With official fundraising numbers released by the Federal Election Commission last week, it was no surprise that, once again, an enormous amount of cash is flowing into District 10. Unexpectedly, however, two of the race’s top-earning — and Turlock-native — campaigns are already fending off attacks just under 16 months ahead of the 2020 election.
Freshman Congressman Josh Harder’s campaign shelled out nearly $8.4 million to defeat Jeff Denham in the 2018 election, and this cycle’s fundraising efforts are shaping up to be just as astronomical with the Democrat raising over $1.6 million since Jan.1, with $1.3 million on hand. In the second quarter alone, Harder’s campaign raised $750,000.
Former Turlock City Councilmember Ted Howze, who finished third in voting during the 2018 primary, raised $108,000 in the second quarter, which brings his campaign’s cash-on-hand total to $675,000.
The Howze campaign was quick to call out Harder’s fundraising efforts, sending out a release that pointed out fewer than 10 percent of donors to the incumbent’s campaign actually reside in District 10, and less than three percent of his total dollars raised have come from local residents. The Howze campaign also alleges Harder is deceiving voters by accepting approximately $314,000 in Political Action Committee monies.
During his campaign in 2018, one of Harder’s campaign promises was to refuse Corporate PAC donations. While Howze said in a statement that Harder needs to “return the money he promised local voters he would not take,” the Harder campaign has indeed accepted donations from Democratic leadership PACs, but no corporate PACs, by definition.
Countless Democratic candidates, including those running for president in 2020, have sworn off corporate money but still may rely on PACs with ideological focuses. Corporate PACS generally refer to a very specific class of fundraising committees: those affiliated with individual companies that gather together donations from their employees and donate that money directly to candidates — different than a PAC funded by a labor union or by donors who unite around a single issue.
“This partisan attack on Josh Harder is a lie. Josh Harder hasn't taken a dime of corporate PAC money and his pledge to refuse corporate PAC money is what sets him apart from typical politicians in Washington,” said Tiffany Muller, executive director of the PAC End Citizens United. “End Citizens United is proud to have endorsed Josh Harder for reelection because he is fighting to get big money out of politics and voted for the most comprehensive anti-corruption package since Watergate earlier this year.”
Howze’s political strategist Tim Rosales said Harder’s campaign is simply playing a semantics game.
“The fact is, voters in the Central Valley are smarter than that. They know that when you dig beneath the first layer of these PACs, it’s all funded by corporate special interests like Goldman Sachs, Blue Cross, the list goes on and on,” Rosales said. “He never had to make a pledge in the first place that he knew good and well he wasn’t going to keep. That’s on him.”
The Harder campaign says Howze “either doesn’t know what he’s talking about, or is trying to mislead people,” and even questioned Howze’s own fundraising techniques.
“It’s also interesting that Ted wants to bring up funding sources because he has spent $600,000 of his own money trying to buy this Congressional seat,” the Harder campaign said.
To date, Howze has taken out two separate loans totaling $591,000 to go toward his campaign.
Rosales described the personal contributions as an investment, and a sign of his dedication.
“If he’s going to ask people to invest in his campaign for Congress, he’s going to invest as well. It shows a lot about who Ted is and that he believes he’s the right person for the job,” Rosales said. “When you have to pace the corporate money that’s funding Josh Harder…I think that you’ve got to do that in order to be competitive and get your message out to voters.”
Howze’s attack on Harder’s campaign finances came shortly after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee unveiled online political ads highlighting the Republican candidate’s “extreme and Trump-like views” on immigration and protecting DREAMers.
The Howze campaign’s hit back, alleging Harder has deceived voters and taken corporate PAC money, comes complete with its own website and new nickname for the Congressman: JoshHarderPACMAN.com.
“I think those Washington, D.C. funders — the same ones supporting Josh Harder — they’re worried right now about (Howze’s) base, and they’re worried that (Harder) has not been delivering for the district,” Rosales said. “You’ve got competition in someone like Ted Howze…that’s the only reason they would start running negative ads against Ted.”
Even though these initial attack ads make it seem as if the 2020 election is just weeks away, there’s still over a year until voters will decide who will represent District 10. Sooner, though, is California’s primary election, which will take place in March rather than June of 2020. There are still four other candidates who are also in the running, and their fundraising numbers were released last week as well.
Bob Elliot, who was formerly running for State Senate before hopping into the District 10 race upon instruction by GOP leadership, has raised $159,000 so far. California Strawberry Commission regulatory affairs manager Marla Sousa Livengood has raised $30,535, while Modesto engineer Charles Dossett has raised $17,362 thus far.