HOWEY: 'Green wave' spreads across Indiana

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Brian Howey

NASHVILLE, Ind. (Howey Politics) – There’s been much talk about the “pink wave” in this year’s elections with the emergence of 11 female candidates running for Congress in Indiana and more than 50 running for the General Assembly. But there is also a “green wave,” represented by rich candidates who are mostly self-funding their campaigns.

And that green wave is sweeping across Indiana’s prairies and amber waves of grain.

The most conspicuous is Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike Braun, who as of March 31 had loaned his campaign $5.5 million. In the 2nd Congressional District, Mel Hall and Yatish Joshi are seeking the Democratic nomination with thick checkbooks. In the Republican 4th Congressional District, Steve Braun and State Rep. Jim Baird have written big checks to their campaigns. And in the 6th CD, Republican Jonathan Lamb is a self-funder, running against Greg Pence, brother of the vice president.

They are all following U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth, the Tennessee transplant who moved in Jeffersonville in 2016. He received $3 million in loans from himself and his father in a campaign that raised a total of $3.6 million. Hollingsworth won a Republican primary over popular Attorney General Greg Zoeller and State Sens. Brent Waltz and Erin Houchin, all who had been active either statewide or in the 9th CD for years.

Whether it’s President Trump, or the Braun brothers or Rep. Hollingsworth, Hoosiers are supporting candidates who cynics might say are buying their seats.

“Money is driving everything,” said former congressman Mark Souder, who is a regular column contributor to Howey Politics Indiana. “If [Mike] Braun wins, following up on Hollingsworth’s win, wealthy candidates are likely to become even more dominant in Indiana. Also true if Pence gets upset.”

How much are these candidates spending on themselves?

According to the first quarter Federal Election Commission filings, Mike Braun had loaned his campaign $5.5 million, which is unprecedented in Hoosier politics. He had $2.42 million cash on hand as of March 31. GOP Senate primary opponents Todd Rokita reported $425,532 during the first quarter and had $1.865 million cash on hand, while Luke Messer reported $389,000 with $1.86 million cash on hand. But the two congressmen can’t spend all of that, as some of it is general election money.

Of the two, Rokita’s late media buys have been light, suggesting he faces a real cash crunch. Braun is likely to up his totals even further in the final week. The notion that he’s already invested $5.5 million means he’s likely to protect that investment with another $1 million or $2 million to achieve victory with perhaps 30 to 40 percent of potential GOP primary voters undecided. Messer and Rokita simply don’t have the same deep pockets.

In the 2nd CD, Democrat Mel Hall loaned his campaign $250,000, had raised a total of $738,465 and had $444,995 cash on hand. Yatish Joshi loaned his campaign $416,131, while a third Democrat, Pat Hackett, raised $69,821 and had just $25,044. The winner of that primary faces Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, who had raised $1.62 million and had a little over a $1 million cash on hand.

Down in the open 4th CD in the seat being vacated by Rokita, Steve Braun, the former state representative and Indiana Workforce Development director, loaned his campaign $250,000 of the $618,886 he had raised. Rep. Baird loaned his campaign $200,000 and raised just $12,000 more. A third Republican, Diego Morales, raised $554,110 the old-fashioned way via campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees.

With Messer vacating the 6th CD, Republican Muncie businessman Jonathan Lamb has loaned his campaign $800,000 while raising another $42,000. Greg Pence was perceived as a self-funder, but he has been a fundraising machine, raising close to $1 million through individuals and PACs.

Finally, in the 9th CD, Rep. Hollingsworth hasn’t loaned his campaign any money so far this cycle, but reported $898,756, with $657,000 of that coming from political action committees. According to Roll Call, Hollingsworth is the 12th richest member of Congress, worth an estimated $50 million. For some perspective, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa is the richest member with an estimated $283 million.

Is anything wrong with this?

When you look at Rep. Walorski, who is sitting on $1 million, some might say that it takes wealthy candidates to dislodge incumbents. In the Senate, 93 percent were reelected in 2016. You have to go back to 1980 when only 55 percent were reelected in the year where wealthy publisher Dan Quayle upset U.S. Sen. Birch Bayh. In the U.S. House, 97 percent were reelected in 2016 and 95 percent in 2014.

Hoosier voters don’t seem to mind voting in the rich. Republicans enthusiastically embraced Donald Trump in 2016 as well as Hollingsworth.

Could their performance change perspectives? With recent tax reforms passed in late 2017, economist Steven Rattner reports that 65 percent of the tax cuts will go to the top 20 percent of taxpayers. If you make between $48,600 and $86,100, you’re going to get a 1.6 percent wage increase or about $930.

If you’re in the top 1 percent (making more than $732,000) you’re going to get an average $51,140 more.

Is that OK with you?

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Find him on Facebook and Twitter.