It seems unlikely Republican Houston Gaines will run out of money as he seeks to unseat Democrat Deborah Gonzalez in Georgia House District 117 in November.
Gaines, in his second attempt to win a House seat, was sitting on $169,450 in unspent funds as the election entered its crucial stage this summer.
It’s also significantly more than the $36,310 that incumbent Democrat Jonathan Wallace had in unspent funds for his re-election campaign in the 119th House District and the $10,746 that Republican challenger Marcus Wiedower had.
Among Oconee County’s delegation to the Georgia General Assembly and candidates seeking to be part of that delegation, only incumbent Republican Senator Bill Cowsert, who has been in office since 2007 and is Senate majority leader, had more cash on hand: $303,521.
Democrat Marisue Hilliard, challenging Cowsert, had $26,116.
Gaines not only is a very successful fundraiser, but he also is a big spender, having gone through $107,937 in the special election in the fall of 2017, when Gaines and Gonzalez competed for the open House District 117 seat, and Gaines got 46.8 percent of the vote to Gonzalez’s 53.2 percent. (Gonzalez spent $69,476.)
Candidates must file campaign finance reports again on Sept 30, and it seems likely, given past performance, Gaines will report having added significantly to the amount of money he has raised for his campaign.
Launching Of Career
Gaines officially launched his political career on Aug. 24, 2017, just after the state called the special election to replace Regina Quick. Quick had stepped down as District 117 representative after being appointed to a Superior Court judgeship.
Gaines, who had just graduated from the University of Georgia, had served as Student Government president in his senior year, academic year 2016-2017.
On his candidate Financial Disclosure Statement for 2017, filed on March 18, 2018, Gaines listed his position as ex-officio, non-voting trustee of the University of Georgia Foundation and ex-officio member of the Board of Director of the University of Georgia Alumni Foundation as “Fiduciary Positions” he had held.
Gaines said he had no real property worth more than $5,000 and listed his address as an Athens Postal Box.
He listed his occupation as consultant with Lighthouse Counsel, a nonprofit strategy and consulting firm in Athens.
Immediate Success With Fundraising
Gaines demonstrated immediately his success with fundraising.
In his first report to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission for June 30, 2017, Gaines reported having raised $66,136 in cash contributions.
He raised another $130,114 between then and end of October. By the end of 2017, Gaines reported he had raised $204,800 in cash.
He also raised another $6,700 in in-kind contributions.
In contrast, in 2017, Gonzalez had raised $80,943 in cash and $976 in in-kind contributions.
Gaines carried into this election year $96,864 in unspent funds from 2017. Gonzalez carried forward $11,468.
Gaines reported receiving no contributions in January, but he received $11,950 in February and March and $72,975 in April through June.
His total for 2018 is $84,925. With the carryover from 2017, minus his expenses, he is left with the $169,450. (Rounding in the chart above accounts for the slight discrepancies in the totals. Click the charts to enlarge them.)
Gonzalez was not allowed to solicit campaign funds while the legislature was in session.
She reported $1,290 for January, $3,452 in the next two months, and $37,768 in April through the end of June.
Her balance, with expenses removed, is the $23,499.
Candidates do not have to record the identity of donors for contributions of $100 or less.
Gaines received $17,066 in these small donations, summed across 2017 and 2018.
Gonzalez received $20,239 in small donations.
For Gaines, these small donations were 5.9 percent of donations received.
For Gonzalez, donations of $100 or less made up 20.2 percent of total money received.
Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports
In order to understand the details of Gaines’ success in fundraising, I downloaded the six Campaign Contribution Disclosure Reports he has filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission since he declared his candidacy in August of 2017.
These reports were for June 30, Oct. 30, and Dec. 30 of 2017 and for Jan. 31, March 31 and June 30 of 2018.
The reports list contributions of more than $100, the date of the contributions, the contributor, and, in the case of individuals, the occupation.
I entered each of the contributions into a spreadsheet. I also classified the individual contributors based on the type of business represented.
To guarantee the accuracy of my spreadsheet, I double checked the entries against the original and then checked the sums of money received by report period against the reported sums in the report.
The spreadsheet contained 498 entries, representing that number of contributions.
Characteristics Of Gaines’ Contributions
Since Gaines filed his first report in June of 2017 until he filed his most recent report, in June of 2018, he has raised $272,659 in contributions of $101 or more.
