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Candidates find pros and cons of digging into own pocket.

Byline: Paulina Pineda

Former Rep. John Fillmore said when he first ran for the state Legislature 10 years ago, he was going to personally fund his campaign. A conversation with a sitting lawmaker changed his mind.

Fillmore said he asked the representative how she planned to vote on a bill and she said she wasn't sure yet.

"'I haven't talked to the lobbyist yet,'" Fillmore said she told him. Her response was an eye opener.

Fillmore, a one-term lawmaker from Apache Junction who served from 2011-12, said the conversation prompted him to instead run as a Clean Elections candidate to show voters that lobbyists and political action committees couldn't buy his vote.

But after four consecutive elections running as a publicly-funded candidate, Fillmore opted to self-fund his campaign this year. He said despite still being a firm believer in the Clean Elections process, he hopes that he can find success by spending money out of his own pocket as he runs for the open House seat in Legislative District 16.

"I had always run 'Clean' and sometimes it was to my detriment because my opponents had twice the money I had. This year, there is an open seat, and I figured it's the last time I'm going to run, so I put in my own money because I believe in what I'm doing," he said.

Fillmore loaned his campaign $34,322 shortly after launching his campaign in August 2017 and hasn't raised any money since. It's roughly $10,000 more than what he would have received from the Clean Elections Commission, and he said he has been able to better promote himself this year with the extra cash.

Fillmore is one of nearly two dozen Legislative candidates who have poured substantial amounts of their own money into their campaigns.

While self-funders haven't been very successful at the state and federal level in Arizona, the strategy has paid off for candidates aiming for lower-level offices, such as the Legislature or a city council.

Several past and current members of the Legislature have invested heavily in their own races.

As a first-time candidate in 2012, Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, loaned his campaign $252,167 and contributed an additiobnal $5,345. During his bid for re-election in 2014, Worsley loaned his campaign $452,000, nearly 70 percent of the $657,031 he brought in that election cycle.

Former Senate President Steve Pierce, of Prescott, also propelled himself to the state Legislature by leaning on his big checkbook. He loaned his campaign $220,000 in 2008.

But while some may argue that self-funded candidates are trying to buy their way into the Legislature, or scare off the competition, history has proven that money isn't everything.

Two-time candidate Frank Schmuck, who is seeking election to the Senate in Legislative District 18, contributed $134,338 to his 2016 campaign, the bulk of his war chest. Though he managed to make it out of the primary, he lost to Sen. Sean Bowie, D-Phoenix, by 3,027 votes in the general election.

This year, he has loaned his campaign $55,000 and contributed an additional $51,171 in his attempt to unseat Bowie.

Political consultant Chuck Coughlin said he generally advises clients against fully self-funding their campaign.

Coughlin said while self-funding a campaign is a sign of confidence, it can come off as tawdry to voters. And though no one likes to ask people for money, he said fundraising forces candidates to speak with constituents and industry groups.

"It's nice to have your own money, but then it also needs to be augmented with candidates asking others to invest in them," Coughlin said. "As a candidate you have to ask people for their vote and if you get them to write you a check you're probably going to get their vote. Routine fundraising has never proven to me as being a bad thing for a candidate."

That's a strategy Marilyn Wiles, a Republican candidate for the Senate in Legislative District 10, said she hopes pays off.

Wiles loaned her campaign $21,300 and contributed an additional $1,322. She said she has also received several contributions from voters and is actively fundraising leading up to the general election. Wiles doesn't have a primary opponent.

She said her decision to invest her own money into her campaign shows voters that she is committed to them she said she sees it as an investment in the voters in southern Arizona.

"I put up a substantial amount of cash because I believe the taxpayers here in LD10 deserve more than what they're getting and I am committed to getting them what they deserve," she said. "I am getting donations and would appreciate more but I took money from my own personal funds because I am so committed to them."

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Publication:Arizona Capitol Times
Date:Aug 20, 2018
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