almost anywhere else.

Update: McAuliffe advisor Mo Elleithee e-mailed me to note that the campaign disputes the $80 million figure.

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