Democrats will get outspent in Iowa House races again. Here's why

Democrats have opportunities to make big gains in the Iowa House this year. Thirteen of the 59 Republican-held seats in the lower chamber are open. A number of Democratic challengers have done well on fundraising, in some cases even out-raising the GOP incumbents in their districts. The past year's special elections for Iowa House seats suggest that Democratic turnout may be much higher than the level seen in Iowa's last two midterms, thanks to extreme laws enacted by statehouse Republicans and an unpopular president in Washington.

But winning a state legislative race often requires more than a favorable political environment. Bleeding Heartland observed in February that "the latest set of campaign financial disclosures reveal little sense of urgency among Democratic incumbents who could do much more to help others win competitive districts this November."

Unfortunately, the latest fundraising numbers tell the same old story.


Financial reports for Iowa candidates and political parties are archived on the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board's website. The May 19 filings covered fundraising and spending from January 1 through May 14. Legislative candidates who had raised at least $1,000 between May 15 and 29 were required to file a report on the Friday before the June 5 primary. Reports due on July 19 covered campaign finances though July 14.

House Minority Leader Mark Smith raised $75,733.00 during the first four and a half months of the year and had $188,184.61 in his campaign account on May 14. His pre-primary report showed $1,580 in contributions, and he raised another $64,684 through July 14. With less than four months left until election day, Smith had $236,309.67 cash on hand.

Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer reported raising only $53,665.63 on her May 19 filing and another $5,625.00 in contributions shortly before the primary. She raised $154,600.33 though July 14 and reported $479,115.31 cash on hand. Facing no Democratic challenger in House district 54, Upmeyer can direct almost all of her funds to other races.

House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow reported raising $35,650, $1,006.99, and $52,150 on his filings this year. He had $168,657.25 cash on hand as of July 14. Whereas Republicans spent more than $420,000 defending Hagenow's seat during the last cycle, the majority leader left House district 43 for the redder pastures of House district 19 this year. The move frees up Hagenow's cash to support other Republican candidates.

Iowa legislative leaders typically donate most of of what they raise to the state parties, which make in-kind donations in targeted House or Senate districts during the fall.
The Iowa Democratic Party reported $632,219.13 cash on hand in mid-May and nearly the same amount, $629,882.45, as of July 14. The Republican Party of Iowa increased its cash on hand from $764,017.92 in mid-May to $879,957.54 as of July 14.

Political parties are not required to report cash totals for each fund, so it's not clear how much money is available to the House Truman Fund or the Eisenhower Fund, which cover many Democratic and Republican expenditures for state House races.

What is clear: Democrats are far from having enough in the bank to compete for all of the House seats in play. The Iowa Democratic Party spent more than $100,000 in kind on each of eight state House races in 2016. Even so, Republicans out-spent most of those candidates.


Let's take a closer look at the fundraising by the fourteen House incumbents I selected in February with the following subjective criteria in mind:

• Entrenched office-holders have more established political networks and therefore more capacity to raise money than Democrats serving their first or second terms [...].

• Democrats occupying safe seats have a larger pool of constituents who support their political agenda and could be motivated to help elect like-minded candidates.

• Lawmakers representing relatively wealthy districts or parts of metro areas with prosperous neighborhoods have more potential to tap their community for political contributions.

• Donations from individuals are the best sign of whether a legislator is making some effort to raise money. Incumbents don’t need to ask for checks from political action committees that routinely donate to dozens of lawmakers in both parties.

Turning to the latest reports, listing the lawmakers in alphabetical order:

Marti Anderson represents House district 36, including heavily Democratic neighborhoods including Beaverdale on the northwest side of Des Moines. She raised $4,800 through May 14, almost all in small individual donations following a fundraising letter sent in January. That's more effort than was apparent from some other lawmakers, and it shows how much can be raised from a single appeal.

Anderson donated $1,800 to the Iowa Democratic Party in February, which accounted for the majority of her $3,452.02 in spending. During the two months after the legislature adjourned, she raised a total of $420 from three individuals and a PAC. As of July 14, her campaign had $6,559.59 in the bank.

Lisa Heddens reported $1,460 in total contributions, of which $1,425 came from a fundraiser in early January ($1,000 from the Story County Medical Society, $150 from the Iowa Association of Nurse Anesthetists PAC, and two individual gifts of $250 and $25). Over the four months following that event, Heddens pulled in exactly one donation: $35 from a former Iowa House colleague. She donated $2,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party in March (her only expenditure), leaving $8,691.09 cash on hand on May 14.

