Donations Going Digital in Congressional Race
By Jeremy Alford
Capital Correspondent

BATON ROUGE — In terms of dollars and cents, the most modest in the bunch is Kristian Magar.

He’s a Republican from New Iberia, actually an oilfield manager by trade with a doctorate in industrial engineering who has never run for office. Before he announced his intentions to seek the 3rd Congressional District seat, which includes Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes, he said he knew his bid would be balanced on a shoestring budget.

So far, Magar has been right. He has spent only $14,000 on his campaign this cycle, according to the most recent reports on file with the Federal Elections Commission — an amount that a couple of his opponents raised in days.

That said, Magar has had to be creative. Last month, he held a contest on Facebook, for which the winner received housecleaning services from the candidate. Darla David, a New Iberia resident and local school teacher, was the recipient. Magar, for good measure, also fired up the grill and cooked for her family.

His campaign issued a new release shortly after and quoted the candidate “while cleaning a bedroom toward the back of David’s home.”

“This is what needs to be done in Washington,” Magar says in the release. “We need a candidate and a representative who isn’t afraid to get dirty and clean all of the dirt out of the back rooms in Congress.”

Of course, it’s not all homespun campaigning. Magar, like the other candidates, is using the Internet and social networking forums to raise money and spread his campaign’s message. It’s a trend that has been on the increase in recent years and seems to be peaking with this year’s congressional races.

Magar spent about $600 last quarter on Facebook ads and another $250 on general Internet advertising. Houma attorney Ravi Sangisetty, the only Democrat running in the 3rd Congressional District and another freshman politician, also spent nearly $500 on Facebook ads last quarter.

Vincent Harris, a conservative consultant and founder of Texas-based Harris Media, said Facebook ads are more effective than any other online advertising medium because ads are targeted to self-identified supporters of specific keywords. They also help candidates get over the 1K hump, he said, citing a December study from Sysomos, a social media monitoring and analytics firm, found that 77 percent of Facebook fan pages have less than 1,000 fans.

“Facebook ads allow you to identify and target people who are in 100 percent agreement with your values system, regardless of your ideology. Recently I ran a series of second amendment ads across northern Virginia,” Harris said. “Using Facebook’s ability to geo-target cities in the region, and then micro-targeting supporters who self-identify as supporters of pages such as guns, hunting, deer hunting, skeet shooting, NRA, ammo, etc.”

ut it doesn’t stop with Facebook. New Iberia attorney Jeff Landry o raised nearly $17,000 through a digital donation feature on his website, according to records on file with the Federal Elections Commission. Former House Speaker Hunt Downer, a fellow Republican from Houma, has notched as many online donations. Since April, his expense reports show, he has shelled out nearly $1,100 in fees to Piryx, which hosts a platform for social media fundraising.

“The Internet has made fundraising easier. That’s what people involved with modern campaigns are finding out,” says Joshua Stockley, a political-science professor at the University of Louisiana at Monroe. “You could easily spend thousands of dollars traveling the country to find supporters, but the Internet gives you the ability to do distance fundraising without leaving home.

“Someone just might stumble across your site, click and give,” he said.

From April to June, Downer spent $4,250 on Web design services from Prosper Group of Indiana, and Sangisetty spent $1,500 with ADco Creative Productions of Washington, D.C.

Earlier in the year, Landry dropped nearly $10,000 on video services, Internet registrations and e-mail efforts — one tangible result being a video of the candidate that pops onto the campaign’s site. The video was made for about $3,000 by Vidox Motion Imagery in Lafayette. Digital Donations of Baton Rouge is also overseeing his online contributions operation. Like Landry, Magar kept his digital dollars local and spent roughly $1,300 with Lafayette Websites Inc.

But as Stockley points out, the Internet is only one component of a campaign’s spending plan.

So far, no other candidate has spent more on their campaign than Sangisetty — nearly $261,000 — and no other candidate has more debt — $127,000. As for a figure that counts for more, at least in politics, Sangisetty’s cash on hand shows $283,000. Landry has spent $116,000 on his campaign and incurred about $49,000 in debt — with a pacesetting $378,000 in the bank.

Downer, who has been in the contest for the shortest amount of time, has spent $35,000 and holds $245,000 in his campaign kitty, free and clear.

As for Magar, he has so far spent nearly $14,000 and earlier loaned his campaign $20,000 and has that same exact amount now in the bank.

Aside from dollars, the candidates are also seemingly counting Facebook friends and Web site viewers in hopes of likewise counting their votes later this fall. After all, that is the endgame, Harris said.

“These are not merely names on a computer screen,” he said, “but real people with real free time to make calls from home or knock on doors.”

Capitol Correspondent Jeremy Alford can be reached at [email protected].