IA-Sen fundraising reveals the opening for Mark Jacobs

Mark Jacobs officially launched his campaign for Iowa’s open U.S. Senate seat today. I’ll post a roundup of news clips and early thoughts on his strengths and weaknesses tomorrow.

First, I want to highlight the biggest reason Jacobs will be a serious contender for the nomination: the poor fundraising by other declared Republican candidates for Senate.

Apologies for not putting these numbers up sooner. I had intended to post highlights from the IA-Sen reports to the Federal Election Commission last month.

Bruce Braley is unopposed for the Democratic nomination to succeed Senator Tom Harkin. An uncontested primary presents pros and cons for any campaign. Arguably, Braley will not be as battle-hardened as the person who emerges from the Republican field next summer. His travels around the state during the next seven months won’t attract as much media attention as if he were facing a primary opponent. On the plus side, he can build up a war chest without needing to spend much money before the primary or compete against other candidates for support from major Democratic donors.

Braley had a head start on fundraising during the first three months of the year and extended his advantage during the second and third quarters.

The FEC website doesn’t present Senate candidates’ reports in a user-friendly format, but you can view Braley’s second-quarter report here (pdf). He raised $1,253,052.39, including $998,256.43 from individuals and $254,795.96 from a long list of political action committees. Braley’s campaign spent $256,324.01 during the second quarter; nothing jumped out at me as an unusual expenditure. As of June 30, his Senate campaign had $2,005,778.10 cash on hand.

Candidates often struggle to raise money after tapping their strongest supporters in the early months, but Braley’s third-quarter FEC filing (pdf) remained relatively strong. From July through September, Braley’s campaign reported raising $900,427.50, including $738,935.01 from individuals and $161,219.01 from PACs. In a press release, Braley’s campaign manager Sarah Benzing said the total of 4,500 donations include residents of all 99 Iowa counties. The campaign spent quite a lot of money during the third quarter, $582,354.55 on typical costs such as salaries, consulting and fundraising fees, postage, printing, direct mail, advertising, and access to the Iowa Democratic Party’s voter file. Still, the campaign reported $2,323,351.05 cash on hand as of September 30.

I’ve been surprised the Republican Senate candidates haven’t managed to raise more money. Braley’s campaign spent more during the third quarter than any GOP candidate has raised all year and still had more than $2 million left in the bank.

Taking the GOP candidates in alphabetical order:

First-time candidate Sam Clovis was never going to be a powerhouse fundraiser. His strategy for winning the nomination relies on grassroots organizing and his strong communication skills. Still, it takes a certain amount of money to campaign statewide, even on a shoestring. During the three weeks after announcing his campaign in June, Clovis raised only $13,607.48, all from individuals (including $100 from the candidate). His campaign spent $2,328.62 during the period, leaving just $11,803.86 cash on hand as of June 30.

Clovis needed much better fundraising during the third quarter, but he pulled in only $77,525.74 in contributions, including $3,700 from the candidate. Meanwhile, the Clovis campaign spent $50,288.55 during the reporting period, leaving just $38,570.66 cash on hand as of September 30. None of his expenditures struck me as unreasonably large, but that burn rate won’t leave him much money in the run-up to the June 2014 primary. Even worse for Clovis, Bob Vander Plaats may enter the Senate race, and he has much more experience raising money from the social conservative donors who might be drawn to Clovis.

State Senator Joni Ernst is relatively new to political life, but I expected big fundraising numbers from her in the third quarter. She has the backing of Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds, which implies tacit support from Governor Terry Branstad. She hired high-powered consultants well before making her Senate campaign official in July. I figured she would raise at least half a million dollars during the third quarter and wouldn’t have been surprised to see that number closer to $1 million.

The Ernst campaign reported the best fundraising of the Republican field during the third quarter, but lagged well behind Braley with $252,397.45 in contributions. That total included $2,600 from the candidate and $1,000 from her state Senate campaign fund. After spending $28,112.07, the Ernst had $224,285.38 in the bank for her U.S. Senate campaign as of September 30. It’s the highest cash on hand total for any Republican candidate so far, but not an intimidating total, especially when you look more closely at her contributions. As Craig Robinson pointed out at The Iowa Republican blog, “Ernst’s staff and consultants donated over $21,000 to her campaign.” In addition,

A large portion of the money that Ernst raised came from outside of the state of Iowa. Ernst brought in $117,900 from out of state donors, which represents 47 percent of all the money she raised.  […]

It’s unknown how Ernst knows these wealthy individuals, but her campaign report indicates that she did attend a political conference hosted by the illustrious Koch brothers.  At least one of the billionaire donors listed above, Mr. Rastin has connections to the Kochs’ political empire.

