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Campaign Cash Snapshot: N.H. Governor's Race

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

You’ll hear a lot this campaign season about who’s raising the most money — but the most telling parts of a candidate’s fundraising report aren't the details about how much a candidate raked in, but where that money came from.

That’s especially true in the race for New Hampshire governor, where we have a Republican incumbent who can draw on plenty of political and corporate connections, one Democratic challenger who is similarly well-connected to her party’s establishment and another Democrat who says he wants to get big money out of New Hampshire politics.

State of Democracy is NHPR's newsroom unit reporting on accountability, money in politics, and how policy intersects with every day life in New Hampshire.

With that in mind, we took a closer look at the latest reports filed by those three candidates to examine who's financing their campaigns. Here’s what we learned.

1. When it comes to sheer donations, Republican incumbent Gov. Chris Sununu leads the pack — though Democrat Molly Kelly, a former State Senator, is quickly catching up.

2. But when it comes to individual donors, Democrat Steve Marchand has the edge.

3. Out-of-state money is already playing a big role in the race. (If past races are any indication, that’s likely to continue.)

4. Sununu and Kelly are getting most of their money from donors who gave $1,000 or more. Marchand got most of his money from donors who contributed in smaller amounts.

5. Sununu got a boost from LLCs, among other big-ticket donors. (Click here to read his latest fundraising report.)

A so-called “LLC loophole” in New Hampshire’s campaign finance laws allows wealthy donors to sidestep donation limits by channeling contributions through limited liability companies — therefore increasing their potential fundraising clout.

Sununu was among the most prolific LLC fundraisers during his first run for governor in 2016, and his campaign is relying heavily on these entities again this time around. In the latest fundraising period, he raised more than $93,000 from about two dozen LLCs. Some of those were connected to other LLCs or individual donors who also made separate contributions to Sununu’s campaign.

For example, Sununu’s latest filing shows a $7,000 donation from 325 Corporate Drive II, LLC, plus a separate $5,000 donation from Henry Stebbins, who is listed as the LLC’s registered agent on state paperwork.

Another trio of LLCs (166 Corporate Drive LLC162 Corporate Drive LLC and 130 International Drive LLC) gave $5,000 apiece to Sununu’s campaign on March 16. Each of those companies lists the same Portsmouth mailing address and registered agent, Michael J. Kane, on their state business filings. At this time, it does not appear that Kane himself has donated separately to Sununu's campaign.

Sununu has also amassed lots of money from various corporate entities, both local and national. The list from his latest campaign filing includes: $7,000 from the Manchester-based Autofair Group (plus another $7,000 from its chief executive, Andy Crews); $7,000 from Newington-based gun manufacturer Sig Sauer; $7,000 from Eversource; $7,000 from NextEra Energy Seabrook LLC; $7,000 from Pfizer, Inc. and $7,000 from Lisciotti Net Lease Corp, a Leominster-based real estate company. 

Major players in New Hampshire’s bus transportation industry also seem to be lining up behind Sununu: He’s received $7,000 from Dartmouth Transportation Co.; $5,000 from C&J Trailways and $7,000 from its president, James Jalbert; and $6,000 from Concord Coach Lines President Harry Blunt.

Planet Fitness CEO Chris Rondeau, with whom Sununu recently unveiled a new statewide health and wellness initiative, also gave the governor’s re-election campaign $5,000 in March.

6. Most of Kelly’s largest donors were individuals, not corporations — but she also got an early influx of cash from well-connected political allies. (Click here to read her latest fundraising report.)

Unlike Sununu, Kelly has not received any major donations from LLCs or PACs directly linked to corporations. But her campaign account is getting a big boost from one deep-pocketed PAC: EMILY’s List, which has channeled millions of dollars to female Democratic candidates in recent years.  

EMILY's List came out with an early endorsement for Kelly just days after she entered the gubernatorial race, and the group quickly followed up with $60,000 in contributions to her campaign. According to fundraising paperwork filed by EMILY’s List, $35,000 of that came in the form of in-kind consulting services from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research — a Washington-based consulting firm that touts its work for Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen as featured “case studies” on its website. The IBEW also gave Kelly $5,000 after endorsing her in May.

Kelly’s political connections are also paying off in other ways. She got $2,000 apiece from PACs belonging to Hassan and Congresswoman Annie Kuster, and $1,000 apiece from the state-level political committees belonging to State Sens. Bette Lasky and Jeff Woodburn. Also maxing out donations early on were State Sen. Martha Fuller Clark and her husband, Geoffrey, who each gave $7,000 to Kelly’s campaign. (Geoffrey Clark is also currently a member of NHPR’s Board of Trustees.) 

Other noteworthy donations include: $5,200 from former State Sen. Peter Burling, $2,500 from former State Sen. Sylvia Larsen, $1,000 from Southern New Hampshire University President Paul LeBlanc, $5,000 from filmmaker and Walpole resident Ken Burns, and $7,000 each from newly replaced Detroit Pistons’ head coach Stan Van Gundy and his wife, Kimberly. (Some necessary context for those last two contributions: Van Gundy hired Kelly’s husband, Art Luptowski, as an advance scout for the Pistons in 2014.)

7. After swearing off corporate money, Marchand hasn’t yet refunded earlier corporate donations. (Click here to read his latest fundraising report.)

In May, Marchand rolled out a plan to push back against the influence of large donors and corporate money in New Hampshire elections

That plan called for a new public financing option that would be available to candidates who pledged to get a certain number of small-dollar donations from New Hampshire residents and who also swore off corporate contributions. In an effort to practice what he was preaching, Marchand said he too would prioritize smaller donors and avoid corporate PAC money moving forward. 

But by that point, Marchand's campaign had already received at least $14,000 from “corporate entities," as reported by WMUR. While Marchand told WMUR the contributions represented a small portion of his overall fundraising, he nonetheless pledged to return them. 

But as of June 20, Marchand’s fundraising report didn’t reflect any refunds related to those contributions. The report did indicate that Marchand refunded a more recent donation of $2,500 he received in April from Depino, Nunez and Biggs, LLC — a New Haven-based lobbying firm.

When asked about the status of the older contributions, Marchand’s campaign said they still intend to return all of the money and will be filing an amended campaign finance report to reflect some of those refunds. Any outstanding refunds will show up on future reports, they said.

And while Marchand is certainly relying on smaller donors much more heavily than either of his opponents, he has benefited from at least a few contributors willing to lend $1,000 or more to his gubernatorial bid. Those include Portsmouth restauranteur James McSharry, who’s given a total of $6,000; former State Sen. Harold Janeway, who’s given a total of $3,500; and Seacoast-area developer and auto executive Anthony DiLorenzo, who’s also given $3,500.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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