The Strategic Value of Financial Filings

Too many candidates see their financial disclosure filing as nothing more than a regulatory chore.

Too many candidates see their financial disclosure filing as nothing more than a regulatory chore. But as we inch closer to the June 30 deadline, I find myself explaining again and again the strategic importance of the filing.True, few voters actually read or comprehend the disclosures. But the press, political insiders and even the opposition use filings to measure the strength of a campaign and a candidate. A strong or weak report can earn coverage in local papers, D.C. political rags and influential blogs even a year before the election. And since the early days of a campaign is more about winning a perception battle, a strong report can give a candidate front-runner status while a weak one can make him or her look like a long shot. This alone makes financial filings a critically important strategic element. In addition to listing donations, the primary measurement of a campaign's strength, the filing reveals the depth of support in the district. A load of out-of-district donors may indicate that a candidate has yet to develop a ground operation effective enough to raise money locally. That could mean that the campaign is going to have to spend time early in the race proving to the base (and its underwriters) that the candidate is feasible. The filings also offer signs about how a campaign is being run. Look to the expenditures to determine staffing levels, paid fundraising help, consulting expenses, research and priorities of the campaign. An experienced eye can translate a campaign's strategy from a dozen or so pages of expenses and determine whether a campaign has a game plan, another important part of proving feasibility and raising money from those waiting to give. For campaigns that report loans from candidates, the interpretation is not always as cut and dried. A loan can mean that the candidate has the means to self-fund but could also point to a problem raising money. Fundraising is hard. The candidates that are successful are disciplined enough to make hundreds of phone calls. This not only demonstrates a commitment to the race, but the aptitude to be a strong campaigner. Asking for votes is much easier than for money. The bottom-line: Take every filing seriously. The early ones can make or break how future donors perceive the feasibility of a campaign and candidate. Tyler Harber is vice president and director of the political division for Wilson Research Strategies, a public opinion research and political consulting firm for Republicans. You can follow Harber at or on Twitter @tharber.

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