Muscatine is known around Iowa in political circles for being the headquarters of the influential Iowans for Tax Relief, the anti-government spending organization that supports Republicans’ campaigns. Their message of fiscal responsibility, however, doesn’t seem to have gotten through to local Republican candidate Mark Lofgren, who spent nearly $25,000 before getting to the year of the election.
Lofgren is a former State Representative who left his seat for an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2014. Now he’s eyeing a return to the Statehouse by way of Senate District 46 (which covers Muscatine and parts of Davenport and rural Scott County), in what is shaping up to be the most competitive, important legislative race in the state. With a 26-24 majority in the State Senate, Democrats need to hold onto first-term firefighter Chris Brase’s seat to stay in power.
Iowa Republicans were pretty happy when they landed Lofgren as their candidate to take on Brase. They were probably less happy to read through his spending habits from his campaign finance report, released a few weeks ago.
Lofgren raised a solid $61,206 in 2015, but ended the year with $36,710 in the bank, having blown through $24,495 in spending. Over half went to OP Printing, where Lofgren dumped $13,976 into for various campaign printing jobs. The most notable? $8,447.60 for notepads, which seems reminiscent of former State Senator Merlin Bartz’s $8,726.82 expenditure on magnetic chip clips for his 2012 race, where he was defeated by Mary Jo Wilhelm.
The overall spending added up quick for Lofgren with various expenses like $430 for 4×6 USA flags, $2,192 for t-shirts and $1,200 for social media consulting (his Facebook page has 428 Likes). $729 was spent on food and drinks for various meetings, although you can find plenty of legislative reports that spend more than that. Still, it all combined to take out a good chunk of money from Lofgren’s overall fundraising, well before you want to be spending that much.
Candidates for state legislative districts would always be wise to save up as much of their early fundraising as possible for the big expenses of direct mail and television later on. Lofgren will need that to help introduce himself to Scott County parts of the district where he’s not as well known. Most of all, holding onto early money is important because that first round of donor asks are always the easiest to do. Going back for the third or fourth time, or trying to find new ones can slow you down later on.
That being said, there’s still plenty of things for Republicans to like in Lofgren’s report. Raising $61,206 as a challenger candidate the year before the election is impressive, even if you are a former legislator. And the vast majority of his contributions came from within the senate district and the immediately surrounding area. That’s not often easy to do, and shows Lofgren has a great local, grassroots base in town. A number of prominent Muscatine businesspersons’ names come up on his list, boosting his big dollar contributions.
And not all of his spending was questionable. Numerous entry fees for local races were for his campaign tactic of running in marathons and fun runs around the district to meet people. He also apparently hit up quite a few local festivals throughout the district with entry fees and fundraiser donations on his list.
Iowa politicos will be closely following the Lofgren-Brase matchup in Senate District 46 for what it means for the future of the State Senate. And many Republicans will look at donating to Lofgren to help out the larger effort. But they might be a little wary in how large they write their check for if they get concerned over how well the money will be spent.
by Pat Rynard