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Cooper Outraises McCrory In 2015 Through Smaller Donations

The modern day race for political office includes a series of competitions for endorsements and money. And the race for chief executive of North Carolina is no exception.

Republican Governor Pat McCrory and Democrat Roy Cooper have each raised millions of dollars in advance of a gubernatorial election that is expected to be among the closest in the country.

While recent polls show the candidates virtually tied, there are differences in their campaign coffers. WUNC analyzed the 2015 filings for the McCrory and Cooper campaigns for individual contributions to the committees. In-kind contributions were not included.

Incumbency did not offer McCrory the expected fundraising advantage in 2015. Challenger Cooper raised 40 percent more money from individuals than McCrory. 

Among donations of $50 or more, Cooper had nearly twice as many contributors as the man he is trying to unseat.

"So that’s counter to the general trend," said Peter Quist, research director at the National Institute on Money in State Politics, an organization that studies campaign finance data. "Generally what we see is that incumbents tend to raise much more money and they tend to do it earlier."

And among smaller donations, Cooper also received more funds than McCrory. The attorney general received 12,360 donations of $50 or less last year. The governor received 2,975 contributions of $50 or less.

It is difficult to decipher a precise number of small-dollar donors because state law does not require the campaigns to disclose the name of any donor until he or she gives a cumulative total of more than $50.

Geographically, McCrory collected more contributions from Charlotte than any other municipality. McCrory was a seven-term mayor of the Queen City. Cooper had his greatest number of donors from Raleigh,where he has served as the state's Attorney General since 2001. 

Another difference between the two campaigns was the average contribution amount in 2015. For McCrory that figure was $487; Cooper’s average gift was just less than half that: $242.  Experts say those numbers are in line with national patterns; Democrats receive more small-dollar contributions while Republicans tend to receive the opposite.

Western Carolina Political Science Professor Chris Cooper, no relation to candidate Cooper, looked at the data. "What this tells us is that Cooper’s running a good campaign; that he may be able to translate this kind of money into votes," he said. "But it would not be correct at this point to say he has an advantage or he is a leader." 

The maximum contribution permitted by law in the state is $5,100 per person for the primary and another $5,100 for the general election. McCrory has about 180 contributors who have given the maximum allowable amount while Cooper has more than 300 maxed out donors. 

The WUNC analysis examines only individual contributions to campaign committees. As this race continues for the next nine months, those donations will be just a part of a larger financial framework according to David McLennan, political science professor at Meredith College.

"In many races sometimes the outside money is more significant than the money the campaigns raise. Now I will tell you that in Governor’s races as compared to Presidential races, it’s still important for Governors to raise and spend their own money – we still have not seen a race be completely influenced solely by the outside groups." McLennan expects each candidate will raise more than $10 million by November.  

As one of the projected closest races in the nation, the candidates' race for money and donors in the state will likely dominate national headlines. "It’s going to be a nationally important race I think if you combine this race with what we’ve seen in the rise of North Carolina’s national importance in general – whether it’s the rise of Moral Monday’s, whether it’s the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post sort of going head-to-head about the future of North Carolina," said Chris Cooper. "I think the nation’s eyes are turning to North Carolina more than they have in the past."

He points out that solicitation of funding is just one piece of larger strategies.  McCrory and Cooper are both strong candidates with strong connections with party networks. While money is important, a candidate with the most cash or the most donations can still lose.  

"I think every election season we like to think that money is going to be the thing that buys the election whether it’s the number of contributors or the exact amount," said Chris Cooper. "And the reality is that money can get you in the game, but it’s not that candidate with the most money or even the most donations wins. It’s just not that clear."

Laura Lee was the managing editor of The State of Things until mid February 2017. Born and raised in Monroe, North Carolina, Laura returned to the Old North state in 2013 after several years in Washington, DC. She received her B.A. in political science and international studies from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2002 and her J.D. from UNC-Chapel Hill School of Law in 2007.
Jeff Tiberii is the co-host of WUNC's "Due South." Jeff joined WUNC in 2011. During his 20 years in public radio, he was Morning Edition Host at WFDD and WUNC’s Greensboro Bureau Chief and later, the Capitol Bureau Chief. Jeff has covered state and federal politics, produced the radio documentary “Right Turn,” launched a podcast, and was named North Carolina Radio Reporter of the Year four times.
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