Fred Thompson's Fundraising Tales

Fred Thompson, although experiencing an early shake up in his campaign team and still maintaining his “testing the waters” status, clearly is preparing his presidential run and has ramped up his fundraising efforts of late, holding big ticket fundraisers in Atlanta, Baton Rouge, North Chatham, Massachusetts and Alabama. Meanwhile he continues to acquire staff and engage e-campaign and direct mail firms to plan his run.

Thompson spokesman Mark Corallo confirmed that at the end of this month Fred Thompson’s “testing the waters” campaign will file the required IRS form (8872) which will reveal Thompson’s contributions and expenditures up through June 30.

Speculation runs rampant as to what amounts he has raised and how much he is spending on his not yet official campaign. After his website went live, Thompson supporters initially said they had raised $12, 000 per hour (e.g. $220,000 in the first 18 hours). If that pace continued the amount for June online fundraising alone would be almost $7.5M. When other reports surfaced suggesting that the number would be $5M Thompson supporters demurred and a $2M figure was tossed out.

If one considers June to be a typical early month for Thompson when the easy contributions from devoted supporters can be scooped up (“low hanging fruit” the political gurus usually call it), we can expect some significant dollars to be reported. Some points of reference include Mitt Romney who raised $6.5 in one day last December. In the month of March the Giuliani camp raised over $10M. John McCain, whose disappointing fundraising results have forced a wholesale revision of his campaign, raised $12.5 in the 1st Quarter of 2007, over $8M in March alone.

A large sum in the $5-8M range is certain to confirm that the Republican base is willing to support his candidacy and that his opponents will have stiff competition as they search for additional dollars to fuel their campaigns. Larry J. Sabato concurs, saying “If he wants to avoid a barrage of tut-tutting, the number had better be in the mid-single digits. Frankly, $2 million will be laughed at.”

Thompson’s supporters may regret floating those high figures and try to reset expectations, explaining that Thompson is not a real candidate yet and is not up to speed in fundraising operations. Sabato thinks that won’t fly, explaining “Thompson’s [potential] excuses — I haven’t been a candidate, it’s not fair to judge me by the same standards — won’t sell, for the most part. If you want to play with the big boys, you have to keep up with the big boys.”

What about Thompson’s July activity? His next 8872 form would be due January 31, 2008 covering July 1 through December 31. However, Thompson will presumably not file this since he will have filed as a candidate with the FEC by then. If he does declare with the FEC during the 3rd Quarter, he would have to file his FEC report on October 15 covering fundraising activity and expenditures in July, August and September. But it is possible that we may not get a full picture of Thompson’s campaign efforts until after the first round of primaries.

If, for example, he becomes a candidate September 6 and files his FEC form declaring his candidacy 15 days later on September 21, he can file his "Statement of Organization" 10 days after that on October 1 which would take him into the 4th Quarter. He may then argue that since his Statement of Organization wasn’t filed until the 4th Quarter, no report would be due until January 31, 2008. This will take him past New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, Florida and perhaps Ohio which is threatening to move up its primary date as well.

In addition, as a “testing the waters” candidate Thompson has yet to file his personal financial disclosure form which all official candidates must do 30 days after they announce their candidacy. If Thompson announces in early September his financial status, including a look at his lucrative "Law and Order" residuals, would not be known until October, and with permitted extensions possibly until January.

While other candidates must wrestle with the expectations game and answer knotty questions about their personal finances and their campaign’s “burn rate” and “cash on hand” it is very possible Thompson can avoid any significant disclosure until the eve of Super Duper Tuesday. That may allow Thompson to have the best of both worlds — a fully operational campaign with little or no public scrutiny.