Think how many people in House district 46, covering part of Ames, value public education or have a direct connection to Iowa State University. How hard would it have been to make some fundraising phone calls, or send supporters a letter or e-mail, when House Republicans approved the third-smallest funding increase for K-12 schools in four decades? Or cut millions of dollars from ISU's current-year budget with only a few months left in the fiscal year? Or passed a fiscal year 2019 budget underfunding higher education yet again? Another potentially successful tactic would be for the ranking Democrat on the Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee to ask for help putting her in the majority, so she could ensure the state adequately funds social services and Medicaid. Instead, Heddens appears to have made zero effort to raise money during or immediately after the legislative session.

Note: Heddens attended a Flip It Iowa fundraiser on May 10 for David Weaver, who is running for the open GOP-held House district 47. She wrote his campaign a $25 check. Even if we credit her with the entire $400 Weaver raised at that event, it's not remotely close to what an eight-term incumbent should be able to bring in from a solid Democratic area like Ames.

Heddens held a few fundraisers in June and July, which brought in $4,525: $2,850 from PACs and the rest from individuals. She reported $13,216.09 cash on hand as of July 14.

Bruce Hunter reported raising just $730.25 on his May filing: two PAC donations totaling $250 in early January and one check for $480.25 from former Democratic lawmaker Jack Hatch. Hunter gave $1,527 to the Iowa Democratic Party, which accounted for most of his spending during the same period. Since mid-May, he has raised nothing from individuals and $1,200 through three PAC contributions. He had $4,487.67 in his campaign account as of July 14. Hunter did attend at least one of the Flip It fundraisers in the Des Moines area. But surely he could have raised more from young professionals or empty nesters living downtown in House district 34.

Dave Jacoby reported $4,283.63 in contributions on his May filing, almost all from three PAC donations on January 7 for $2,500, $1,000, and $750. One person gave $25 on the same day, which was Jacoby's only individual contribution since the beginning of the year. Unbelievably, between January 7 and May 14, his campaign brought in a grand total of eight dollars and 63 cents, from bank interest. Between May 15 and July 14, Jacoby raised $8,078.96: $5,500 from PACs and the rest from individuals.

If anyone in the caucus should be a rainmaker, it should be the ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. Republicans just passed a tax bill that will bankrupt our state while delivering huge sums to the wealthiest Iowans. At every stage of the legislative process, that giveaway provided an opportunity for Jacoby to ask for support: help put me in charge of this committee, so I can enact sensible and fair tax policies. In addition, the GOP's persistent underfunding of higher education should be a critically important issue to thousands of House district 74 residents in Coralville who work for or graduated from the University of Iowa.

Jacoby transferred $10,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party in March and probably will give more soon, as he has no GOP challenger and reported $26,548.96 cash on hand as of July 14. He also attended at least one of the Flip It fundraisers in the Iowa City area. But he could be doing so much more.

Another eight-term incumbent from a state university area is Bob Kressig, who reported raising $1,435.00 on his May filing. Two PACs gave $1,000 and $150 in early January, and one wrote a $250 check on May 14. During the first four and a half months of the year, Kressig had only two individual contributors, who donated $10 and $25. He raised another $77 before the end of May and $2,150 through July 14: two $1,000 PAC contributions and four individual gifts totaling $150.

Kressig gave the Iowa Democratic Party $278 in February to cover House Truman Fund printing costs and attended at least one Flip It fundraiser. He also gave the Black Hawk County Democratic Central Committee $500 in June. Like Jacoby, he will probably transfer more to the party later, since he had $20,964.18 cash on hand and no opponent as of July 14. But he doesn't appear to be trying to raise money from residents of House district 59, covering much of Cedar Falls and the University of Northern Iowa campus. Even though Republicans spared UNI from the latest round of mid-year budget cuts, they failed to adequately fund higher education for the next fiscal year. The response to Marti Anderson's mailing shows that one fundraising letter can bring in thousands.

