Editor’s note: “The Money to Run” looks at contributions to the election campaigns of local politicians, state and federal. The series was reported by Penn State journalism students using public campaign finance reports archived on the websites of the Federal Election Commission, FollowTheMoney.org and OpenSecrets.org.
Two years ago Democrat Kerith Strano Taylor ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional District and lost to incumbent Glenn Thompson, receiving 36 percent of the vote.
This year she again is running against Thompson — and again faces a large disadvantage in campaign fundraising.
In 2014 she raised $144,641 in contributions, less than one-ninth the amount Thompson raised.
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In 2015, she raised $57,163 to get ready for her 2016 campaign. Thompson raised $563,716.
The data come from Strano Taylor’s required campaign finance reports, which are public and found on fec.gov, run by the Federal Election Commission.
She said the reason for Thompson’s far superior fundraising is because she didn’t know she wanted to run in 2016 until late last year.
“I wasn’t raising a lot of money in 2015 because I was working,” Strano Taylor said. “I wasn’t going to run up until October 2015.”
Strano Taylor works as a family law attorney in Brookville, representing children in foster care and dealing with child custody issues within families.
Because she isn’t a full-time politician who can focus on campaigning, she said, she hasn’t raised much money this year either.
She said her line of work has gotten more serious because of the heroin epidemic in the 5th District, which makes it tougher for her to spend time trying to raise money.
“I do spend some hours each day on the phone campaigning,” she said. “But when I have someone coming in saying, ‘My 2-year-old grandson is practicing using a syringe on his arm because he’s watching mom shoot up — will you help me get custody?’ I’m going to slide my call book over and focus on the family in need.”
Retired people donated $17,700 to Strano Taylor’s campaign in 2015, the most among any occupation category. Among those retired, Carole Briggs, a resident of Brookville, donated $5,300, the largest individual campaign Strano Taylor received.
Strano Taylor said she believes there is a correlation between campaign contributions and election results. Thompson raised more money than his opponents in each of his first four U.S. House wins.
Despite Strano Taylor’s late start to campaigning and her work responsibilities, Jared DeLoof said Strano Taylor still has a chance to win. DeLoof is the Centre County Democratic Committee’s director of campaigns and elections.
He said Democrats who meet Strano Taylor not only are compelled to donate to her cause, but also to try to recruit others to do the same. Whether they write checks or make phone calls and knock on doors to get others to do so, they “totally just get involved,” he said.
Because of the willingness of these people to help, DeLoof said, he wouldn’t be surprised if Strano Taylor gathered more monetary support as the campaign progresses.
Yes, it is an uphill battle because of the role that money plays in elections today. But I think the passion is on her side.
Jared DeLoof, director of campaigns and elections for the Centre County Democratic Committee
“Yes, it is an uphill battle because of the role that money plays in elections today,” DeLoof said. “But I think the passion is on her side.”
More people, he said, will choose to vote in 2016 because of the presidential election, and this expanded electorate could work in Strano Taylor’s favor.
“It always benefits Democrats, the more that people vote,” DeLoof said. “I think she has a real shot at winning this year, and I think that’s going to be reflected in the frequency of the checks that people are writing.”
Matt Martell is a Penn State journalism student.