Republican Hal Heiner gave $4 million to his campaign for governor

syoungman@herald-leader.comJuly 7, 2014 

Republican Hal Heiner gave $4 million of his own money to his campaign for governor during the second fundraising quarter of the year, Heiner's campaign said Monday.

Heiner, a wealthy businessman and former Louisville Metro councilman, reported to the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance that he had more than $3.9 million in cash on hand at the end of June after having amassed more than $4.3 million since getting in the race in early March.

"It is going to take a political outsider to bring much-needed changes to Frankfort, and Hal's success in job attraction and growing a business makes him ideal for the job of governor," campaign manager Joe Burgan said. "It is obvious that Hal is deeply committed to public service and believes that the future of Kentucky is worth investing in."

Hein er gave his campaign $200,000 during the first three months of the year and raised about $86,000.

Heiner is the only announced Republican candidate for governor, but Agriculture Commissioner James Comer told the Herald-Leader last week that he would announce his intentions in late July or early August, with an official announcement likely in mid-September.

Comer said Monday he was not surprised by the massive cash injection Hein er made to his campaign.

"I believe with all my heart that you cannot buy a race for governor," Comer said. "You need grass-roots support, and I do not see that support for Hal Heiner as I travel around the state."

Scott Jennings, a longtime Republican operative not affiliated with either candidate, called Heiner's big gift "impressive," but he warned that such an enormous contribution was a "two-edged sword."

Jennings said that starting the campaign with such a big cash advantage "gives you a jump-start on your budget, gives potential supporters a reason to take notice and might worry potential opponents ... (but) you may face donors who now feel like they are off the hook and don't need to write a personal check."

However his campaign gets money, Heiner will need to outspend Comer to catch up in general awareness of Comer's name and personal story, Jennings said.

"If Heiner's advantage is being able to write the big check, then Comer's is in having run statewide and earning free media by doing a good job as agriculture commissioner," he said.

In general, a big infusion of cash by a candidate is aimed at raising name recognition, but "more than that is needed to win," said Don Dugi, a Transylvania University political science professor.

Heiner will need a strong network of local supporters to accompany his campaign cash, Dugi and Jennings said.

"The most critical issue in a governor's race is building a network that helps you with your politics and your fundraising," Jennings said. "Whether a candidate self-funds or not, it is imperative that any slate wishing to be successful builds a county-by-county operation that can provide funds and a local political organization to turn out votes."

Big personal campaign contributions have not always translated to victories in recent Kentucky races.

Louisville businessman Bruce Lunsford put nearly $14 million of his personal wealth into his unsuccessful Democratic campaigns for governor — $8.1 million in 2003 and $5.7 million in 2007.

During the 2003 Democratic primary for governor, Lunsford dropped out of the race a few days before the election. In 2007, he garnered 21.4 percent of the vote to 41 percent for the slate of Steve Beshear and Daniel Mongiardo.

During the Republican primary for governor in 2007, Paducah businessman Billy Harper spent $6 million of his own money while former U.S. Rep. Anne Northup put $700,000 into her campaign.

Harper captured 13.4 percent of the vote and Northup got 36.5 percent. Ernie Fletcher won the nomination with 50.1 percent of the vote.

The most recent successful candidate in Kentucky who gave big to his campaign was Democrat Wallace Wilkinson. He spent a then-record $4 million in the Democratic primary for governor in 1987, including a $2.3 million personal loan. He captured 36 percent of the vote, compared to 26 percent for John Y. Brown Jr., 18 percent for Beshear, 12 percent for Grady Stumbo and 6 percent for Julian Carroll.

During the 1979 Democratic primary for governor, Brown, a successful businessman who parlayed Kentucky Fried Chicken into an international business, pumped $1.25 million of his money into the race. He defeated five Democratic challengers.

Wilkinson, who died in 2002, and Brown went on to win their general elections.

Democratic political consultant Danny Briscoe managed Wilkinson's campaign.

"Neither Brown nor Wilkinson would have been governor without their money," Briscoe said. "You can't overestimate the value of money in a campaign.

" ... If you ignore your opponent who gives big to his campaign, you do so at your own peril."

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: Bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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