The money chase. #NativeVote18 federal candidates make their pitch for big bucks

U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, a member of The Chickasaw Nation, raised more than $869,000 last year. #NativeVote18 (Campaign photo)

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

It’s time to look at the money. How much money are #NativeVote18 candidates raising?

Yes, I know, this is a silly metric. After all there is no relationship to governing and calling up people you don’t know and asking them for money. Yet this is the system in place. A candidate is more likely to be successful if she or he can raise a lot of money.

So it’s no surprise that the big money collectors — even in Indian Country — are the ones who already hold office or who have held office recently. And it’s probably no surprise that the big money is headed down Republican alley.

The top money raiser is Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma. The latest Federal Election Commission reports were posted at the end of January and reflect fundraising for 2017. His net: $1.7 million, cash on hand.

Several tribes donated the maximum amount to Cole’s campaign. Oklahoma tribes, such as his own, the Chickasaw, and the Cherokee Nation, backed Cole as well as tribes from across the country ranging from Penobscot to Stillaguamish.

Some of the contributors have different agendas. Tribes, for example, support Cole because of his strong stands on tribal sovereignty. Yet the American Dental Association, another contributor, has worked against that very issue by challenging the tribes right to regulate mid-level dental practices. (Previous: Tribal sovereignty and the call for better oral health.)

Washington congressional candidate Dino Rossi comes in second for fundraising last year, netting a little more than a million dollars. This is remarkable when you consider he was not even a candidate until September. Rossi is Tlingit and Italian.

As I wrote in September:  “One of his first jobs was working for Bernie Whitebear at Seattle’s United Indians of All Tribes. It’s interesting how some candidates make their tribal affiliation prominent and weigh in on issues that impact Indian Country. That would not be Rossi. But he doesn’t shy away (as many politicians do) from the conversation. It’s just not his focus.”

His campaign finance report bears that out. You won’t find a lot of tribal money.

Debra Haaland, who is running for Congress in New Mexico, raised more than $386,000 in her bid. If elected, she would be the first Native woman ever elected to the House. (Campaign photo)

The top Democrat for fundraising this cycle is Debra Haaland running in Albuquerque. She ended the year just shy of $200,000 in cash. Haaland, of course, and I can’t write it often enough, would be the first Native American woman ever elected to Congress. She’s running in a district that favors Democrats but she must win the primary first against seven other candidates. So far Sedillo Lopez, a former associate dean at the University of New Mexico Law School, has raised some $456,000 and reports $348,000 in cash on hand. Haaland has raised a total of $386,000 in contributions.

There is a huge difference between Haaland’s fundraising and Cole’s money. Most of her contributions come in $10 and $25 chunks. Small money. But that’s important because it could reflect interest by real voters instead of tribes and Political Action Committees and business interests. She does get some money from tribes, including her own, Laguna Pueblo, but not nearly as much as is found in Cole’s treasury.

The race for Oklahoma’s second congressional district could become the first election between two tribal members, the incumbent, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, and his challenger Tahlequah Mayor Jason Nichols. Both men are Cherokee.

But so far on the money side it’s not much of a contest. Mullin raised about $725,000 last year, netting $434,333.37. Nichols raised $17,575.52 and ended with $8,287.30 cash on hand.

The trick in any campaign is to raise as much money as needed to be competitive. That doesn’t always mean first. But it does mean having the resources to compete in media advertising, including social media, hiring staff, and organizing.

Several #NativeVote18 candidates showed no fundraising in the FEC reports. It could be because there fundraising is scant, or ramping up later, or because reports have not been filed yet.

#NativeVote18 spreadsheet of federal candidates with links to FEC reports.

Next up: State candidate fundraising totals.

Mark Trahant is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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#NativeVote16 – Big money targets Arizona’s first congressional



Three Native candidates; one Arizona seat

Mark Trahant / Trahant Reports

My list of Native American candidates for Congress keeps changing. (Actually my entire databases are moving parts because I keep adding new names, see new reports filed, and find other data). I am now back to eight Native American candidates for Congress. Well, maybe nine. I had dropped Shawn Redd from my active list because he had not filed a campaign finance report. Redd has now done that. (Previous: Seven Native American candidates for Congress.) I also removed Kayto Sullivan from my database. Let’s move that up to a “maybe.”

Redd, Navajo, is running as a Republican in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District. Remember that’s the district with the highest percentage of Native American voters. In his latest filing, Redd raised $8,762, spent $7,615, leaving cash on hand of $1,785 as of March 31. He significantly trails another Navajo Republican, Arizona state Sen. Carlyle Begay. Begay raised $39,906 during the same time frame. (Spreadsheet here. Previous: Little dollars could turn the world of politics upside down.)

Screenshot 2016-05-01 11.55.28

But let’s be clear about the Arizona 1st Congressional District: It has the most Native American voters of any district in the country, but it’s also an open seat, and there will be a lot of money thrown at winning this seat.

Two years ago this seat was one of the most expensive for so-called “dark money.” Some $2.5 million was spent by the conservative groups, American Action Network, and Young Guns Network. This is where large donors fund independent political action groups who buy mostly negative ads against a candidate. These independent campaigns do not need to disclose the source of their funding. In the 2014 campaign these groups spent more than the Republican candidate, Andy Tobin, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Indian Country, of course, cannot compete with that kind of spending. But this district two years ago defeated big money and if the Native American vote turns out that can happen again.

Redd and Begay are counting on help from Navajo voters during the primary. But that’s a long shot for a couple of reasons.

First, Arizona requires voters in primary elections to be either unaffiliated or registered as Republicans. The registration deadline is August 1. And early voting begins a couple of days later.

The second reason is math. In Apache County, where most of the voters are Navajo, there are 26, 784 active Democrats and only 7, 893 Republicans. That’s a huge gap. The good news is there are also some 13,000 voters who are independent and that is a potential source of primary votes. The numbers are similar in other Arizona counties with large Native American populations.

But there is a “however” here.

This is a district where the national Democratic Party is risking a future base. If Begay or Redd can somehow win the primary, they would be strong candidates in the general election. Yes, it’s because they are Navajos, but especially in Begay’s case, it’s also because he works hard at constituent services. In March, for example, when a Navajo girls’ basketball team was sanctioned by referees for wearing traditional tsiyéél hair styles, Begay filed legislation to make state law clear.

So it may be a long shot but Begay could win this primary. Two years ago only 52,487 people bothered to vote in the primary. The winning candidate had 18,814 votes. This time around that winning number will likely be smaller because there are four other well-funded Republicans splitting the vote. The question is, then, how many Navajos will vote Republican in a primary?

Democrats have different problems in this race. Kayto Sullivan announced that he was running. He has not raised any funds but on Twitter said he was in Window Rock gathering signatures. He also tweeted: “Many candidates running for congressional office have donations of several thousand but I’m just a normal person with nothing near that.”

Perhaps Sullivan won’t be the only Native American Democrat running. There is still time for a surprise candidate to join the race. The filing deadline is June 1.

The party apparatus has more or less settled on former State Sen. Tom O’Halleran. Like Begay he switched parties, once serving as a Republican in the legislature, now a Democrat. If the race ends up being between O’Halleran and one of the other big money Republicans, he will probably do no worse than the current incumbent, Ann Kirkpatrick.

Navajos will likely turn out and vote in significant numbers in November because of the presidential race. And O’Halleran is likely to benefit from that. Unless his opponent is Begay. Then all bets are off.

Mark Trahant is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota. He is an independent journalist and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. On Twitter @TrahantReports

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