The Trump Effect Propels House Campaigns to Record FundraisingBy and
Committees of both parties see 45 percent spike in donations
‘Heightened partisanship,’ big issues are good for fundraising
Political polarization in Washington produced a fundraising record as donors to both parties flooded U.S. House campaigns with $96.1 million in the first quarter of 2017, according to an analysis of filings with the Federal Election Commission.
That’s a 45 percent increase over the $66.2 million raised during the same period two years ago, the previous record. The maximum contribution amount to campaigns was the same during both periods. Republican incumbents and challengers raised $49.8 million, while Democrats pulled in $46.3 million.
Republican Donald Trump’s early actions as president have sparked a series of demonstrations and a surge of fundraising by groups on the left, but conservatives have also boosted their giving in the first months of the new administration.
“Heightened partisanship is good for fundraising,” said Michael Beckel, manager of research, investigations and policy at Issue One, a group that advocates limiting the role of money in politics. “Republicans and Democrats are trying to keep their donor bases active at the dawn of the Trump presidency.”
That’s been easy following Trump’s surprise victory in November, with both Democrats and Republicans having plenty of reasons to stay engaged. Immigration restrictions, regulatory rollbacks, and planned overhauls of the nation’s tax and health-care systems have encouraged donors on both sides of the aisle to keep giving.
House Speaker Paul Ryan raised $22.4 million during the quarter through Team Ryan, his joint fundraising committee, which can accept contributions of as much as $247,700. Among donors giving the maximum were billionaires Ken Griffin, founder of investment firm Citadel LLC, and Charles Bartlett Johnson, the largest shareholder of Franklin Resources, the money-management business that operates Franklin and Templeton mutual funds. Julian Robertson, founder of the hedge fund Tiger Management, contributed $244,000.
Helped by those deep-pocketed donors, Team Ryan outpaced the $17.2 million it raised during same period in 2016, the Wisconsin lawmaker’s first full quarter of fundraising after taking over as Speaker from John Boehner. Boehner raised $4.3 million in the first quarter of 2015.
Ryan transferred $13.3 million during the quarter to the National Republican Congressional Committee, the main campaign arm for House Republicans, which said it raised $35.9 million overall, its highest total in the first three months of an election cycle. The committee will officially disclose its numbers to the FEC on April 20.
The NRCC’s Democratic equivalent said it raised almost $31 million over the same period, also a record, with almost $13.7 million coming from 750,000 online donations. That’s an average donation of a little more than $18.
House campaign committees for both parties collectively received $13.7 million in donations from small-dollar donors, or those giving $200 or less. Democrat Jon Ossoff alone raised $5.6 million. Ossoff, 30, a filmmaker and former congressional aide, has turned the April 18 special election for a Georgia House seat held by Republicans since Jimmy Carter was president -- and most recently by Tom Price, now Secretary of Health and Human Services -- into a referendum on Trump.
Even without Ossoff’s record haul, campaigns for both parties took in $8.1 million, or more than twice as much from small-dollar donors as they did two years before.
Filling Zinke’s Seat
Other top recipients included Democratic Representatives John Lewis of Georgia, the civil-rights leader Trump dismissed as “all talk” in a tweet, and Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who ran unsuccessfully to become chairman of the Democratic National Committee and is a leader of the party’s progressive wing. Each received more than $500,000. So did Democrat Rob Quist, a musician who’s running in a Montana special election in May to fill the seat left vacant by Ryan Zinke, Trump’s Interior Secretary.
The surge of small-dollar donations has been driven by the contentious first months of the Trump administration, said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit group which promotes government transparency. He cited a number of divisive cabinet nominees, investigations into the extent of contacts between Trump’s campaign aides and Russian officials who attempted to influence the presidential election, and the stalled effort to repeal and replace Obamacare as prime examples.
“Volatility inspires activism and increases donations,” Wonderlich said. “These are big policy questions that motivate donors. People are more likely to reach into their pocketbooks.”
Trump’s campaign and joint fundraising committees, which reported their first quarter fundraising totals to the FEC on Friday, took in $10.3 million from small-dollar donors, an unprecedented amount for a president who won’t face voters again until 2020. House Republican campaigns raised $2.1 million from small donors during the same period.
While Gallup pegged approval of the job Congress is doing at just 20 percent in early April, incumbents raised $77.4 million, with Republicans taking in $45.3 million. Still, Wonderlich said the Republican-led House’s inability so far to pass a bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act might dampen contributors’ enthusiasm going forward.
“It is hard to see the mess that was the health-care fight inspiring a lot of enthusiastic $20 donations,” he said.