“Even having raised ¾ of a million dollars in total, our average donation this quarter was only $52.53,” Bellows’ campaign manager Katie Mae Simpson said in an April 10 press release.
But according to a review of Federal Election Commission filings, the campaign’s “average donation” statistic may be a misleading indicator of how the campaign has gotten its money.
FEC records show that many of Bellows most significant donors have made multiple donations. As a result, the difference between Bellows’ “average donation” and “average donation per contributor” is quite large.
- Bethany Reynolds of Hancock gave $5.00 to the campaign on March 31 — the final day of the reporting cycle. Reynolds’ total donations for the cycle are listed at $2,605.
- Stephanie G. Cotsirilos of Portland made a $50.00 contribution on March 28. Her total contributions for the cycle equal $1,985.
- Diane T. Walker gave $5.00 to the campaign on March 25. According to the FEC report, Walker has given a total of $2,705.
- David J. Backer of Cape Elizabeth gave $5.00 on Feb. 27. His campaign total is $1,005.
- Lynn Louise Harrison of Bridgton gave $5.00 on March 30. Her campaign total is $2,610.
- Katherine J. Watson of Brunswick gave $100.00 on March 11. Her campaign total is $1,650.
- Harold B. Noel of Portland gave $250 on March 2. His campaign total is $2,350.
- Catherine L. Syrett gave $400.00 on March 10. Her total campaign donations are $3,000.
- Jeremy M. Suhr of Kansas City, Mo., gave $100.00 on Feb. 7. His total campaign donations equal $1,100.
- Dale McCormick of Augusta gave $5.00 on March 28, but the Augusta city councilor has given $205 total.
- Denise A. Tepler of Topsham gave $200 on March 7, but she’s given $1,350 total.
- Stephanie G. Harris of Hopewell, N.J., gave $410 on March 31. Her campaign total is $3,010.
- Sydney R. Rockefeller gave $100 on Feb. 26. Her campaign total is $1,200.
- Patricia H. Hagge of Portland gave $100 on March 31. Her campaign total is $5,200.
- Dexter R. Bellows of Hancock gave $100 to the campaign on March 31 but has given $2,700 total.
In all of these instances, a significant donor made a smaller contribution which deflated the “average donation” statistic the Bellows campaign is touting. For example, if one calculates the average donation from the cohort listed above, the number is $1078.44. (This is how the Bellows campaign is calculating their average donation.) But if you calculate the average sum given by each individual donor, the number is $2,156.88 — twice as much. This limited example shows the difference between “average donation” and “average donation per contributor,” and may explain why the Bellows campaign prefers to focus on the former.
Reached by telephone, a spokeswoman for the Bellows campaign declined to comment on the record and instead emailed a written statement attributed to Katie Mae Simpson:
“In over 5 months, Shenna has raised almost twice as much money in small dollar contributions as Republican Susan Collins has in over 5 years, once again highlighting the grassroots support for Shenna’s campaign.”
Having a low average donation is appealing to voters at a time when concern over money’s influence on politics is running high. But if taken out of context, the statistic paints an unrealistic and potentially misleading portrait of who is funding a campaign.