Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will take many advantages into the 2018 gubernatorial campaign, by virtue of being the incumbent after Governor Terry Branstad leaves for China.
Though Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett is considering a bid for the Republican nomination next year, he may have second thoughts after looking at the Reynolds committee's latest campaign finance reports. The lieutenant governor ramped up her fundraising during 2016 and has more than $1.1 million in the bank.
Contrary to the picture painted by spin doctors for Reynolds, most of the money came from major donors.
Reynolds established the Kim Reynolds for Lieutenant Governor Committee in 2012, starting with a few hundred dollars leftover from her 2008 state Senate race. The committee brought in $82,000 during its first year: seven individual donations ranging from $250 to $2,500, plus a $75,000 check from the Republican State Leadership Committee in Washington, DC. Reynolds gave $60,000 from her fund to the Republican Party of Iowa.
A few years back, I wondered whether the separate fundraising committee was a signal that Branstad might try a switcheroo. If he announced plans to retire shortly before the 2014 filing deadline for major-party candidates, Reynolds might be the only Republican in position to run for governor. But in 2013, the lieutenant governor's campaign committee raised only $25,880.00, mostly from individuals. She spent about $17,000 on various consulting services. Meanwhile, Branstad's re-election committee took in more than $3.4 million that year, leaving no doubt about his intentions.
The Reynolds for Lieutenant Governor committee wasn't very active during 2014, reporting contributions totaling $500, zero dollars, and $100 on its disclosure forms. After Branstad was elected to his sixth term that November, Reynolds raised $8,059.22 for her campaign committee, of which $5,200 came from one couple in Des Moines.
Although quite a few political action committees gave to Reynolds, most of her haul came from individual donors, with lots of "usual suspects" (Eldon Roth, Bruce Rastetter, Denny Elwell, Cameron Sutton, Gary Kirke, Michael Richards, Joe Crookham) contributing five-figure amounts. She ended 2015 with $553,520.02 cash on hand and only $7,107.17 in debt, all unpaid bills to David Kochel's firm Redwave Communications.
The lieutenant governor raised even more during 2016: $645,160 to be precise, from scores of individuals and a few dozen PACs. The committee reported expenditures of $113,700.96, mostly for services from Redwave Communications, plus $25,000 in donations to the Iowa GOP. Reynolds for Lieutenant Governor ended the year with $1,084,979.06 cash on hand and no debt.
A press release touted the fact that "76% of all contributions are under $300."
Don't be fooled by the careful phrasing: the Reynolds war chest wasn't primarily built though small-dollar donors.
The largest donors last year were Eldon Roth, Bruce Rastetter, Douglas and Donna McAninch, and Jeffrey Feingold ($25,000 each), Michael Krantz, Sheri Horner, and Denny Elwell ($20,000 each), Joe Crookham ($17,500), Kurt Croell, Nixon Lauridsen, Kyle and Sharon Krause, and Jeffrey Hansen ($15,000 each), Gage Kent, Peter Brownell, Cordell Peterson, Mike and Cheryl Wells, Walter Lauridsen, David Barker, David and Penny North, Michael and Margie Bennett, Michael and Donna Kemery, and Gary Kirke ($10,000 each). Two dozen individuals each gave $5,000 or more during the year; so did several PACs.
In other words, more than $450,000 (about 70 percent) of what Reynolds raised in 2016 came from people or PACs giving $5,000 or more.
Many other PACs and individuals donated smaller four-figure amounts to the committee in 2016. Adding the 25 gifts of $2,500 (eighteen from individuals, seven from PACs) and more than 40 gifts of at least $1,000 (most from individuals, 13 from PACs), you can see that at least 85 percent of the money Reynolds raised last year came from donors giving $1,000 or more. Another 20-plus donors or PACs gave $500.
So while the lieutenant governor collected quite a few checks for under $300, those donors accounted for only a small percentage of her bank balance.
I have a self-imposed rule against writing posts based on press releases about fundraising, in order to avoid passing along misleading claims from candidates and elected officials.
Reporting for the Quad-City Times and the Cedar Rapids Gazette after the press release came out, Ed Tibbetts stuck to the total amount Reynolds raised and her cash on hand, adding that "fuller details will be available" after January 19.
Unfortunately, the Des Moines Register's chief political reporter Jason Noble transmitted the spin as well as the facts: "According to the campaign committee, Reynolds raised just over $637,000 in 2016 and has $1.08 million in the bank. Seventy-six percent of her donations were less than $300 and 95 percent came from within Iowa." A casual reader might wrongly conclude that most of the money came from small-dollar donors, which was the goal of the lieutenant governor's image-makers.
Incidentally, the press release's claim that "95% of all contributions are from Iowans" wasn't as misleading as the statistic about small donors. Most of the money Reynolds raised last year did come from Iowans. By my calculations, at least $75,000 (around 12 percent) of the intake came from individuals living in other states or PACs based in Washington, DC, Virginia, or Illinois.
The bottom line is still great news for Reynolds: she is well on the way to being able to fund a statewide campaign in 2018 before any potential challengers are out of the gate. Corbett has been planning a gubernatorial bid for years, but I wouldn't be surprised if he does not follow through.