By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – A national reporter asked Tuesday during a conference call how incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran’s impressive $1.7 million in campaign contributions during the first three months of the year compared to efforts in other Mississippi races, such as for governor.
Cochran campaign manger Kirk Sims replied it was unprecedented.
“What we have seen the last quarter is a record amount of money raised,” Sims said.
No question, Sims and the rest of the Cochran campaign have reason to be buoyed by the amount of money the campaign raised during the January through March reporting period – with more than $1 million of that total coming from Mississippians.
But the showing pales in comparison to the fundraising efforts conducted by Republican challenger Haley Barbour and Democratic incumbent Ronnie Musgove in the 2003 gubernatorial campaign.
Between July 1 and Sept. 30 of 2003, Barbour, a former Washington, D.C., lobbyist, raised $3.7 million. During that quarter, Barbour received more contributions than had previously been raised for an entire political campaign in Mississippi.
In 1991, incumbent Gov. Ray Mabus raised $3.6 million in a losing effort against Kirk Fordice.
During the same three-month period in 2003, the incumbent Musgrove raised an impressive $2.6 million.
For the entire 2003 year, according to records on file with the Secretary of State’s office, Barbour raised $10.9 million and spent $11.3 million – not counting unreported expenditures from out of state groups that do not report contributions and expenditures.
Barbour is now working from one of those groups to ensure Cochran’s success against state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the June 3 Republican primary and most likely against Democrat Travis Childers of Booneville in the November general election.
In 2003, Musgrove finished the year with contributions totaling $6.7 million, which would have been a record if not for Barbour’s efforts, and expenditures of $7.7 million.
It should be pointed out that state campaign finance rules for offices like governor are significantly more relaxed than the laws in federal elections that candidates for U.S. Senate must follow. There is no limit on the amount an individual or political action committee can donate to a candidate for state office. On the federal level, individuals and PACs are limited to $5,000 for the primary and for the general election.
In the last competitive U.S. Senate race in 2008, Republican Roger Wicker of Tupelo raised $6 million and spent $6.4 million in defeating Musgrove, who raised and spent about $2.7 million.