Vicki Lensing reported just $477.75 in contributions on her May filing, mostly individual gifts from nine donors. She stepped it up over the next couple of months, raising $5,536.38, mostly from individuals at a fundraiser in late June. Lensing also supported multiple Flip It fundraisers in the Iowa City area. With no general election opponent and $13,746.85 cash on hand as of July 14, Lensing will probably transfer some money to party organizations this fall. But considering the thousands of progressives and people with University of Iowa connections who live in House district 85, she could be doing more.

Across town in House district 86, Mary Mascher raised $6,528.00 through mid-May, mostly from individuals. She clearly made some effort on this front; nearly $5,000 of her donations came through multiple fundraisers. Mascher also attended at least one Flip It event. She gave the House Truman Fund $6,778 during the period, more than most incumbents.

While many of her colleagues raised no money during the second half of May, Mascher raised another $1,415.00 from individuals. Her latest filing showed another $11,990 in contributions. You can tell she worked on fundraising, because all of the money came from individuals except for one $200 PAC donation. Much of her $20,717.78 cash on hand as of July 14 could eventually support other Democrats, since Mascher also has no general election opponent.

Brian Meyer reported $2,625.00 in contributions on his May filing, all during the first week of January. Two PACs gave $1,000 and $100; the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa gave $500, and two people gave $1,000 and $25. Since the beginning of the legislative session, Meyer did not raise a dime from an individual. He donated $8,000 to the Iowa Democratic Party in April, more than most of his colleagues. Over the next few months, Meyer received two PAC contributions totaling $700. He gave $25 to the Asian and Latino Coalition and $175 to the Polk County Democrats, leaving $1,282.51 in the bank as of July 14.

Granted, House district 33 doesn't include the wealthiest parts of Des Moines. But Meyer has fundraising ability and experience. When he was running for the Des Moines City Council in 2006 and 2011, he raised more than $18,000 and more than $10,000, respectively.

Jo Oldson has been elected to the House eight times and represents some of the wealthiest Des Moines precincts on the west and south sides. Her May filing declared $2,500 in total contributions, all during the first week of January. One person wrote a check for $1,000, and three PACs gave $1,000, $250, and $250. Like Meyer, Oldson has raised nothing from any individual since January 7. Her latest report shows three PAC donations totaling $2,500 since mid-May. Oldson gave $3,500 to the Iowa Democratic Party in February and had $8,336.23 in the bank as of July 14.

Keep in mind that Oldson had raised tens of thousands of dollars by this point in the 2016 election cycle, as Bleeding Heartland discussed here. That year, she fended off a Democratic primary challenge from Eddie Mauro.

Rick Olson is another long-serving incumbent who seems motivated to raise money only when his own job is on the line. He raised $17,450.00 between January 1 and May 14, more than anyone else on this list. Why? Former Congressional candidate Heather Ryan and Tiffany Allison both ran against Olson in the Democratic primary to represent House district 31 on the east side of Des Moines. Most of the $4,085.05 Olson's campaign spent during the period went toward his re-election bid, other than $278 to the Iowa Democratic Party for "constituent birthday cards." A large portion of the $15,617.36 Olson had in the bank on May 14 was spent on advertising before the June 5 primary.

Worth noting: nearly half the money Olson raised from January through mid-May came from individuals. That's a departure from several years of his disclosures showing almost all of Olson's money came from PACs (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Olson is capable of seeking donations from individuals, when he has competition on the ballot. Imagine if he put the same effort into fundraising for other Democratic candidates facing opponents.

Olson raised $10,720 between May 15 and May 29, of which $8,750 came from PACs. Since the primary, his campaign brought in $3,000, $2,100 from individuals and $900 from PACs. He reported $14,980.88 cash on hand as of July 14. Like most of the lawmakers mentioned here, he faces no general election challenger.

Todd Taylor isn't seeking a thirteenth term in the state House; he is the sole candidate for Senate district 35 in Cedar Rapids. (Wally Horn--the longest-serving Iowa lawmaker in history--is retiring.) With no one else on the ballot here in either the primary or general elections, Taylor seems to have lacked motivation. He reported $1,300 in contributions in mid-May: $1,000 from a labor PAC and small gifts from five individuals. There's a $12.83 expenditure for fundraiser food on May 14 but no sign of any donations collected then, or anytime after April 12.

