Political campaigns go virtual as coronavirus fears linger

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Massachusetts congressional candidates are scrambling to re-shape their campaigns as the predicted impact of the coronavirus extends from weeks to months — seeking to balance their public safety outreach with campaign necessities like fundraising.

Many candidates have moved their campaign events online, holding virtual town halls instead of rallies. But fundraising, which usually requires candidates to charm donors in-person, has been far harder in the face of the unprecedented pandemic.

“We have pulled down all in-person events, including fundraisers, and are transitioning them to virtual events wherever appropriate,” said Karissa Hand, spokeswoman for 4th Congressional District candidate Jesse Mermell. “We’re incredibly grateful to our broad, grassroots coalition that continues to support our campaign through small-dollar, online donations.”

U.S. Rep. Joseph P Kennedy III canceled all activity relating to his Senate campaign, as well as several pricey, in-person fundraisers that were scheduled this week and next. The political gatherings have long served as money-making juggernauts, with add-ons like a photo or extended time with the candidate bringing in even more funds.

Instead, the congressman has held nightly town halls to address constituent questions, and used his campaign email list to to raise funds for those impacted by the outbreak.

Becky Grossman, another Democrat in the six-candidate primary to replace Kennedy, has also canceled all her in-person campaigning and fundraising, said campaign manager Alex Vusckovic.

“We’re focused on finding new and creative ways online to interact with voters and supporters across the district,” said Vusckovic.

That may be tough for candidates dealing with low funds and only months to raise funds before the Sept. 1 primary. Democratic candidates in the 2018 contest for the 3rd Congressional District seat spent more than $6 million combined on the race, while U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley’s successful bid to unseat incumbent Michael Capuano cost a combined $3.8 million.

Candidates understandably have no desire to appear deeply concerned about money during this deadly pandemic. But the lack of fundraising could increase the influence of Super PACs in local races.

“The fact that candidates across the country have to worry about fundraising in the midst of a global pandemic in order to continue to connect with voters underscores how deeply broken our campaign finance system is,” said Mermell spokeswoman Hand. “We need serious reform to end Citizens United and get big money out of politics to ensure that the focus can remain solely on public health, not money.”

Boston Herald