The case of the missing Republican fundraising

Last week Democratic and Republican candidates for the Iowa legislature filed disclosure reports on their campaign contributions and expenditures. For most candidates, those reports covered the period from June 2 through July 14. For the few candidates who didn’t file reports on the Friday preceding the June primary, the July 19 reports covered campaign fundraising and expenses between May 15 and July 14.

John Deeth posted cash-on-hand totals for candidates in most of the Iowa House and Senate battleground districts. The numbers are encouraging for Democrats, because our candidates lead their opponents in cash on hand in most of the targeted districts.

As I read through the July 19 contribution reports, I noticed something strange. Republican candidates in various targeted Iowa House and Senate districts reported improbably low fundraising numbers. As a general rule, candidates strive for impressive fundraising to demonstrate their viability, and cash on hand in July indicates which candidate will have more resources during crunch time. However, I got the impression that several of the Republican Iowa House and Senate candidates made little effort to obtain campaign contributions during the latest reporting period. Follow me after the jump for some examples and possible explanations.  

Take Iowa Senate district 5. First-term Democratic incumbent Rich Olive won this seat by just 62 votes in 2006, and registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district. It’s generally considered one of the Republicans’ leading pickup opportunities in the Iowa Senate. Yet Republican Rob Bacon reported raising zero dollars on his July 19 disclosure. In early June he reported raising $1,250 in campaign contributions, which included $1,000 from the candidate himself. Bacon now has less than $3,500 on hand, while Olive has more than $40,000.

In the open Senate district 1, which Republicans say they are targeting despite a healthy Democratic advantage in voter registrations, GOP candidate Rick Bertrand reported only $7,887 on hand with more than $2,000 in unpaid bills and $17,749 remaining in debt from his 2008 Iowa House campaign. Democratic candidate Rick Mullin reported $20,749 on hand as of July 14.

Republican ambitions to win back the Iowa House depend in large part on their performance in open seats. Yet Democratic candidates have outraised their opponents in the Democratic-held open Iowa House districts 1, 2, 7, 8, 14, 21, and 84. In House district 21, the Republican John Rooff (a former mayor of Waterloo) took in just two donations totaling $350 during the latest reporting period. He has less than one-tenth the cash on hand of first-time Democratic candidate Anesa Kajtazovic. The only Republican nominee who has outraised his opponent in a Democratic-held open House seat race is David Rose in district 26, but the latest voter registration numbers show about twice as many Democrats as Republicans in that district.

Republicans also have tough open seats to defend in Iowa House districts 74 and 99. If they lose one of those races, they will need to pick up eight Democratic-held seats to win control of the chamber. If they lose them both, they will need to pick up nine Democratic-held seats. In House district 74, Republican Glen Massie reported only $750 in contributions on his July 19 disclosure. His Democratic opponent Scott Ourth has more than 10 times as much cash on hand.

In House district 99, Republican Mary Ann Hanusa reported raising only $650 since the middle of May, including $250 from the Washington-based Union Pacific Fund for Effective Government. She trails Democrat Kurt Hubler in cash on hand. Hanusa isn’t a first-time candidate; she was the 2006 GOP candidate for Iowa secretary of state. She isn’t without connections, having chaired the Pottawattamie County GOP and worked in the White House under both Presidents Bush. During the 1990s, Hanusa also worked for Senator Chuck Grassley and Representative Greg Ganske.

Some Republican statehouse candidates have raised a lot of money this year; Bill Dix (Senate district 9) and Darin Beck (House district 19) even have more cash on hand than the Democratic incumbents. But looking at the July 19 disclosure reports as a whole, Republican fundraising numbers in targeted districts seem very low. I can think of several possible reasons.

1. Republican candidates may be having trouble raising money for statehouse races. The tough economy has created a challenging environment even for professional fundraisers, and Terry Branstad has brought in scores of donations exceeding $1,000. Every major contribution to Branstad’s campaign is money that isn’t flowing to an Iowa House or Senate candidate.

While this problem could be affecting some inexperienced GOP candidates in Iowa, it doesn’t explain why people like Rooff and Hanusa took in only a few hundred bucks during the last reporting period. A former mayor of a mid-sized city or a county GOP chair should be able to bring in thousands of dollars easily.

The same goes for some GOP veterans hoping to return to the legislature this year. Former Iowa Senate Majority Leader Stewart Iverson should have a long list of donors supporting his campaign in Iowa House district 9. Frankly, I expected him to have more cash on hand than two-term Democratic incumbent McKinley Bailey, who is half Iverson’s age. Yet during the latest reporting period Iverson collected just $3,200 in contributions, including one $2,000 gift from the Iowans for Tax Relief PAC.

