Sanders and Welch Raising Big Bucks for Reelection, Despite Lack of Strong Opponents
But U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) are raising serious cash for their 2012 reelection campaigns nonetheless.
The reason? Both say that Citizens United changed the game, leaving them vulnerable to attacks from monied interests who would like to defeat them.
The Sanders campaign reported raising $944,157 during the first three months of this year, and has $3.6 million in cash on hand.
Welch's quarterly fundraising haul was $96,080 and he has $1.2 million in cash on hand.
Welch is facing no declared Republican opponent in his bid for a fourth term in Congress. Sanders is facing Republican John MacGovern of Windsor, a former Massachusetts lawmaker who entered the campaign in March and is widely viewed as an underdog. Sanders is seeking a second six-year term.
The senator has raised $5.2 million for the 2012 election cycle — $4.9 million from individuals and $365,966 from political committees such as PACs, according to a Federal Election Commission report filed this week. To date, Sanders' campaign has spent $2.1 million.
Welch has raised $545,337 for the cycle — $221,169 from individuals and $324,100 from PACs. To date, the Welch camp has spent $218,505.
MacGovern had not filed a fundraising report with the FEC as of Wednesday and did not immediately return phone or email messages seeking comment.
On Wednesday, Sanders sought to play up the number of individual contributors who donated to his campaign — 103,341, for an average of $50 per donor — and to head off criticism about the sheer size of the candidate's war chest.
"While the amount of money may seem like a lot, if you compare it to what every other senator has raised, it is at the very, very low end," said Ben Eisenberg, the campaign's finance director. "Number two, let’s not forget that in politics you never know what is going to happen. In 2006, for example, Bernie ran against a candidate who spent $7 million — $2 million more than he did."
Lastly, Eisenberg said that in the post-Citizens United political world, Sanders has to prepare for the worst.
"It is not clear yet who Bernie will end up running against and it is certainly not clear that right-wing Republican organizations will not pour large sums of money into Vermont," he said. "It is absolutely possible that they may not. Unfortunately, in politics we have to be prepared for all eventualities. Bernie does not want to be in a position where he would not be able to respond to a barrage of negative attack ads from corporate America."
Eisenberg claimed that Sanders' number of small-dollar contributors is "two to three times greater than any other incumbent Senate campaign," according to Federal Election Commission reports.
Welch campaign spokesman Scott Coriell said the congressman believes the nation's campaign finance system is "beyond broken, especially in the aftermath of Citizens United."
"For his reelection campaign, we are operating under the rules of the broken system, which means that Karl Rove or Sheldon Adelson can drop a million dollars on Vermont two weeks before the election because Peter has been a vigorous opponent of their priorities in Congress," said Coriell. He added that Welch favors overturning Citizens United — the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed corporations and unions to spend unlimited sums in campaigns — and establishing publicly financed campaigns.
Coriell said the idea of a super PAC going after Welch is "not an academic notion."
"In 2010, two of Peter's closest colleagues, Bruce Braley of Iowa and Peter DeFazio of Oregon, both progressive Democrats, had specific businessmen unexpectedly open their wallets in their races late in the cycle. Both were nearly defeated," Coriell said. "And, just this week, the New York Times reported that Sheldon Adelson has shifted his attention and resources from Newt Gingrich to House Republican races. "
Lastly, Coriell said that the Valley News has reported that a Hartford Republican has said he will challenge Welch and quoted Vermont GOP chair Jack Lindley as saying there are others considering a run.
"Consequently," Coriell said, "Peter is taking nothing for granted in this election."
Photo credit: Andy Bromage