By Jesse Wood
Aug. 28, 2012. Vying for a seat in the U.S. House in November, Elisabeth Motsinger faces incumbent U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) at a serious disadvantage.
Foxx has 135 times more cash on hand than her opponent. The financial disparity is so striking that Motsinger has dubbed the race “David vs. Goliath.”
According to the latest quarterly campaign finance reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, Motsinger had $11,000 “cash on hand.” As of June 30, Foxx had $1.5 million in her coffers.
“Well, it is a huge gap if you believe elections should be bought and paid for. I don’t,” Motsinger said. “The big question is as American people, do we really want our votes paid for?”
So far for this race for the 5th Congressional District, Foxx has outraised her opponent by more than $650,000 and has outspent Motsinger by $350,000.
Foxx said raising money isn’t easy, adding that fundraising takes a lot of time and effort, and she slighted Motsinger’s fundraising efforts or lack thereof.
“Every candidate has the opportunity to raise money, and so it is up to her to decide how hard she wants to work to raise money,” Foxx said.
Motsinger claims that Foxx’s contributions come from big business and special interests.
According to OpenSecrets.org, a nonpartisan website on money’s influence on U.S. elections and public policy, Foxx’s top 5 contributors since she first ran for the U.S. House in 2004 are American Bankers Association, BB&T, National Beer Wholesalers Association, Reynolds American and Pike Electric.
Foxx denies, in her words, “being a tool for special interest,” citing that the average contribution to her campaigns in past years has been around $325 to $340.
“I have a lot of people who give very small contributions,” Foxx said. “Here is the most important thing: there is not enough money to buy my vote. Somebody who accuses me of being a tool for special interests must assume that a contribution has influence.”
Foxx said she subscribes to Ronald Regan’s point of view regarding financial contributions and its potential influence on public policy.
“People who give money are signing onto your philosophy. You aren’t signing onto their philosophy,” Foxx said. “My assumption is people support me because they see a person that does things right and they want me to stay in office.”
One of Foxx’s supporters is Art Pope, chairman and CEO of discount-store conglomerate Variety Wholesalers, who was instrumental in creating the John William Pope Foundation, Civitas Action, John Locke Foundation and Real Jobs NC – all of which align with conservative thought.
“I think Art Pope is a true patriot and one of the greatest North Carolinians and Americans ever,” said Foxx, who is on the board of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education. “He does give me money, although I don’t get many contributions from Art.”
Since the Supreme Court’s decision regarding Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Pope and other big-time donors, corporations and unions filtering funds through super PACs are able to spend unlimited amounts of cash during election season to either overtly advocate for or against a candidate through attack ads – not by directly giving money to a candidate.
An article in New Yorker last October stated that Citizens United decision was a game changer in 2010 elections, particularly in swing states like North Carolina, where Pope-related entities were successful in 18 of 22 targeted legislative races in the Tarheel State – after spending nearly $2.2 million in favor of Republican candidates. Pope’s efforts led to Republicans controlling both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly for the first time since reconstruction after the Civil War.
John Davis, a political consultant who has followed politics in the state for 26 years, predicts that Foxx will beat Motsinger – but not because of the financial disparity.
“The reason has nothing to do with money. It’s the way the districts are drawn. If both had zero dollars, Foxx would still win. It’s a Republican-friendly district,” Davis said.
He added that the unlimited contributions allowable under court decisions such as Citizens United only affects swing districts, where neither party has a striking advantage. The 5th Congressional District that Motsinger and Foxx are vying for is a Republican stronghold.
According to the N.C. State Board of Elections, 201,498 registered voters in the 5th Congressional District are Republican; 168,010 are Democrats; and 118,751 are unaffiliated. As for registered voters, Republicans have a 20 percent advantage.
“Foxx could actually give her money to other candidates that may need it more because this thing was won before it was even raced,” Davis said. “No contest. Game over.”
To overcome all of this, Motsinger, who has served on the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school board since 2006, said she has a “big grassroots support” that has been built with many relationships over the years.
She said her campaign is reaching out to students, making phone calls, shaking hands, writing letters to the editor and so forth.
“I believe we are going to win this because people are ready for a change. People are ready for someone who is a healthcare provider, somebody who serves on the school board, someone who lives in the district and has values of this district,” Motsinger said. “I think that is a big win over big money.”
She added that when she first ran for the school board in Winston-Salem, she didn’t raise “nearly” the funds her challengers raised – and she still won.
“If you are in a David and Goliath race, and you are David, your job is not to try to be another Goliath. It is to be a really good David,” Motsinger said. “I am trying to be a really good David.”