With all eyes on the New Hampshire U.S. Senate race, it can be easy to overlook the other contentious congressional race happening in the Granite State.
The District 1 House race is seeing many familiar faces run again, as Republican-incumbent Rep. Frank Guinta seeks to keep his seat while dealing with a campaign finance scandal and a challenging primary.
The seat is in the top 25 “big-spending House races to watch,” according to The Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan non-profit group advocating for open government.
The average winning House campaign in 2014 cost approximately $1.2 million, according to an OpenSecrets.org analysis, and the top District 1 candidates will likely surpass that amount, as they have in previous election cycles.
NH Journal analyzed the cash on hand and amount raised/spent by candidates for reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. Those candidates include Guinta and former BAE Systems executive Rich Ashooh for the Republican Party, former U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter for the Democratic Party, and Bedford businessman Shawn O’Connor as an Independent.
The amount in each candidate’s war chest at the end of June is a good indicator of the current state of the District 1 race. As Guinta and Ashooh duke it out in the Republican primary, Shea-Porter will not face a Democratic challenger in her primary. She can use her primary funds to build her image with voters and save money for the general election.
Shea-Porter is looking for a comeback. She first won the District 1 seat in 2006 and won re-election in 2008. Guinta unseated her in 2010, and then Shea-Porter won the seat back in 2012. Guinta won it again in 2014 by fewer than 4 points.
O’Connor was challenging Shea-Porter in the Democratic primary, but he withdrew in June to run as an Independent. He’s currently not far behind Ashooh in cash on hand (only $58,659).
Shea-Porter leads all of the candidates with $342,231, which is $127,304 more than Guinta and $209,240 more than Ashooh.
But if we take a look at the cash on hand figures from the first quarter of this year (January-March), we see a very different picture.
See a big difference with O’Connor? At the end of the first quarter, he led all other candidates in cash on hand at $720,598. However, a majority of that money was from loans he made to his campaign.
His campaign committee repaid $500,000 in the second quarter that O’Connor loaned his campaign in March 2015 (hence the big difference between the two graphs). O’Connor still has a second $500,000 loan from his personal funds dated back in June 2015 that remains unpaid.
O’Connor has the option to self-fund his campaign with these loans rather than pay himself back.
So what happened to Guinta? Why did he have such a low cash on hand figure ($76,206) compared to Shea-Porter ($253,932) in the first few months of the year?
Remember that whole campaign finance scandal?
In 2015, the FEC found that Guinta violated campaign finance rules by accepting $355,000 in illegal campaign contributions during his 2010 House campaign.
Guinta originally reported the donations as a loan from himself and told the commission they came from a family fund that he contributed to and managed. For the 2010 election, individual contributions, including family members, were limited to $2,400 per person for the primary and general election.
The FEC mandated him to pay the $355,000 back along with a $15,000 fine, which Guinta paid in January 2016 (which explains the low cash on hand amount).
However, the FEC has recently been asked to investigate another allegation that Guinta violated campaign finance rules. Former state GOP chairman Fergus Cullen filed a complaint with the FEC on June 21 alleging that Guinta kept $81,500 when he returned the $355,000 in illegal campaign donations.
The complaint pointed out that the Guinta campaign committee repaid the $81,500 loan to Guinta between 2010 and 2015, but then there is no record of Guinta returning the money to his campaign before they repaid the $355,000 to the family fund.
Cullen argued that Guinta’s failure to return the $81,500 to his campaign committee shows that he “illegally received and retained $81,500 in contributions from his campaign for personal use.”
According to FEC filings, Guinta made a payment of $81,500 to his campaign committee during the second quarter to fix that error.
While Shea-Porter and O’Connor are hoping to capitalize on Guinta’s campaign finance scandal, Ashooh stands the most to benefit if successful in the Republican primary in September.
Ashooh didn’t enter the race until the end of the first fundraising quarter, and thus had low fundraising for that period. Overall, he netted $132,430 in three months, indicating a strong challenge to Guinta.
Ashooh previously ran for the District 1 seat in 2010, narrowly losing to Guinta.
So, let’s take a look at how much money the candidates raised from April to June 2016:
After a rocky start to his primary campaign, which included his campaign finance scandal and several high-ranking Republicans like U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte asking him to resign, Guinta is looking to get back on track.
He isn’t too far behind Ashooh and Shea-Porter. Guinta’s campaign raised $115,195 from contributions from April to June and the additional $81,500 from Guinta’s personal fund brought the campaign’s total receipts for the quarter to $196,695. As the primary draws closer, it’ll be interesting to see how his campaign finances fare against his opponents.
O’Connor’s second-quarter fundraising report highlights his difficulty of building grassroots support compared to his challengers. He raised $19,141 in three months, significantly lower than the other candidates.
Ashooh took the crown for the highest fundraising amount in the second quarter. He outraised Guinta by $35,080 and Shea-Porter by $24,546.
All candidates spent between $57,000 to $120,000 (excluding O’Connor’s outlier of $665,000 to repay his loan) in the second quarter, but we can expect to see those amounts increase as the primary and general draw closer.