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Politicians Who Cry Wolf in Fundraising Emails

Wyden isn’t the only member in a safe race to claim imminent doom in a fundraising email, only a recent offender. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Wyden isn’t the only member in a safe race to claim imminent doom in a fundraising email, only a recent offender. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Fundraising emails are mind-numbing. The sheer volume (both in quantity and apocalyptic language) has a way of desensitizing potential donors and reporters alike. But some pleas for money go beyond exaggerating.  

Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon certainly isn’t the only lawmaker in a safe race to claim imminent electoral doom in a fundraising email, but his campaign is a recent offender.  

“Hey, Nathan, Ron is coming down really hard on billionaire tax cheats. It’s the right thing to do, and he’s committed to this fight no matter what,” an email from Tim Leahy at states. “[H]ere’s what worries me: Ron just painted a big target on his back.”  

Wyden is seeking re-election to a fourth full term in a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican for Senate in more than a dozen years.  

“You see, some of these hedge fund guys are bankrolling the biggest, baddest right-wing SuperPACs we’ve ever seen,” the email continues. “They’ve run hard-hitting anonymous attacks here in Oregon before. And they’re willing to spend millions to take out progressive leaders like Ron this November.”  

The email seems intentionally vague about the timing (ads aren’t airing now but have been run before somewhere in the state) and the target (no indication the ads have been against Wyden but mention taking out “progressive leaders like Ron”).  

The email appears to be a reference to last cycle, when hedge-fund magnate/Texas Sen. Ted Cruz supporter Robert Mercer spent $650,000 on ads against Rep. Peter A. DeFazio in Oregon’s 4th District. DeFazio won re-election with nearly 59 percent of the vote in a terrible Democratic year.  

So, why is Wyden asking donors to “chip in $9 right away?” Why is it important to “show these guys you’ve got Ron’s back?”  

“In the unfortunate aftermath of Citizens United, any campaign knows that one special interest or one bored billionaire with a chip on their shoulder can change the dynamics of a race on a dime,” Leahy, the campaign’s finance director, told Roll Call. “We have seen that play out nationwide and also recently in Oregon, which is why our campaign is working to ensure our message does not get drowned out by an outsider’s big bucks.”  

Yet there is no evidence that Wyden is in any sort of electoral danger.  

It’s not just because The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report /Roll Call deems him safe. The senator had $5.6 million in the bank on Sept. 30. End of the year reports are due at the end of January, but the senator should have at least as much, if not more on Dec. 31.  

Wyden has four Republican opponents, but just one of them had enough financial activity to need to file a report with the Federal Election Commission through the third quarter. Through the end of September, Republican technology manager Mark Callahan had $1,850 in the bank.  

Unlike 2014, when there was a brief window when GOP strategists thought Sen. Jeff Merkley, Oregon’s junior senator, might be vulnerable, there is no chatter on the Republican side about Wyden.  

Contrary to the email, it was liberal groups that made noise about challenging Wyden earlier in the cycle. But a threat from “left-wing SuperPACs” probably doesn’t excite Democratic donors to contribute to the senator quite as much as partisan counterparts.  

Medford City Councilman Kevin Stine is running against Wyden in the Democratic primary, but he doesn’t appear to have raised or spent the $5,000 through the end of September to necessitate filing with the FEC. Wyden fell just short of 90 percent in the 2010 primary.  

“The emails sound desperate because that’s how they raise money,” explained one Democratic operative. “It’s hard to get people to contribute when you’re safe and there’s no crisis or fire in sight, so it’s a strategy both sides employ to ratchet up the stakes.”  

But in case you were worried about the senator’s re-election chances this year, “Ron isn’t backing down, no matter how hard they come after him.”


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