Just 18 months away from his primary re-election bid, Gov. Deval Patrick is spending campaign cash faster than he’s raising it, despite a widening fundraising gap with possible challenger Treasurer Tim Cahill.
At the end of March, Patrick had just $429,154 in his account, down from the $500,790 he started the year with, according to a review of campaign finance records by The Associated Press.
The dwindling account balance comes despite Patrick having raised more than $81,000 during the first three months of the year. Unlike most other statewide candidates, Patrick doesn’t maintain a separate savings account.
Cahill, by comparison, ended March with $502,371 in his campaign account and $2.3 million in his savings account — a total of about $2.8 million.
But Cahill, a Democrat like Patrick, got off to a sluggish fundraising start in 2009, bringing in a paltry $13,450 through the end of March.
Cahill has made little secret of his ambitions. One decision he’d have to make is whether to challenge Patrick in the party’s primary or run as an independent. Democratic primary voters tend to be more liberal, giving Patrick a leg up on the more conservative Cahill.
Patrick’s campaign aides say they aren’t worried about his campaign account.
“We’re confident that the governor will have the resources necessary to be competitive when he actively begins the process of earning re-election,” said Stephen Crawford, a spokesman for Patrick’s political committee.
The fundraising totals should begin to climb. A Cahill fundraiser last Wednesday, his first big event of the year, netted about $50,000, according to campaign aides. Patrick hosted an April 2 fundraiser in New York City. Crawford said he didn’t yet know how much was raised.
But Patrick is beginning to look vulnerable, battered by a souring economy and his own political missteps, including the administration’s botched effort to place a Patrick supporter, state Sen. Marian Walsh, into a high-paying state job.
A WHDH-TV/Suffolk University poll released last month showed Patrick with a 43 percent unfavorability rating.
Even more troubling for Patrick were the results of a potential primary matchup that showed him losing to Cahill by a 35 percent to 30 percent margin. The survey of 400 registered voters was conducted March 17-20 with a 4.9 percent margin of error.
Polls, of course, are a snapshot of public opinion, and 18 months is a long time in politics.
As governor, Patrick also has plenty of political levers to pull and supporters to tap — starting with his second-in-command, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray.
Murray has been a fundraising dynamo. During the first three months of the year, he pulled in more than $250,000, bringing his total campaign war chest to just over $1 million.
Murray has said he plans to run with Patrick as a team. If Murray faces no challenger in the primary for lieutenant governor, much of what he is raising now can go toward helping the ticket.
“Tim Murray and Deval Patrick are a team and they fully expect to be running for re-election as a team,” said Murray campaign spokesman Michael Cohen. Because primary candidates run individually, however, Cohen said Murray will still maintain “a strong, independent statewide organization.”
Patrick also has another fundraising tool. The governor has an agreement with the state Democratic Party allowing donors to give him the maximum $500 allowed for a candidate while donating up to $5,000 to a special fund set up with the party called the Seventy-First Fund (Patrick is the state’s 71st governor).
The fund, in turn, can aid Patrick’s campaign. In 2008, it contributed more than $288,000 in “in-kind contributions” to Patrick, picking up the tab for consulting fees and technology expenses, according to Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman John Walsh, Patrick’s former campaign manager.
The agreement is legal, but critics say it skirts the spirit of the state’s campaign laws.
A final fundraising avenue for Patrick is his own checkbook. During his 2006 campaign, Patrick loaned his campaign $200,000.
The state’s other constitutional officers are also bulking up their accounts.
Attorney General Martha Coakley ended 2008 with $548,156 in savings. She added another $75,000 in savings and ended March with $178,247 in her checking for a total of over $801,000. Coakley has used money from a separate federal account to poll voters on whether she would be a viable U.S. Senate candidate.
Secretary of State William F. Galvin ended 2008 with $1.69 million in savings and $490,433 in his checking account. He raised another $31,500 and spent $15,321, bringing his total at the end of March to more than $2.2 million.
State Auditor A. Joseph DeNucci ended 2008 with $379,165 in savings and had $50,790 in his campaign checking account by the end of March — a total of nearly $423,000.