Sowers shrinking fundraising gap with Emerson

Sunday, April 18, 2010
Tommy Sowers

In the first three months of the year, Democratic Congressional challenger Tommy Sowers continued to rely on donors across the nation to fund his campaign, taking 59 percent of his donations from outside Missouri.

But a look at the total amounts raised show that he beat incumbent U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Cape Girardeau, in one area her campaign uses to question whether he is connecting with voters -- money raised within Missouri.

Sowers was able to best Emerson in fundraising within the state in part because he raised more than twice as much as the Republican incumbent from individual donors. Except for $650, all of Sowers' donations came from individuals. He raised $294,562 during the first three months of the year.

Jo Ann Emerson

He also increased the share of his contributions coming from within the state, from 34 percent of itemized individual donations in the report filed in January to 39 percent in the report filed last week. Including figures supplied by Sowers' campaign manager Jonathan Feifs on unitemized contributions, Sowers' share from within the state is 41 percent.

Emerson, who took in $222,651 from Jan. 1 to March 31, received $137,151 in donations from individuals and $85,500 in donations from political action committees. Of her individual contributions, $96,631, or 70.4 percent, came from within the state. And almost 68 percent of her individual contributions from within Missouri came from donors living in the Eighth Congressional District.

In the quarterly disclosure report filed last week with the Federal Election Commission, Sowers listed $96,785.77 in donations of more than $200 from within the state.

Feifs provided figures that showed an additional $23,202.50 in contributions from within the state, bringing the total to $119,988.27. Sowers raised $38,272.50 from donors living within the district, according to the figures provided by Feifs.

Federal law only requires disclosure of donor information on contributions of $200 or more.

Emerson, who listed every donor regardless of the amount given, showed 774 donations from individuals. Some are for people who gave more than once, but Emerson's campaign said it included 495 people from within the Eighth District who are supporting her re-election.

Sowers' report named fewer than three dozen contributors from within the district, noted Jeff Connor, speaking on behalf of Emerson's campaign.

"The reaction is that he is showing exceptionally shallow support in the Eighth District," Connor said Friday. Emerson "could fill the Arena Building in Cape with her supporters, and he couldn't fill the back room at Dexter Bar-B-Que."

Feifs, however, said voters care more about whether a candidate is raising money from individual donors or "special interest" political action committees.

Sowers is proud that he has been endorsed by groups like VoteVets and retired Gen. Wesley Clark's WesPAC, Feifs said. Both organizations urge their supporters to make individual contributions to selected candidates. Sowers is a former U.S. Army Major with special forces experience.

"I think people all around the country realize we need more people like Tommy in Congress," Feifs said.

And Sowers' strong effort -- he has the best funded challenge Emerson has ever faced -- is starting to gain traction with Missouri Democrats, Feifs said.

"People statewide see that she is a vulnerable candidate," Feifs said. "And the more endorsements we receive and the more people learn about Tommy the more they believe that."

Sowers was also able to close the gap between himself and Emerson in campaign funds on hand at the end of a quarter. He raised more and spent less than she did. As of March 31, Emerson had $504,896 in the bank and Sowers had $465,326.

Emerson lagged on fundraising during the quarter in part because of the busy Congressional schedule, Connor said. Sowers, meanwhile, can campaign full time and has made trips to both coasts for fundraisers, he said.

"Jo Ann has a full-time job as a member of Congress, and she is not going to compromise her duty to her constituents," Connor said. "Her opponent is a full-time candidate who can fly to New York or Los Angeles for fundraisers every week if he wants to. Jo Ann's focus remains on Southern Missouri and the people she represents."

That is an excuse for lagging fundraising, Feifs said. "It is a campaign desperate to land a blow."

Sowers is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. Emerson is being challenged by Texas County farmer Bob Parker in the Aug. 3 GOP primary. Parker reported his best fundraising quarter, taking in $8,015.

Larry Bill of Jackson, who is seeking a spot on the ballot as an independent candidate, reported raising no additional money. Rick Vandeven, who is the Libertarian Party candidate, has not filed any committee paperwork with the FEC.


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U.S. Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.

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