Taylor's spending included $278 to the House Truman Fund for birthday cards and $120 to the Iowa Democratic Party. This incumbent with more than 20 years of legislative service reported just $966.14 cash on hand as of May 14. Yet again, House Democrats representing other parts of Cedar Rapids raised more money from a larger number of donors despite their much shorter legislative careers (see filings from State Representatives Liz Bennett, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, and Art Staed).

Taylor's latest financial report showed $5,095 in contributions, $3,800 from PACs and the rest from individuals. His campaign had $4,338.31 cash on hand as of July 14--not much to kick in to the state party.

Two years ago, Phyllis Thede shocked me by reporting nine cents in total contributions on her May disclosure form. This cycle, the five-term incumbent from House district 93, covering some well-off neighborhoods in Bettendorf and Davenport, raised $1,897.74 through mid-May. Other than a few pennies in bank interest, all the money came from individual donors. Thede has held several fundraisers in 2018, but since mid-May she has raised just $1,275, of which $500 came from a PAC.

Thede hasn't transferred any money to the Iowa Democratic Party or House Truman Fund so far this year; she gave the Scott County Democrats $150 in June. Her campaign reported $6,110.24 in the bank as of July 14.

As was apparent from the January filings, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell made more of an effort to raise money than did many of her long-serving colleagues. She reported $8,752.00 in contributions through May 14, all but $900 of which came from individuals. The representative from House district 45 must have reached out multiple times to her network of supporters in the Ames area. She donated $2,778 to the Iowa Democratic Party, which accounted for most of her campaign spending this year. She also gave $100 to the Story County Democratic Central Committee.

Since mid-May, Wessel-Kroeschell raised $4,115, of which $2,250 came from PACS. Her campaign had $16,991.24 cash on hand as of July 14. She does have a Republican opponent, though Ben Brown has little chance in this heavily Democratic area.

Meanwhile, Cindy Winckler reported just $2.05 (interest on a credit union account) on her May filing. Since then, she has raised a whopping $259.72. Most of that total came from the PAC representing municipal utilities, which gave Winckler and dozens of other legislators $200.

House district 90 doesn't include the wealthiest parts of Davenport, but an eight-term incumbent should at least try to raise some money. As the ranking Democrat on the Education Appropriations subcommittee, Winckler had many obvious openings for a fundraising pitch (e.g. help me fund our schools and stop Republicans from passing a voucher program).

Winckler transferred no money to the Iowa Democratic Party or the House Truman Fund during this period but gave $400 to the Scott County Democratic Central Committee. Her campaign reported $2,651.83 cash on hand as of July 14.

Total raised by these fourteen House Democrats from January 1 through May 14: $53,481.42

Amount they transferred to either the Iowa Democratic Party or the House Truman Fund during the same period: $37,337

That's not enough to cover in-kind expenditures for even one competitive House race this fall.

Total raised by the same lawmakers from May 15 through July 14: $63,057.06

Amount they transferred to either the Iowa Democratic Party or the House Truman Fund during the same period: zero

Some of these incumbents attended a Des Moines fundraiser for the House Truman Fund in early May, featuring progressive billionaire Tom Steyer. Some will transfer more money to the state party in the coming months. Also, as mentioned above, some have supported Flip It Iowa's work to connect donors in safe blue seats with candidates in purple districts.

The fact remains: Republican leaders have considerably more money to spend in targeted House races than Democrats do.

Few people enjoy fundraising. Yet many other Democratic candidates for Iowa House seats (Karin Derry, Ann Fields, Eric Gjerde, Lindsay James, Kayla Koether, Jennifer Konfrst, Heather Matson, Megan Srinivas, Kristin Sunde, and David Weaver) have out-raised most or all of the long-serving lawmakers mentioned here. Kenan Judge--a first-time candidate in House district 44--has raised more than $105,000 since January, almost as much these fourteen incumbents combined.

For the last eight years, Iowa House Democrats have watched helplessly as almost all of the bills they filed died in committee, and Republicans passed legislation with devastating consequences. What greater motivation do you need to help your party regain the majority? Yet Democrats will leave winnable races on the table if strong recruits are outspent by six-figure sums.

Finally, I want to repeat my closing comment from February's post:

I anticipate hearing from readers that this or that lawmaker mentioned above doesn’t get along with Mark Smith or supported someone else in the last balloting for House minority leader. No one cares about internal drama among statehouse Democrats. Personal grievances should not stop any incumbent from doing everything possible to end Republicans’ unchecked power.

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