Case Study: Even If You Can Self-Fund, Don't

This is part one of a two part series case study of Wallace Wilkinson and his bid to win the 1987 Kentucky Democratic primary. 

Wallace Wilkinson entered the 1987 Democratic primary campaign to be Governor of Kentucky a relatively unknown but wealthy candidate. 

Wilkinson, a Kentucky native, had become wealthy by selling college textbooks first to students at the nearby University of Kentucky and then nationwide. He had more than enough money to completely self fund a campaign for Governor, but he was wise enough not to rely solely on his personal fortune. 

Wilkinson loaned his campaign $2.3 million, but in spite of his wealth he also raised $4 million from donors around the state. 

Here's how the Bowling Green Daily News recorded his fundraising in January of 1986, over a year before the primary:

Even with $500,000 of his own money in the kitty, Lexington businessman Wallace Wilkinson is far and away the most successful fund-raiser in the scramble for the 1987 Democratic gubernatorial nomination...[his] committee raised more than $277,000 from October to December, including a lengthy list of individual contributions and fund-raising receptions.
Wilkinson fans say their man has widespread support indicated by the large number of individual contributors from across the state.

Wilkinson started the campaign relegated to the "...also running for Governor" section of newspapers behind then Lt. Governor Steve Beshear and former Governor John Y. Brown. 

But he began campaigning early, worked hard, traversed the state raising money and building a campaign structure and by April he was right there with Beshear and Brown as a contender for the nomination.

He went on to win the Democratic primary in 1987, and then won the Governor's mansion, in part due to his prolific fundraising and in part due to hard work - which we'll discuss in a future post. 

In your campaign, you're not likely to spend millions of dollars. But in many down ballot city council and mayoral races, contributing $10,000 to your own campaign might be all the money you need to raise. But don't do it.

Money is the mother's milk of politics - you've heard it said many times and it's true. And I don't want to discourage candidates from ever contributing to their own campaign if they have the ability. But don't use your ability to self-fund as an excuse to not raise money from your district. 

Fundraising for a campaign is about more than just putting dollars in the bank. When someone donates to a candidate, they also vote for that candidate. And they tell their friends to vote for that candidate. When a candidate asks a supporter to host a fundraiser for him, he gains a loyal supporter who is invested in the campaign. When a candidate travels the district to do small dollar meet and greets, he meets voters in addition to donors and often gets free media in the local newspaper. Fundraising is not just about raising dollars, it's about building a campaign structure. 

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