The largest recorded single contribution was the allowed maximum of $2,600, and the smallest was $100. (Gaines recorded the $100 contribution of two people, though he didn’t have to do that.)
The average recorded contribution (arithmatic mean) was $548 dollars. The most common contribution (modal response) was $250, and the median response (above which and below which 50 percent of the contributions fall) was $300.
Gaines received funds from a wide range of contributors.
Contributors come mainly from the Athens area, but many are from around the state, with Atlanta and its suburbs most prominent.
Types Of Gaines’ Contributions
Many of the listings did not contain a precise business type or listed a unique type for the contributor.
As the chart below shows, 87 of the listings were classified as business other, and these contributors gave $53,278 dollars, or 19.5 percent of the $272,659 raised. The average donation was $612.
The 86 listing for retired persons produced $42,655 in revenue, or 15.6 percent of the total. The average donation was $495.
Doctors and dentists donated $33,101, or 12.1 percent of the total.
Gaines received $13,150 from Political Action Committees, $31,750 from the committees of other candidates, and $5,100 from government officials.
If those figures are combined, the total amount Gaines received from politicians and political committees is $50,000, or 18.3 percent of his total
Companies, rather than individuals, contributed $32,900, or 12.1 percent of Gaines’ total.
Among contributors listed in Gaines’ reports, 96 (19.2 percent) are corporations, political committees or political action committees, and they contributed $77,800 to his campaign, or 28.5 percent of his total.
Gaines listed spending $118,288 in the six reports he filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission. I entered the details of that spending into another spreadsheet.
Gaines reported spending $32,243 for advertising and “campaign communication” with Arena Communications in Salt Lake City, and another $21,733 with the same firm for “printing.”
His total print bill, spread across the Salt Lake City, Gainesville, Atlanta, and Athens printers, was $34,408, or 29.1 percent of his total spending.
Gaines spent $20,500 for three different consultants: Leading Point Strategies of Atlanta, Robinson Republic of Brookhaven, and RTA Strategy of Roswell.
He spent another $10,564 for “voter data” with i360 in Chicago and Mine Creek Strategies in Prairie Village, Kansas.
So Gaines spent $31,064, or 26.3 percent of his total on consultants of one sort or another.
Gaines’ success at fundraising–and his spending–put him in a class of his own among Oconee County’s legislative delegation and the candidates seeking to be a part of that delegation.
Quick, who stepped down for appointment as Superior Court Judge in 2017, had been unopposed in 2016 both in the primary and in the general election. She reported in her Dec. 31, 2016, final year report that she had raised only $24,091 and spent $564.
Gonzalez offers the only relevant point of comparison with Gaines in terms of campaign contributions and spending.
For that reason, I entered the data from her six reports to the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission into a spreadsheet as well. I also entered her spending.
Characteristics of Gonzalez’s Contributions
Gonzalez is an Athens attorney who has specialized in media technology and has worked at the University of Georgia.
In her reports, she lists 415 individual contributions, including 64 that were less than $101 and would not have had to have been listed individually. The largest contribution was $2,600.
If only contributions of 100 are more are included (to be consistent with what I did for Gaines), the average size (arithmatic mean) of the contribution was $252. The modal (most common) contribution was $117. The median contribution (which splits the distribution in half) was $150.
All of these scores are considerably lower than for Gaines, who had a mean contribution of $548, a modal contribution of $250, and a median contribution of $300.
Much of the money Gonzalez received came through ActBlue, a nonprofit technology used by Democrats and other progressive groups to raise money on the Internet. Gonzalez set suggested giving to start at $117, referencing her district number.
Types Of Gonzalez’s Contributions
The largest number of contributors to Gonzalez’s campaign, as the chart below shows, was educators, with 130 contributors. Most of these were associated with the University of Georgia. They gave $11,042, or $85 per contribution. (I left in the small contributions for these analyses because they were included in the reports Gonzalez submitted.)
The next largest group was retired persons. They contributed the largest amount to the Gonzalez campaign, at $21,065, or $200 per contributor.
Attorneys gave $12,152, or $264 per contributor. People in otherwise unclassified businesses gave $7,498, and Writers, Producers and Artists, a category that did not appear in Gaines’ lists, gave $5,346.
Gonzalez received $9,450 from 11 PACs, $3,550 from seven political committees of other candidates, $3,601 from six companies, and $3,101 from two labor organizations.
