By GUY KOVNER
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Veteran Rep. Mike Thompson and House newcomer Jared Huffman both cracked the million-dollar mark in last year’s campaign and are regarded as formidable North Coast political fundraisers.
But compared to their colleagues on Capitol Hill, the two Democrats were in middle of the pack in the 2012 money race in which 439 House winners, including six delegates, raised nearly $742 million.
Thompson, D-St. Helena, who handily won an eighth term over a token Republican opponent in November, raised $1.8 million, according to a report by MapLight, a nonpartisan organization that tracks money’s influence on politics.
He ranked 138th on the fundraising list of successful House candidates, a bit above the nearly $1.7 million average, which MapLight said amounted to $2,315 a day during the 2012 election cycle.
Huffman, D-San Rafael, who won an open race for the seat vacated by former Rep. Lynn Woolsey’s retirement, raised $1.4 million and was 195th on the fundraising list. He spent more than $1 million in a tough primary battle against 11 other candidates.
Nearly 100 House winners raised between $2 million and $4 million, and a top tier of 14 members raised $4 million to $8 million.
Rep. Michele Bachman, a Minnesota Republican and Tea Party leader who also ran for president, topped the list with $25.9 million.
House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, was second with $22 million, giving more than half ($12 million) to the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Thompson, whose district includes Santa Rosa and sits on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, gave $225,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and finished with $1.3 million on hand, according to OpenSecrets.org.
His Republican opponent last year ran on less than $12,000.
Big money and congressional politics are inseparable, said David McCuan, a Sonoma State University political scientist.
Established incumbents like Thompson raise money to discourage challengers and to show party leaders their ability to help support candidates in other, more competitive districts, he said.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco raised $2.3 million in the 2012 cycle and gave $970,000 to her party’s campaign committee.
“That’s the way it is; the way it’s been and the way it always will be,” McCuan said. “This is a game for adults.”
Huffman needs to raise money for his 2014 campaign because a new member is typically most vulnerable in what’s known as the “sophomore slump,” McCuan said.
Despite last year’s anti-incumbent sentiment, 90 percent of House incumbents were re-elected, a bit lower than the 94 percent average return rate of the previous six elections.
There’s a “disconnect,” McCuan said, between the consistent support for incumbents and the meager approval rating for Congress as a whole, currently at 13 percent.
Critics like Daniel Newman, president and co-founder of MapLight, say the current campaign finance system warps democracy.
“We’re electing the best fund-raisers instead of the best leaders,” he said, acknowledging that campaign costs, especially in major media markets, are rising.
Representatives become dependent on the big business and organization interests that fund their campaigns, Newman said. “They become high-priced telemarketers calling lobbyists for dollars,” he said.
MapLight advocates public financing of political campaigns, which Arizona, Maine and Connecticut have established for state and local elections.
Only Congress can set rules for congressional campaigns, he said.
Campaign finance was rated as a “top priority” by 28 percent of Americans in a Pew Research Center survey in January, 2012, ranking next to last out of 22 issues and just ahead of global warming at 25 percent.
Campaign finance was not listed as an issue in the January survey this year.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or email@example.com.