Cash is not exactly flooding the campaign coffers of candidates in the 27th Congressional District.
Covid-19 concerns are seriously hampering fundraising for Democrat Nate McMurray, as well as Republicans Christopher L. Jacobs, Beth A. Parlato and Stefan I. Mychajliw Jr. as they compete in two separate contests on June 23 – the special election between McMurray and Jacobs, and the GOP primary featuring Jacobs, Parlato and Mychajliw.
All of the candidates looking to succeed Republican Chris Collins (following his September guilty plea to insider trading and subsequent resignation) have been forced to radically alter their fundraising plans. Virtually all traditional methods no longer work because of social distancing concerns. As a result, that means no parties at fundraising venues, no visits by Washington bigwigs, and little attention so far from the powerful political action committees that often deliver unlimited resources.
"We had 37 'house parties' planned that we hoped would each bring in $5,000 to $20,000; they've all been canceled," McMurray said. "People can't write checks to me if they have no checks coming into their own house."
Still, the latest reports filed by the candidates with the Federal Election Commission provide a glimpse into the financial state of the race for NY-27:
- McMurray, the former Grand Island supervisor and underdog Democrat, raised more than anyone else during the first quarter of 2020 – about $193,000. But he still has only about $267,000 on hand, the kind of money most observers say allows his campaign to continue on a serious – but limited – basis.
(All of the candidates have significantly less cash on hand than reported because of regulations that separate funds spent in primary and general election campaigns).
- Jacobs, the state senator from Orchard Park, continues to lead all candidates with about $520,000 on hand, and is alone in counting contributions from major House of Representatives Republicans such as Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Whip Steve Scalise and Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney. He has also attracted a broad base of small contributors, while also spending about $456,000 with the most advertising so far.
- Parlato is now on television in an indication of at least some fundraising success, and has about $451,000 on hand. But the family law attorney and former Darien town justice has also in the last few weeks taken out a bank loan as part of the $158,500 she has now lent her campaign.
- Mychajliw raised only about $76,000 in the first quarter, and spent little – approximately $3,700. He promises more substantial totals as the campaign progresses, but so far has seen no participation from a major Washington PAC called Club for Growth that had promised to spend more than $1 million against Jacobs and for either him or Parlato.
Jacobs continues to command the fundraising advantage as the GOP's endorsed candidate, and with his own considerable bank account should he need to spend more (Jacobs has loaned his campaign $446,000 to date).
In addition, he earlier this year received President Trump's "Complete Endorsement" in a tweet that his campaign is only beginning to take full advantage of. Campaign spokesman Christian Chase said Jacobs' fundraising success stems from the candidate's support of the president and his policies.
“Western New Yorkers continue to invest in Chris Jacobs because they know what President Trump knows, that Chris will be a staunch ally for the President in Washington," Chase said.
Jacobs, who has also sponsored a spate of television ads, leads the pack in spending at about $456,000 during the first quarter of 2020 – all more than two months before the special and primary elections.
Parlato said she is pleased with fundraising that has produced her first ads that also prominently feature Trump (though she is not endorsed by the president, like Jacobs). Her new ads also emphasize controlling borders, supporting the Second Amendment and her pro-life stand.
But she, too, canceled five fundraisers in March that she believes would have added $150,000 to $200,000 to her treasury.
So far, the Washington PACs supporting conservative women that she cited as potential supporters at the start of her campaign have proven largely absent during the year's first quarter, though she does report $11,000 in PAC donations from last year.
She also acknowledged that she secured a bank loan for her campaign at the end of March.
"I don't have cash laying around so I took out a loan," she said. "I went into this with the full support of my family, and if I don't get it paid back, I don't get it paid back."
Now Parlato says she will rely on supporters such as Jimmy Kemp, son of the late Rep. Jack Kemp and executive director of the Empower America Project, as well as Jill Kelly, a friend and wife of Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. They and others have signed up to host "town hall" meetings to be live streamed on her website and Facebook.
"I have to come up with new and creative ways, and we're also using email and other digital methods," she said.
Mychajliw, meanwhile, shows no contributions from top Republicans and no loans. Significantly, PACs such as Club for Growth – upon which he had pinned significant hopes – have also stayed away. Club for Growth has gone silent since the Trump endorsement and has not returned phone calls from The Buffalo News.
"They were very public about whom they don't want," Mychajliw said, referring to the PAC's previous statements opposing Jacobs. "And unless I hear differently, I wholeheartedly expect them to be involved."
Still, Mychajliw says he is "thrilled" by the first quarter results.
"We're exactly where we want to be," he said, adding he believes he is already well known throughout the district as a former television reporter who has won three countywide elections for comptroller.
"The others have to spend a boatload of money to reach any name ID," he said. "We expect a lot more in the next quarter."
He also said that in view of current pandemic concerns, few voters are concentrating on the race, let alone contributing.