Wilson, Miller campaign brings in money from across U.S.

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 18, 2009 

WASHINGTON -- When Jerry Palmer heard Rep. Joe Wilson yell "you lie!" as President Barack Obama pitched his health care reforms on prime-time TV to a joint session of Congress, the Illinois small businessman had a strong reaction:

It's about time.

Palmer, a Republican who lives in the town of Lincoln. roughly midway between Chicago and St. Louis, didn't know Wilson before his yell the night of Sept. 9. But he went online and contributed $250 to the congressman from Springdale in Lexington County.

"He spoke the truth," Palmer said Friday of Wilson. "He called Obama the liar that he is."

In Akron, Ohio, Dr. Mehool Patel also had a visceral response to Wilson's yell:

What a buffoon.

Patel, a Democrat, had no idea who might be running against Wilson in the 2010 election, but the oncologist found challenger Rob Miller's campaign Web site and donated $500 before midnight that very evening.

"I didn't know who Mr. Wilson's opponent was until he opened his mouth," Patel told McClatchy. "I watched the president's speech and was horrified. I found Mr. Wilson's comment to be extremely rude and disrespectful."

Over the next 24 hours, thousands of people from all 50 states contributed a total of almost $400,000 to each of the campaigns of Wilson and Miller, according to new finance records filed with the Federal Election Commission.

That total is certainly a one-day record for any congressional race ever in South Carolina -- and, quite possibly, the biggest one-day hauls for U.S. House candidates in the nation's history.

Over the next 21 days, through the Sept. 30 end of this year's third quarter, Wilson and Miller combined to raise $4.34 million -- more than Democratic Rep. John Spratt and GOP challenger Ralph Norman collected over two years for their 2000 election in what had been the state's richest U.S. House race ever.

No less remarkably, the vast majority of the largest donors to Wilson or Miller live outside South Carolina -- 77 percent of Wilson's new backers, and 86 percent of Miller's recent supporters.

These figures provide the best proof yet that Wilson's now-famous yell instantaneously transformed his re-election campaign into a national contest that will be among the most closely watched -- and best-financed -- races in the 2010 elections.

Charles Bierbauer, dean of the School of Communications and Information Studies at USC-Columbia, is amazed by the capability of one short, loud utterance to galvanize so many Americans.

"The magnetic power of those two words is astonishing," Bierbauer said. "The polarizing aspect of Wilson's outburst has attracted both those who support him and those who now seek to depose him."

Bierbauer said there might not be another instance in U.S. political history when a brief, presumably spontaneous exclamation has opened so many wallets so quickly.

"I'm a little hard-pressed to think of a singular action that has had that kind of catalytic effect," he said. "Usually it takes more of a conscious effort to attract so much money."

The Wilson-Miller campaign is a rematch of their 2008 contest, which Wilson won by 54 percent to 46 percent. They combined to spend less than $1.8 million over the whole 24-month period, with Miller using half of his $609,365 haul to defeat Blaine Lotz in a tough Democratic primary.

Wilson, a former military lawyer and retired Army National Guard colonel, says he's turned down all but a few of the hundreds of requests he's received nationwide to address Republican groups or to campaign with GOP candidates.

Wilson, 62, declined to be interviewed about the updated campaign finance report filed late Thursday with the FEC, and aides refused to explain why he didn't want to discuss it.

Instead, the Wilson aides produced written answers to questions from McClatchy.

"I am grateful to have the support of over 50,000 people from across South Carolina and the United States," Wilson said in one statement. "People in America are very concerned about the future of this country and want their leaders in Washington to stand up for them."

Wilson isn't concerned that most of his newfound campaign wealth was provided by folks outside South Carolina.

"It shows me that people all over the country, not just in South Carolina, are fed up with the growing size of government," he said in another statement. "I received an overwhelming number of notes and calls from people who want us to stop a government takeover of health care."

Wilson's reticence with reporters differs from his gregariousness with 2nd Congressional District constituents and Upstate conservative activists.

Since his yell, enthusiastic supporters have greeted Wilson at rallies from Greenville to Hilton Head, and he was to hold three town hall meetings Saturday at high schools in Orangeburg, Barnwell and Hampton counties.

Miller, an Iraq War veteran and former Marine Corps captain, has adopted a different strategy than Wilson's approach.

Miller, 35, has held no public events in the last six weeks -- but he was glad to talk about his fund-raising prowess.

"This is all a result of Congressman Wilson's childish outburst," Miller told McClatchy. "His actions really touched a lot of Americans. I've been very honored by the support we've received. We've been raising money from Republicans, Democrats and independents."

Miller said the national attention and financial backing won't change his focus on creating jobs, modernizing infrastructure and championing economic development in the 2nd District, which cuts a broad swatch from the Midlands down through the Lowcountry.

"My focus was South Carolina last campaign when nobody knew about us, and my focus is South Carolina now," he said. "We actually have the ability (thanks to the increased funds) to create a professional, focused campaign. I'll be reaching out to every household and talking with folks about getting a representative who will actually represent South Carolina."

The "you lie" episode could have an unhappy impact on office-seekers elsewhere in South Carolina: The boatloads of money for Wilson and Miller might drain resources from other campaigns.

Just as the two men have received contributions from across the country, they've collected money from people in each of the state's 46 counties.

Herbert Farber, a retired commercial real estate developer, lives in Camden. His congressman is Rep. John Spratt, a York Democrat, but Farber contributed $250 to Miller after Wilson shouted at Obama.

"I thought that Congressman Wilson's outburst was an outrage," Farber said. "It was so disrespectful to the office of the presidency. I would have felt the same way if it had been done to President (George W.) Bush."

An avalanche of dollars

Republican Rep. Joe Wilson and Democratic challenger Rob Miller raised record sums of money in the 22 days from Wilson's "you lie!" yell at President Barack Obama on Sept. 9 through Sept. 30, the end of the third-quarter reporting period for campaign finances. (The single-day figures below are extrapolated from detailed data on large donors because campaigns are required to itemize only contributions of $200 or more.)

............................................................ Wilson..............................Miller

2009, through Sept. 30:..........................$3 million...................$1.75 million

Jan. 1-June 30.................................... $310,038.....................$50,415

July 1-Sept. 8(pre-yell):........................$44,925.......................$9,162

Sept. 9-Sept. 30 (post-yell):................$2.65 million.................$1.69 million

Average per day (post-yell):.................$120,455....................... $76,818

Most in a single day (estimate):Sept. 10: $388,709............Sept. 10: $370,312

2009, number of donors through Sept. 30:..........50,000..............................44,000

Donors, $200 or more:..........................1,068.............................. 1,046

Large donors inside SC:...................247................... 142

Large donors outside SC:.........................821..................................902

Sources: Federal Election Commission; Wilson, Miller campaigns

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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