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Politics & Government

Out of state donors applaud Barney's military service, democracy reform platform

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Courtesy of the Barney campaign
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Competition among Democrats for open statewide seats is fierce this election season.

Delaware’s lone and vacant congressional spot pits six D’s against each other, with cash flowing from all kinds of sources.

As Delaware Public Media’s James Dawson reports, one candidate is competing by cashing a lot of checks from outside the state.

Sean Barney was the last of the leading Democrats to file to replace John Carney (D) in Congress, but that hasn’t hampered him in the fundraising department.

As of the end of June, Barney had taken in nearly $420,000 in the roughly six months he’s been campaigning.

But since the beginning of the year, about 75 percent of contributions over $200 have come from outside of Delaware’s borders.

Those donations are coming from people like Peter Lynch, a retired Lt. Colonel in the Marines who served two tours in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Lynch now lives in California and works as an attorney.

He says he’s never met Barney, but notes the country needs to be governed by more veterans who understand the needs of the military overseas and at home.

“There’s a lot of sound bytes these days where people think that you just press a button and the marines are going to go take the hill, but really, you have to look at the long term and what the consequences are going to be and people, I think, who have served in that role, have a better understanding that you have to have a long-term strategy,” Lynch said.

The 41-year-old Barney enlisted in the Marines just after 9/11 while he was working for Sen. Tom Carper (D) in Washington D.C.

He survived being shot through the neck while on patrol in Iraq, later returning to Delaware to work as a policy advisor for Gov. Jack Markell (D).

That story resonated with Lynch enough for him to chip in $250. Current politicians, he says, generally don’t appreciate what soldiers go through on the battlefield.

“They’re very good at getting their pictures taken with active duty military in war zones, but when they come back home and they have to vote on authorization to fund the VA, they don’t fully fund the VA.”

VoteVets, a Super PAC run by veterans to elect veterans, also backs Barney and spreads his campaign message among its 400,000 supporters across the country.

But it’s not just former military members mailing in checks.

Childhood friend Katherine Howe, a novelist in Massachusetts, gave Barney $500, saying Congress needs to change significantly.

“This is the one little area where I feel like I can make a difference: I can help Sean Barney get into Congress. I think that would be an absolute good for our country,” Howe said.

She will host a fundraiser for Barney at her home in Marblehead next week.

Swarthmore classmate Edwin Ernst IV says he believes in Barney’s character, calling himself  “…probably the only person donating to Sean who’s also voting for Donald Trump.”

Douglas Hall, a solar energy consultant from California, says Barney’s vow to get big money out of politics earned his $500.

Despite donating money to a campaign thousands of miles away, Hall says he’d ideally like to see all political races funded locally without outside influence.

When asked if he thinks he’s contributing to the problem he’s trying to solve, he says change is only possible by using the system as it exists.

“I think the floodgates are already open so the amount of outside money in most congressional districts is overwhelming and so it’s not opening the floodgates, it’s trying to stem the flood.”

But with Delaware’s small size and history of personal politics, it’s unknown whether Barney can translate those dollars into votes on Election Day.

He claims most of his campaign’s small-dollar donations are from Delawareans, but that can’t be independently verified. Federal law only requires candidates to reveal donors who give $200 or more.

“I’m flattered and gratified that people want to see my story told, that they want to make sure that voters, before they go and vote in this election, know my story, hear my message and what I want to do in terms of turning Congress around,” Barney said.

Outside money isn’t unusual in federal races – but it mostly funnels to incumbents with larger donor bases according to Paul Brewer, head of University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication.

“When candidates are on the higher end of that scale, that’s a tempting line of attack for opponents to follow up on – arguing that the candidate who’s getting so much money out of state is potentially being influenced by that out of state money,” Brewer said.

Barney’s main competitors, state Sen. Bryan Townsend (D-Newark) and Lisa Blunt Rochester, haven’t said much about where Barney’s money comes from, though.

They each take in between 30 and 40 percent of their larger donations from other states, and Rochester has loaned herself nearly $180,000.

The other three Democrats running for U.S. House haven’t filed financial disclosure reports.

Howe says it doesn’t matter to her how much outside money candidates collect – it’s about them being able to connect more with their constituents.

“I think it’s worthwhile giving Sean the resources to communicate effectively to the voters – and then the voters are going to decide. It’s going to be up to Delaware to decide if they want Sean as much as I would want Sean if I lived in Delaware,” she said.

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