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How 2019 Lap of the 1st District’s Money Race Concluded…

UPDATED 2/3/20 10:10AM: To clarify and identify the non-donor income to Neal’s campaign finance report.


The Prize. (WMassP&I)

With hours only spare, campaign finance reports for the Democratic primary for the 1st Massachusetts district were filed with the Federal Election Commission. The fundraising and spending numbers for both incumbent Rep Richard Neal and challenger Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, debuted Friday night. The long delay of the figures suggests both were waiting for the other to file, but ultimately Morse broke the seal first, shortly before Neal.

Morse announced he raised $123,000 from October 1 and December 31 in 2019. Yet, his campaign’s burn rate just as high. Morse spent nearly everything he raised leaving him with $120,000 cash on hand. Neal raised a hair under $474,000 and spent $320,000 leaving him with not quite $4.5 million in the bank, or $100 grand more than when he started the quarter.

The lone Republican raising money in this period, John Cain, has switched over the special election for the Massachusetts State Senate’s 2nd Hampden & Hampshire District. His congressional campaign ended 2019 with roughly $7,000 cash on hand. Cain cannot transfer federal campaign funds for state elections. He has since formed a separate account for the senate race.

Massachusetts’s 1st Congressional district includes virtually all of Berkshire and Hampden counties, the western fringes of Franklin and Hampshire counties, and southwestern Worcester County.

Mass Congressional Districts

Current Massachusetts’s Districts. The 1st is in brown/red. (via wikipedia)

Morse has accused Neal of mostly raising money from corporate PACs while he relies on individuals. In broad strokes, the fourth quarter fundraising figures do not countermand that, but they also paint a more complex portrait.

In his release announcing his fourth quarter fundraising totals, Morse touted his overall fundraising total of $340,000 which go back to his campaign’s start in late July of last year. The mayor went on to note that he had already raised more than any of Neal’s prior challengers. Data from the FEC would appear to confirm this. Morse edged out Andrea Nuciforo, a 2012 primary challenger for the seat, as the Neal opponent who had raised the most.

“I’m proud to say that I’m refusing to take a single dollar of corporate PAC money,” Morse said in his statement after jabbing Neal for doing so. “This campaign is powered by the people — and when I’m in Congress, that’s exactly who I’ll be working for.”

Morse’s other claims about raising more funds inside the district than Neal has in the last three years could not be immediately verified.

The Neal camp promptly fired back at Morse’s claims. Shortly before the congressman’s report went live on the FEC’s website, his campaign released a statement blasting Morse for raising not even a third of the $1 million he aimed to last year.

“How can voters be expected to invest in Alex Morse when he himself is not invested in the job he has now?” Neal spokesperson Kate Norton said in a statement. “Alex has made very lofty promises about fundraising and has come up significantly short at every turn, which mirrors the promises he has made to the people who elected him to serve,” she continued, claiming Morse had come up short on needs in Holyoke as mayor, too.

Mayor Alex Morse with supporters in December. (WMP&I)

According to FEC data, of Morse’s $123,000 raised, $68,700 had come from itemized contributions, that is from donors who had given at least $200 over the life of his campaign. Another $53,000 in contributions were not itemized. Campaigns must collect identifying data and disclose donors if they ultimately contribute more than $200 to a campaign within a single election cycle.

Morse reported one PAC contribution from the Justice Democrats, a group that seeks to nominate more progressive Democrats. Its most famous alum is New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

About $340,000 of Neal’s incoming cash came from PACs. Many, but not all are controlled by corporations or business trade associations. The remainder belong to unions or public advocacy groups like J Street and the League of Conservation Voters.

Of the roughly $124,000 Neal raised from individuals in Q4, all but $1467 was itemized. On the whole, Morse’s contributions have been much smaller than Neal’s whose donors have more often maxed out to him or at least well-exceeded the $200 reporting threshold. Another $43,000 came into Neal’s account from rebates, refunds and other non-donor receipts. This technically brought the overall income of Neal’s campaign to $518,000.

In Q4, Morse spent $124,000 on his campaign. Nearly all of that has gone into consultants for strategy, fundraising and digital. The reports do not break down the consultants’ role any further, but several of the listed consultants are known to function as staff to Morse’s campaign. In the new year, as his campaign had previously assured, Morse has taken steps to hire field and fundraising staff.

Much of the rest of Morse’s funds have gone into food and travel.

Rep Richard Neal in November 2018. (WMassP&I)

By comparison, a smaller share of Neal’s spending went to consultants. According to his FEC report for Q4, he spent about $84,000 on consultants. However, that includes the firm of spokesperson Kate Norton. In addition, Neal had no fewer than three salaried staffers on payroll last quarter. Another $90,000 was spent on legal advice from Perkins Coie, a law firm Democratic campaigns nationwide often use.

Beyond that Neal’s spending is spread out among mileage reimbursements for staff, supplies and software for the campaign, travel, headquarters rent and food. The food category includes several 4-figure bills, particularly in Washington. Most were ostensibly for fundraising and/or other campaign-related activity. Neal has faced criticism for campaign spending on food and lodging in the past.

Both Morse and Neal’s spending includes fees paid to ActBlue, a nonprofit that helps individuals donate to Democratic candidates.

The only other competitive federal race affecting the 413 is the battle for the Democratic Senate nomination between incumbent Ed Markey and Newton Congressman Joseph Kennedy, III. Filings with the FEC show Markey raised $1.5 million in the fourth quarter and spent $1.3 million leaving him with just over $4.5 million in the bank. Kennedy raised a little over $2.4 million and spent not quite $1.2 million in Q4. He reported $5.5 million cash on hand at the end of 2019.