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.
State Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, is seeking his sixth term in office in November and his campaign finance reports indicate he’s financially prepared to defend his seat.
Since 2006, the 77th District Democrat has raised just more than $613,000 in contributions to Friends of Scott Conklin, his political committee, according to reports filed by the committee and archived in the database of FollowTheMoney.org, which tracks such contributions.
The total includes monetary contributions as well as in-kind contributions — donated goods or services that carry monetary value.
Conklin defeated Republican challenger Barbara Spencer in the 2006 general election. Since then, the sources of Conklin’s monetary contributions have been consistent.
Just less than 10 percent have been from individual donors. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has given the most individual dollars — $13,500 since 2006.
The remaining contributions are mainly from political action committees organized by labor unions, teachers unions, state and local police, firefighters, health care corporations, real estate agent associations and communications corporations.
The Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 520 union and the Carpenters Legislative Program of Greater Pennsylvania are among Conklin’s longest-running donors, contributing each year of his House tenure.
Before his political career, Conklin owned a carpentry business and was a member of a carpentry union. According to Conklin, his political beliefs are shaped by his roots as a blue-collar worker.
“Folks who give to me don’t do it because I’m a politician,” Conklin said. “The relationships were built because we were fellow workers and friends first.”
A representative’s term is two years, with elections in even-numbered years. In non-election years, Conklin’s reports, with the exception of 2007, show monetary contributions ranging between $11,000 and $16,000 per year. In 2007, his first full year in office, he reported nearly $29,500 in contributions.
According to Conklin, raising a substantial amount of money for the first election as an incumbent is necessary. “Your first re-election cycle is considered your hardest,” he said. “You are looked at as more vulnerable.”
His election-year numbers are not nearly as consistent.
In 2006 Conklin raised almost $344,000. Just less than $78,000 came from traditional monetary donations. The remaining $266,000 came in the form of in-kind contributions from either the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee or the House Democratic Campaign Committee. Both contribute to help with campaign and staff expenditures.
In 2008, Conklin raised $54,000 and received $1,250 of in-kind contributions.
In 2010 he ran for lieutenant governor on his party’s ticket with gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato. The duo lost to Republicans Tom Corbett and Jim Cawley. Conklin, however, retained his House seat, defeating Republican Joyce Haas 56.3 to 43.7 percent. He raised just more than $92,000 in monetary contributions and received $7,300 of in-kind contributions.
All of it was needed to defeat Hass’ well-run campaign, according to Conklin. “At the end of the day, it was a blessing that I survived,” he said.
The 2012 and 2014 election year reports show smaller numbers. Conklin raised about $15,500 in 2012 and slightly more than $16,000 in 2014. He received no in-kind contributions either year. Yet he saw his two largest margins of victory, in 2012 defeating Republican Ron Reese 65.5 to 34.5 percent and in 2014 beating Libertarian Charles Martin 84.1 to 15.9 percent.
The lopsided victories have made it more difficult to raise money because donors don’t feel it’s necessary to give to an entrenched incumbent, Conklin said.
His 2015 report shows he had almost $13,000 in monetary funds to be carried into this election year. Conklin is comfortable with that amount.
Folks who give to me don’t do it because I’m a politician. The relationships were built because we were fellow workers and friends first.
Rep. Scott Conklin
“I have only held one event this year,” Conklin said. “But I understand that I am in a unique situation and I don’t take anything for granted.”
Conklin is running uncontested in the April 26 primary election.
Leon Valsechi is a Penn State journalism student.