In the hotly contested race to replace the retiring Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress, running a winning campaign is easily going to cost millions of dollars.
That's millions, with an "S."
More than a half-dozen viable candidates reported six-figure fundraising efforts through September, with Democrats alone raising a combined $2.2 million. And with a primary looming in August, the politicians angling for Ros-Lehtinen's seat -- which many expect will turn blue come November -- are pushing hard to get their name out to voters.
But on Monday, a candidate who emerged this fall as a front-runner in the money race said he's shunning a potentially lucrative funding source: political action committees.
Matt Haggman, a former Knight Foundation program director gunning for the Democratic nomination for Florida's 27th Congressional district, wrote in an opinion piece that he won't accept contributions from political action committees, or PACs, which are typically created to further business and ideological interests or organized labor by funding candidates and campaigns.
PACs can give up to $5,000 to federal candidates per election cycle. And those contributions can add up, with political committees accounting for more than a third of the $1 billion raised by House candidates running in 2016, according to OpenSecrets.org.
"I don't believe there's any room for influence-seeking money in our politics," Haggman wrote in an essay published to Medium.com.
While it's not unusual for candidates to proclaim their disdain for special interest money, more often than not the politicians who take hard lines are underdogs shunning money that they weren't going to receive in the first place. Viable candidates and incumbents taking anti-PAC stances are more difficult to find.
Haggman, however, just about led a crowded Democratic primary field as of the most recent financial reports with $512,000 raised. That's a notable showing for a first-time candidate. Only State Rep. David Richardson reported more money raised, at $517,254, thanks to a $250,000 self-loan.
And it appears Haggman will need to keep up the pace. On the Democratic side of the race, Miami Commissioner Ken Russell ($355,770), attorney Mary Barzee Flores ($304,960), State Rep. José Javier Rodríguez ($282,358), Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez ($236,576) and University of Miami academic advisor Michael Hepburn ($14,179) are stocked with ample resources for campaigning in one of the nation's more expensive markets.
Haggman will continue to accept money donated through ActBlue, a progressive online fundraising platform that is listed as a political action committee but used by candidates more like a pass-through for donors, a la PayPal. He has taken some heat for his acceptance of donations from the financial sector, as noted by the Miami New Times.
"When you are part of the 1 percent it's easy to say you won't take any PAC money," said Rosen Gonzalez, who says she evaluates contributors on a case-by-case basis.
But Haggman says the stance is a precursor to the actions he'd take if elected.
Haggman says he'd co-sponsor the No PAC Act, which seeks to bar Congressional candidates and members of Congress from receiving PAC contributions. He also says he'd also work to overturn the Citizens United U.S. Supreme Court decision that predicated the rise of unlimited-money Super PACs, and is disavowing incumbent-affiliated leadership PACs used to raise money for other candidates,
"I want voters to know that any contributions made to my campaign are made solely by friends and neighbors who are supporting the values, ideas and mission of this campaign," he wrote.
This article has been updated to include Rosen Gonzalez's quote and mention of Haggman's financial sector contributions.