Last edited 1:25 p.m., June 5, 2019
Some of U.S. Rep. Billy Long’s campaign techniques aren’t textbook.
The longtime congressman is preparing for the 2020 election with outside-the-box fundraising events aimed at appealing to a broader demographic.
Over the last few years, the Republican’s campaign team has traded traditional fundraising dinners for NHL hockey games, a wine tour at Prime Inc. CEO Robert Low’s Primatara, and Jennifer Lopez and Taylor Swift concerts, said Royce Reding, Long’s campaign chairman.
Even in Missouri’s politically and socially conservative 7th District, the results have revealed a broader, younger donor base for Long, and Reding said the campaign has doubled down on the model. Up next are planned concerts of Elton John and Lady Gaga.
“Fundraising is something that’s an art. It’s not a science,” Reding said. “We’ve really looked to find sort of creative, outside-of-the-box ways to support the congressman and raise money on the campaign.”
Fundraising for 2020
From Jan. 1 to March 31, Long, who’s been representative since 2011, received $142,575 in total campaign contributions, according to data from the Federal Election Commission.
Reding said he anticipates campaign donations will reach $1 million by the end of the next election cycle. The quarterly filing for House candidates is due July 15 and will cover campaign finance activity through June 30.
But fundraising doesn’t stop.
Receipts submitted to the FEC show the campaign paid a deposit of almost $3,300 to McDougall Lodge LLC on Jan. 14. McDougall Lodge is a salmon fishing resort on Lake Creek in Alaska, though receipts with the FEC say the transaction was made in Arizona. Searches with state government websites show there is no such LLC in the state of Arizona.
The Alaskan fishing trip is planned for later this summer, Reding said, and the deposit covered Long’s ticket for the trip. Participants pay their own way to each event, he said.
On Jan. 21, the campaign made a $4,500 deposit to California-based Hooked on Adventure LLC, a travel group that takes clients peacock bass fishing along the Amazon River in Brazil.
Reding said events like concerts or outdoor activities make it “a little easier to include other demographics that haven’t always been your typical financial political supporter” but are interested in being involved in the political space. Young professionals in their late 20s and 30s have been contributing to the campaign, he said.
The campaign started using the technique back in 2015, but Reding was unable to disclose the funding amounts after the new events.
According to FEC data, in October 2014 – a month before an election – the campaign raised $10,100 from individual donors through traditional fundraising. Four years later, the campaign raised over $34,000 in October 2018, when donors attended a Donny and Marie Osmond concert. It also was a month before an election.
Over the course of June through August 2018, which was highlighted by a Taylor Swift concert, a Stanley Cup Final hockey game and wine tasting at the Primatara wine cave north of Springfield, the campaign collected donations of $34,150, according to FEC data. The figures do not include donations from political action committees.
Records also show the campaign paid Washington, D.C.-based Gula Graham Group over $28,500 at the end of January for “fundraising fees.” Representatives at the firm, which advises many Congress members on fundraising, did not respond to requests for comment.
A political action committee related to Long is the Believe in Life Liberty Yourself PAC. The Gula Graham Group also advises the PAC in fundraising efforts, according to FEC data.
The BILLY PAC has raised $3,000 in contributions since Jan. 1 and has spent close to $7,000 in operating expenditures and donations to other committees.
Contributors to the BILLY PAC include Robert Low and his wife, Lawana, owners of trucking company Prime Inc. The couple gave the BILLY PAC and the campaign almost $31,600 in the 2017-18 period, according to FEC records.
Reding said the campaign’s new fundraising strategies haven’t turned away any longtime supporters.
“They love it. It’s been something that’s really been successful across the board,” he said. “They remain involved in a level that they were committed at.”
From 2011 to 2016, U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s campaign received over $14.7 million in contributions under the Friends of Roy Blunt campaign committee for his 2016 re-election. The campaign, so far, has raised $1.6 million for the 2022 election.
Representatives from Blunt’s campaign did not respond to request for comment on Blunt’s campaign strategies.
Nathan Adams, CEO of Epic Strategies, has run political campaigns at the federal and state levels and was involved with Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler’s successful run against incumbent Ike Skelton in 2010. Adams said federal officials across the aisle have been holding unconventional events for several years.
“I don’t believe it’s unique,” Adams said. “If it wasn’t working, they wouldn’t do it.”
Andrew Mayersohn, a researcher with the Center for Responsive Politics, said that “campaigns have a broad range of strategies,” but in a search of FEC data, not many results were generated for expenditures described as concerts. He said the vast majority of fundraising expenditures by federal candidates are at venues like the Four Seasons, where candidates conduct traditional fundraising dinners.
However, campaigns and PACs paid over $662,000 to the Washington Nationals alone for tickets and to rent out the ballpark during the off-season in 2018, said Mayersohn, as an example of nontraditional settings for fundraising events.
In Long’s office, Reding said the political industry has to change like any other.
“I don’t run a campaign like you would’ve in 1990,” he said. “In the same token, you can’t fundraise in the same way as in 1990. You have to adapt.”
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