Challenger takes aim at Carper over PAC money

DOVER — The Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate is a study in contrasts, particularly when it comes to the influence of big money on the American political system and how the candidates view corporations.

The Sept. 6 election features three-term incumbent Sen. Tom Carper and challenger Kerri Evelyn Harris, pitting the party’s liberal wing against those who prefer an approach based more on centrism.

Through the first six months of 2018, Sen. Carper has outraised his opponent about 19-to-1, collecting just over $1 million.

He reported about $1.021 million in donations, compared to the approximately $53,000 raised by Ms. Harris.

Kerri Harris

The two differ greatly in where they get their money, something Ms. Harris has emphasized in her bid for would what be a titanic upset, perhaps even surpassing tea party favorite Christine O’Donnell beating Rep. Mike Castle in the 2010 Senate Republican primary.

More than half of Sen. Carper’s 2018 contributions came from political action committees, such as those run by companies like Bank of America, Microsoft and Walmart, although the term also includes groups like the National Rural Letter Carriers’ Association, League of Conservation Voters and Laborers’ International Union of North America.

As of June 30, the latest filing deadline for the Federal Election Commission, Sen. Carper had raised just over $530,000 from PACs, with 99 percent of that coming from out of state.

Among individuals donating to his campaign, there was a nearly even split, with 301 contributions stemming from Delawareans and 304 coming from residents of other states (and a few people, presumably Americans, living in other countries). That total does not include unitemized contributions, defined as ones that total no more than $200, because donors of unitemized contributions are not identified.

Of Sen. Carper’s $490,000 in donations from individuals, about $23,000 worth was classified as unitemized.

Nearly one-third of Ms. Harris’ funds, on the other hand, came from small donations. Despite raising only $53,000, she garnered $18,000 from offerings of $200 or less.

Sixty-two of her 71 identified donors are Delawareans. She took no money from PACs save for one contribution of about $500 from the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a national group.

In a statement, Ms. Harris criticized Sen. Carper for his fundraising, alleging he represents big companies more than the people of Delaware.

“I am concerned about the influence that these donations had, and will continue to have, on Senator Carper’s decisions regarding legislation and the use of his platform,” she said.

“It has become commonplace for career politicians to take donations from whomever; this has created a unbalanced system in which the average voter has their

Tom Carper

voice muted by the dollars leveraged by large corporations and the very wealthy. I have committed publicly to refusing corporate money to ensure that even the perception of influence is eliminated from the equation.”

The Carper campaign referred to an earlier statement, adding that “for anyone to imply that his vote is for sale is insulting and demeans the work he’s doing for working families.”

“Tom Carper is proud to have the strong support of Delawareans and those around the country who appreciate his leadership in fighting for First State priorities and against policies that hurt working families,” a campaign spokeswoman said. “Delawareans know that Tom Carper is a tireless advocate for the First State — from his relentless efforts to protect the Affordable Care Act and keep our air and water clean, to his work to bring good paying jobs to Delaware and hold the Trump Administration accountable.

“It is his proven track record that has earned him broad support from individuals, companies and organizations representing educators, environmentalists, health care providers, women’s rights and LGBTQ advocates, and Democrats in Delaware.”

The battle between Sen. Carper, a Delaware political mainstay who has never lost an election, and Ms. Harris, a first-time candidate, has been compared by many to the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th Congressional District. In June, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, stunned Rep. Joe Crowley, one of the most powerful House Democrats.

Whether Ms. Harris can do the same remains to be seen, although, like Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, she will have to overcome a tremendous financial hurdle. Sen. Carper’s fundraising success has enabled him to spend a hefty sum: Through the first six months of the year, he reported expenditures of $541,000, compared to $37,000 on Ms. Harris’ side.

Thanks to its war chest, the Carper campaign has been able to invest heavily in advertising and consulting, including hiring out-of-state firms.

Despite her status as the underdog, especially when it comes to finances, Ms. Harris remains confident.

“Unfortunately, the financial gap that resulted from my decision to put the influence of the people first means getting our message out to the electorate takes a little longer,” the Dover activist said. “However, the will and enthusiasm of an incredible volunteer team will close that gap with long hours, hard work, and sweat equity; we will NOT be muted by corporate influence.”

 

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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