Gaines did not get any support from labor organizations, but he did better with PACs that did Gonzalez, much better with political committees, and much better with companies.
In the chart, $6,179 is listed as unclassified, from 30 different donors. The ActBlue system allowed people to file without completing that information. Gonzalez marked that the information was being sought.
Gonzalez’s spending report is much more detailed than is Gaines’, listing $91,174 across the six time periods.
She controlled and spent her own advertising, amounting to $13,529, with $4,873 of that on Facebook and $1,295 with Google.
She invested in support of canvassers, through telephones, food, a laptop computer and expenses, to the tune of $2,616.
She spent $6,590 on printing, $1,664 on office supplies, $1,981 on telephones, and $4,542 on yard signs.
She spent $13,221 for consultants, with Razor Solutions Group of Atlanta and Avery Murdie Consulting in Athens, and $600 on voter research.
She also repaid herself $7,500 of the $10,000 she lent her campaign and listed that on her expense record.
Gaines As Enigma
Fresh out of college, with virtually no occupational experience, Gaines is running as a Republican when his party has nominated Brian Kemp to head the ticket and Donald Trump is president. Both have touted their business experience and attacked career politicians.
Gaines’ only experience running a campaign before taking over his own was for Nancy Denson, a Democrat, seeking re-election as Mayor of Athens-Clarke County.
Despite that, Gaines received $2,500 from David Ralston, speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, and contributions from 22 other Republican campaign committees and from 25 Republican affiliated Political Action Committees.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly created the 117th House District out of a previously Democratic district, and it is clear the party wants to recapture the 117th.
Gaines, however, was able to stave off Republican opposition in the open special election in 2017 and had no Republican challenger in the Republican primary in May despite having lost that 2017 race to Gonzalez, also a newcomer.
Gaines has not been elected to local office and has limited experience with government citizen committees, yet 16 government officials, including Oconee County Commission Chair John Daniell and Oconee County Board of Education Chair Tom Odom, donated to his campaign.
All but 15 of those government officials are Republicans. The exception is Denson, who contributed $1,000 to Gaines’ campaign in June of 2017 and $300 in March of this year.
Gaines’ corporate appeal is striking for someone at this stage of his political career.
Coca-Cola Bottling Company United Inc. of Birmingham, Ala., gave him $1,000, and Northeast Sales Distributing Inc. of Winder gave $2,600. ConnectSouth LLC of Atlanta gave $1,900, and a sister company gave $500 more.
Gaines’ father is a physician, and his appeal to the medical community no doubt is partly as a result of that. Gaines received donations from some of who live in the wealthy Athens neighborhood where he grew up, including from Barbara and Vince Dooley ($250).
Gaines also has used his time at Athens Academy well. He received donations from several persons associated with that elite institution.
Gaines has received financial support from the owners of major local land developers Landmark Properties Inc. ($3,600), Carl Nichols ($2,000), and Whitworth Land Corporation ($2,000) and from a host of prominent retired persons, include former University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby ($500).
Gaines does have his name. His grandfather, Joe Gaines, was a Superior Court Judge for Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County for more than 30 years.
Oconee And 117th
The 117th House District consists of parts of four counties.
The dominant part is Athens-Clarke County, but three Oconee Precincts–Athens Academy, Malcom Bridge and Bogart–also are included. Small numbers of voters from Barrow and Jackson counties are in the district.
Gaines won is November in all of these counties except Athens-Clarke County.
At the opening of the Oconee County Republic Party Headquarters last month, Gaines told those gathered that “Oconee County is going to be the battle ground for my district.”
In the 115-lot subdivision where I live (Welbrook Farms, off Daniells Bridge Road), I counted eight Gaines yard signs on Sunday to one for Gonzalez. The neighborhood is in Athens Academy precinct.
I also was the recipient, through my telephone landline on Wednesday of last week, of what is known in the survey research field as a “push-poll” for Gaines.
The robo-call began by asking for my participation in a political survey. After a few neutral questions about the upcoming election, the voice began reading a series of attacks on Gonzalez, posed as questions.
The American Association for Public Opinion Research, of which I am a member, condemns these push-polls, calling them “an insidious form of negative campaigning, disguised as a political poll” that “exploits the trust people have in research organizations.”
Given Gaines’ surplus of funds and spending priorities, it seems reasonable to expect more of these–and more mailings and yard signs--in the coming months.