Sandy Greiner is the dream recruit for Republicans in Iowa Senate district 45. She’s been board president of the 501(c)4 group American Future Fund, and she headed the Draft Branstad PAC (later called the NextGen PAC), which raised more than $100,000 from heavy-hitter Republican donors last fall. I expected to see big fundraising numbers from Greiner. Iowa Senate district 45 is a must-win for Republicans if they want to take back the majority in the upper chamber anytime soon (say, in the 2012 elections). Instead, Greiner reported about $6,500 in donations during the recent period and only $13,345.59 cash on hand, “which includes a $10,000 self-loan.” Greiner’s opponent, first term State Senator Becky Schmitz, had more than $33,000 cash on hand as of July 14.

2. Republican candidates in battleground districts may be steering donations to party leaders or committees. House Republican leader Kraig Paulsen took in about $52,000 in donations during the latest reporting period and had more than $200,000 in his campaign account as of July 14. Number two Iowa House Republican Linda Upmeyer reported about $70,000 cash on hand. They and other Republicans who aren’t facing Democratic challengers can spread that money around. (I don’t know how much money Iowa Senate minority leader Paul McKinley has in his campaign account; he doesn’t need to file disclosure reports this year, because he is not up for re-election.)

Advising donors to support party leader funds would be a risky play for an Iowa House or Senate candidate, however. No one can be sure what tracking polls and other campaign indicators will look like in September and October, when the top Republicans make tough calls about where to spend their money.

3. Republican candidates may not feel they will need much money to win. They may expect to be carried along with a 1994-type tidal wave, even if they are outspent by Democrats. Not every race will be won by the candidate with the largest bank balance in July, but some of the Republican contenders haven’t raised enough to run even a shoestring campaign.

4. Republican candidates may be counting on outside groups to spend on their behalf. For instance, Cate Bryan reported only $5.59 cash on hand as of July 14 for her campaign in the open Iowa House district 2, a top-level GOP target. Most of the $3,687 Bryan raised since the beginning of June came from herself, her husband and a few family members. However, the Iowans for Tax Relief PAC gave Bryan a total of $17,000 before the hard-fought Republican primary (see her disclosures filed on May 19 and June 4). Bryan can be confident the PAC will continue to provide substantial resources for this race.

The Senate district 37 race will be one of the most closely-watched state legislative campaigns in the country. Republican Kent Sorenson only raised $5,680 during the latest period and is way behind State Senator Staci Appel in cash on hand. However, Sorenson could receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in assistance from groups like the National Organization for Marriage and the Iowa Family Policy Center’s PAC.

A few other Republican candidates may be counting on volunteer energy, such as tea party favorite Tom Shaw in the open Iowa House district 8 (another must-win seat for Republicans where Democrats recruited a strong candidate). Glen Massie in House district 74 has been involved in the Campaign for Liberty organization.

5. Finally, it’s possible that some Republican candidates mainly solicited pledges in the spring and early summer, asking donors to write checks after the July 14 reporting deadline. The next disclosure reports are due in October, and perhaps Republicans want to keep Democrats guessing about how much they will be able and willing to spend in the key districts. That strategy is risky, because there’s no guarantee a pledge will come through. Donors’ personal finances can change, or a Republican who once appeared to be a very strong challenger may look less credible later. For instance, in Senate district 5 Rob Bacon now faces an incumbent with the blessing of a leading Iowa business PAC as well as a lot more campaign cash. That same PAC also endorsed several Democratic House incumbents who have outraised their challengers so far.

Post your own thoughts and theories about the Iowa House and Senate campaigns in this thread.

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  • They're Sandbagging Us

    The July 15 report only shows the money candidates have actually received, not the pledges for money they will collect on July 16 and beyond.

    The only rational thing for any Democratic candidate to do is to run your race as if you are 20 points behind your opponent. In my race we raised 28 TIMES as much money as the republican, but I know in my heart that he will probably outraise and outspend us by a large margin by October and November.

    I may have been the fundraising leader in our area this report period, but I am still out there every day knocking doors and talking to voters, and we are vigorously planning fundraising events for the next months. The only thing you can take for granted is that your republican opponent is doing far better than you think, so get out there and work.

    • true

      The worst thing Democrats could do now is get complacent about cash on hand advantages in July. Fortunately, our candidates are working hard all over the state. There seems to be a lot of variation in terms of how hard the Republican candidates are working this summer.

      Hope you get some cooler weather this week for your canvassing!