fb-pixel Skip to main content

Weary donors slow to back candidates for governor

Republican Charles Baker (left), and Democrats Martha Coakley (center) Steve Grossman have failed to gain traction in raising funds for the 2014 election.
Republican Charles Baker (left), and Democrats Martha Coakley (center) Steve Grossman have failed to gain traction in raising funds for the 2014 election.Globe photos/File

Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, who has a history of strong fund-raising, is badly trailing the pace he set in the initial months of his 2010 bid for governor.

Democrat Martha Coakley, meanwhile, has posted unimpressive fund-raising figures since announcing her candidacy in September; advisers say the attorney general is focused on building a field organization.

And state Treasurer Steven Grossman, a longtime Democratic powerbroker whose 2013 fund-raising leads the field, has garnered most of his financial support from companies that do business with the Treasury.

While all three are grappling with individual challenges, the fund-raising patterns of the leading candidates reflect a broader dynamic: a languid start to a campaign slowed by election fatigue and dulled by the candidates’ inability, so far, to rouse voters’ interest in the race to succeed Governor Deval Patrick.


“People are really tired,” said Democratic Party vice chairwoman Debra Kozikowski. “We have had more elections than Carter has liver pills.”

Until candidates press their cases with activists in caucuses and party conventions, the only real way to measure support is through their fund-raising numbers. In the interim, fund-raising totals offer a glimpse into how much support the candidates are gaining. Because contributors can donate only $500 per calendar year, reaching them before Jan. 1 is important to a campaign’s bottom line, so that it can collect maximum donations in both years.

Baker raised $574,634 between August and Nov. 30, leaving him with a balance of $236,489, campaign finance reports show. That is a quarter of the $2.27 million he raised in the same four-month period in late 2009, after he declared his run for governor.

Both Coakley and Baker appear to be picking up their fund-raising pace in the first two weeks of December, but nowhere near the levels they have reached before.

In December 2009, Baker stunned the political world by raising $707,371, an amount that seems far beyond his grasp this month. He ended 2009 with $1.628 million. In her failed 2010 bid for the US Senate, Coakley collected more than $2 million in the first month of the campaign alone.


A Baker adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal campaign thinking, said the venture capitalist’s seemingly lackluster fund-raising stretch compared with 2009 is because of several factors.

When Baker launched his challenge to Patrick in 2009, he had to deal with a primary challenge from convenience store magnate Christy Mihos — significantly better known than the low-profile Mark Fisher, the Shrewsbury Republican now vying with Baker for the nomination — and with then-Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill’s independent candidacy.

Baker announced his bid in July 2009, two months ahead of this year’s timeline. That allowed him, the adviser said, to line up fund-raising for the fall that gave him an almost gaudy war chest for a first-time candidate. This time, however, he can tap a mature fund-raising base from the 2010 race.

“There was a greater urgency based on the environment to show strong fund-raising numbers,” the adviser said.

Coakley’s calculus appears to be the riskiest. While advisers say she has been diligently working the grass roots, she has taken in less than $165,000 since announcing her run, bolstered by donations from the legal and health care sectors that intersect with her office.

Her total puts her far below former Obama administration homeland security official Juliette Kayyem, a first-time office-seeker who netted $257,024 between September and Nov. 30, nearly two-thirds of it from out-of-state donors.


Coakley has also lost a handful of past fund-raisers who have moved to Grossman’s campaign, including Cheryl Cronin and Shanti Fry, who were Coakley’s finance co-chairs for her 2010 Senate campaign.

“Martha’s primary focus has been reaching out to people across the state to build a strong grass-roots campaign. She believes this nomination will be won on the ground and has been securing the support of people across the Commonwealth,” said Doug Rubin, adding that the campaign was confident “this support will be reflected in our fund-raising efforts going forward and that we will have the resources we need to run an effective campaign.”

During the same period, Grossman collected $455,010, the leader by a wide margin among Democrats, but more than $119,000 behind Baker. And much of Grossman’s haul has been boosted from the liquor industry, law firms, and the financial sector — many of which deal with state agencies and departments overseen by the treasurer.

Grossman has also been able to leverage his deep roots in prominent fund-raising circles both local and further abroad, including from stints as chairman of both the Democratic National Committee and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. With $847,182 in his campaign account, Grossman has over three times more than any other candidate.

“Our early success builds crucial momentum for a grass-roots campaign to elect Steve and bring Massachusetts leadership that leaves no one behind,” said campaign manager Josh Wolf.


Campaign operatives in both parties say the slow pace of fund-raising is also due to a collective election weariness, with both voters and donors battered by a series of elections.

This year alone, much of the political bandwidth was sucked up first by the Senate special election to replace Secretary of State John F. Kerry, and then the election to succeed Mayor Thomas M. Menino of Boston.

Largely because of the domino effect that began when Kerry left, there have been 10 special elections in the state this year, from Congress to state House seats, said Secretary of State William F. Galvin’s office.

“There is no doubt there is voter fatigue, but it is up to us candidates to put a very clear choice to the voters what this election is about and it is incumbent on us to wake them,” said Steve Kerrigan, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.

The gubernatorial field, too, has failed, thus far, to electrify the electorate. Starting in 2005, Democratic activists swooned over Patrick. And by late summer 2011, Elizabeth Warren captured the imaginations of the Democratic grass roots.

No such interest has bloomed among activists this year, a view party strategists acknowledge privately but decline to discuss publicly.

Jim O’Sullivan can be reached at Jim.OSullivan@globe.com. Frank Phillips can be reached at phillips@globe.com