Will Balter’s cash lead secure an election win?

Will Balter's cash lead secure an election win?

In the final days before the election, Dana Balter has $621,000 in campaign funds while John Katko has $522,000.
Published: November 5, 2018

Democratic challenger for NY-24 Dana Balter outraised Republican incumbent Rep. John Katko, according to the most recent filings provided by the Federal Election Commission. Balter has outperformed Katko for two consecutive fundraising periods, closing up the most recent in a record-performing clip. Though enthusiasm is high, some interpretations of the results are still cautious.

Notably, Balter reported a significant number of individual contributions. During the first two week-plus period of Oct. 1 to Oct. 17, Balter’s campaign raised $367,199.44. More than 90 percent of this was raised from individual donations totaling $337,100.50. In the final days leading up to the midterm, Balter will enjoy a slight lead in cash on hand, with $621,383.64 remaining in her war chest.

“The congressman started with an enormous financial lead,” said Josh Levin, a spokesman for the Balter campaign.

“Dana’s fundraising, as impressive as it is and as happy as we are with it, really only means that we’ve been put on an equal footing in the final weeks of the campaign,” Levin added.

Katko collected $122,474.13 in contribution receipts, with approximately half, or $62,805.13 coming from individual donors during the first half of October. The incumbent’s campaign reported a remaining $522,610.25 of campaign funds.

While the numbers are encouraging for the Balter campaign, its representatives said they’re careful not to place too much optimism in the numbers.

At the start of this year’s third quarter, Katko reported having nearly $1.5 million more than Balter, and so the record-setting $1.5 million the Balter campaign raised from July 1 to Sept. 30 only leveled the playing field. For the first time throughout the duration of the campaign, Balter has taken the financial lead.

While Balter did receive a majority of her money from individual contributions, thousands of dollars poured in from political action committees (PACs) like the Washington D.C.-based EMILY’s List.

EMILY’s list aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic female candidates to office. Receipts show that Balter netted around $7,200 from EMILY’s List this year to date.

Katko’s FEC filings show that he took nearly three times as much money from PACs than Balter, and nearly twice the amount of transfers of funds from other authorized committees. PACs from Delta Airlines, Pfizer, and AT&T were listed as some of Katko’s most generous donors.

Though some of the recent polling data show the race to be neck and neck, cash on hand may not be the only thing affecting the prospects for the candidates. In addition to the monies from the EMILY’s List endorsement, the PAC also provided Balter’s campaign with boots on the ground.

Tonya Williams is the director of strategic communications for EMILY’s List. She was sent up from D.C. earlier this month to assist the Balter campaign, and in particular a recent town hall on the Syracuse University campus where she connected with students, fielding questions about healthcare and campaign finance reform. Katko did not participate in this event.

“We endorsed Dana because of what her campaign stands for,” Williams said, noting Balter’s professed commitment to education and Medicare-for-all as some of the primary motivations behind endorsing her candidacy.



Smaller-contribution voters like Syracuse native Seamus Kirst said it’s exactly Balter’s desire to connect with the NY-24 constituency and their needs that inspired him to donate to her campaign through the fundraising website ActBlue.

Kirst lives in New York City and doesn’t vote locally, but felt it was important to put his financial support behind the candidate that he feels is more connected to the neediest residents of the district. Kirst criticized Katko for the perception that Katko is largely “unavailable” to his constituents, and posited this could be the reason behind his significantly lower number of individual contributions.

“Syracuse is desperately in need of leaders who will listen and understand not just what the average person needs, but also what those who are most in need, need,” Kirst said, referencing Katko’s support of the GOP tax bill as evidence that he is not “in step” with the day-to-day needs of his constituency.

And some local Democrats agree. Andres Victoria, president of the Syracuse University College Democrats, said in a statement that he believes a lot of the enthusiasm for Balter’s campaign comes from “her knowledge on the issues and being able to resonate with young voters.”

At the same time, supporters of the Katko campaign are banking on his name recognition

“[Katko] is interested in fundraising, but right now he seems more interested in relying on his persona and his position, and what the people of this district know that he can do and know he has done,” said Syracuse sophomore Domenic Biamante. Biamante is the chairman of the SU College Republicans group. He said while he is not a financial donor to the Katko campaign, he has volunteered significant amount of time to the congressman’s campaign.

Political experts like Professor Jacob Neiheisel from the University at Buffalo, much like Balter’s campaign spokesman Josh Levin, also take a measured approach to interpreting the tea leaves of campaign finance. Neiheisel said he thinks of money in two ways: what it can do for you practically, and what it signifies.

“A lot of small dollar donations typically are going to signify enthusiasm for your candidate,” Neiheisel said. “Where I’m a little more cautious this year is that a lot of those small dollar donations are coming through a super-PAC called ActBlue,” he said.

ActBlue is a tech organization that provides digital fundraising tools for Democrats. Headquartered in Massachusetts, ActBlue has heavily featured campaigns noted to be “flippable” across the U.S., prompting a flurry of out-of-state donations to campaigns like Balter’s in New York or Beto O’Rourke’s in Texas. It’s a similar phenomenon he’s observed in his home district of NY-27.

“You have enthusiasm, but not people that can vote for you,” Neiheisel said of contributions from other states. “It’s not quite clear that’s going to translate into the kind of competitive race that normally would be signified” by the fundraising discrepancies.

Repeated requests for comment from the Katko campaign or its donors were unanswered by the time of publication.

The 2018 Midterm elections will take place on Nov. 6.