Back home in Iowa, it is apparent that some of the same people who helped fund Governor Terry Branstad’s 2010 campaign were also encouraged to help Ernst.  Familiar names like Bruce Rastetter, Gary Kirke, Cam Sutton, Don Lamberti, and Eldon Roth each gave Ernst at least $2,600.  One name not included on Ernst’s fundraising report is Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, who has publically endorsed the campaign.  In total, it looks like Branstad was able to help Ernst raise about $42,850 for her campaign.  That’s not race altering money, but it’s not insignificant either.

It’s obvious that Ernst has received a lot of help in the fundraising department.  While all money spends the same way, one has to wonder if these outside forces will continue to help the campaign with it’s fundraising throughout the primary.  If you take away the $117,900 Ernst raised outside of Iowa, the $21,700 from her staff and consultant, and the $42,850 from Branstad’s most loyal donors, the Ernst campaign raised just under $70,000 in its first three months of existence.

Paul Lunde just filed his campaign’s statement of organization last month, so he hasn’t had to report to the FEC on fundraising yet. I don’t expect him to raise a significant amount of money. He seems to be in the race largely to sell copies of his own books and push ideas for constitutional amendments.

Little-known first-time candidate Scott Schaben, a car salesman based in Ames, reported $8,291.00 in contributions during the third quarter, including $51.00 from the candidate. Schaben spent $4,489.32 during the period, leaving just $3,801.68 cash on hand as of September 30. He won’t have the resources to run a statewide campaign.

Former U.S. Attorney Matt Whitaker was the first Republican to get into the Senate race. Given his connections to movers and shakers in the Iowa GOP and the legal community, I thought he would raise a million dollars without much trouble. I was wrong. During May and June, Whitaker’s campaign brought in $115,091.00 in contributions, spent $4,087.66, and had $111,244.41 cash on hand as of June 30. The third quarter numbers were even more disappointing from Whitaker’s perspective: $54,555.00 in contributions from individuals and a $50,000 loan from the candidate to push the “total receipts” line above $100,000. Whitaker’s campaign spent $34,977.49 during the third quarter, leaving $180,824.53 cash on hand as of September 30. However, the campaign also reported $22,388.60 in unpaid bills at the end of the third quarter.

If Whitaker doesn’t start raising more money, he’ll struggle to reach GOP primary voters statewide next spring.

Of the Republican candidates, Senator Chuck Grassley’s former chief of staff David Young turned in the best fundraising report for the second quarter. As of June 30, Young’s campaign had raised $152,785.00, including $143,085.00 from individuals and $9,700 from various corporate PACs. The campaign spent just $1,281.25, and had $151,503.75 cash on hand.

Not surprisingly, the majority of Young’s campaign contributions came from out of state donors. Young is an Iowa native but has lived and worked in Washington, DC for the last 17 years.

Young’s fundraising didn’t drop off as sharply as Whitaker’s during the third quarter, but he wasn’t able to keep pace with Ernst, let alone Braley. His FEC filing lists $112,344.26 in total contributions, including $101,153.28 from individuals and $11,190.98 from a larger number of corporate PACs. The campaign spent $139,795.74 during the reporting period, which is quite a lot of money, leaving $124,052.27 cash on hand as of September 30. Young can’t sustain that burn rate through next June.

No wonder the independently wealthy Mark Jacobs was in no hurry to enter the Senate race this summer. He can easily spend several times as much as all of his Republican rivals combined before the June 2014 primary. Even before making his candidacy official, Jacobs was able to send a thick and expensive direct-mail piece introducing himself to GOP voters. Money can’t buy you love, and it may not be enough to overcome baggage like Jacobs’ donation to Senator Arlen Specter after Specter left the Republican caucus. But there’s no question that Jacobs would face longer odds if any of his GOP rivals had built a large war chest.

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