IA-04: Cash-poor Steve King banks on Donald Trump

U.S. Representative Steve King has raised a shockingly small amount of money for his re-election and could be outspent by multiple Republican challengers before next year’s primary to represent Iowa’s fourth district.

But while King lacks the fundraising ability of many Congressional colleagues, he has invested his political capital wisely, aligning closely with Donald Trump in the president’s hour of need.


The latest Federal Election Commission reports on third-quarter fundraising and spending were due on October 15, and none of the Republicans had much to brag about.

I wonder whether any entrenched incumbent who isn’t retiring raised less money than King. His campaign brought in $61,803.00 from July 1 through September 30, comparable to the $61,666.52 raised during the first quarter and less than the $91,421.00 reported for the second quarter. The latest FEC filing shows three PACs gave King a total of $3,020, a remarkably low number for a long-serving member of Congress.

King does have a fair number of individual donors, who gave his campaign $58,783.00 during the latest reporting period. He raised far more in small unitemized contributions ($21,971.00) than did anyone else in the Republican field. Most of the $36,812.00 in itemized gifts to King were donations between $200 and $1,000. That suggests the incumbent retains significant grassroots support.

After posting a 100 percent burn rate in the second quarter, King was a bit more frugal in the third quarter. He stopped paying his son and daughter-in-law full-time salaries. Of his campaign’s $39,282.84 in expenditures from July through September, the only payment to one of King’s relatives was $524.77 to Jeff King for a mileage reimbursement. Direct mail, fundraising, and online marketing were King’s biggest expenses.

King ended the quarter with just $40,681.72 cash on hand, a woeful amount for someone who’s served in Congress since 2003. He’s fortunate that he already has universal name recognition and can bill his Congressional office for most of his public events around the district. (King completed his 39 county town halls last month.)

He’s also lucky that his leading Republican challenger, State Senator Randy Feenstra, is underperforming financially. Despite support from many influential Iowa Republicans, including former Governor Terry Branstad, quite a few current state lawmakers, and some of the party’s biggest donors, Feenstra reported $130,307.00 in contributions during the third quarter ($112,807.00 from individuals and $17,500 from PACs). That’s not bad for a Congressional challenger, but it’s less than the $140,000 Feenstra raised during the second quarter, which was less than the $260,000 he raised from January through March.

Feenstra’s campaign spent $61,571.95 during the quarter, mostly on staff salaries and consulting fees. That’s a fairly high burn rate so far from the election.

Feenstra ended the quarter with $406,049.35 cash on hand. By my count, around $50,000 of that total is restricted for use during the general election, if Feenstra wins the nomination next June. (Some donors have maxed out with $5,600 in contributions to Feenstra, but only $2,800 from any one person can be used before the primary.)

Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor raised raised $39,030.38 from July through September, all from individuals. Even though Taylor spent more than 90 percent of what he raised during the quarter, he had $46,824.64 cash on hand as of September 30–more than the incumbent.

Bret Richards loaned his campaign another $90,000 during the third quarter, bringing his total investment in his candidacy to $150,000 and his cash on hand to $89,399.56. Without the loans, his campaign couldn’t function. Richards raised only $13,079.06 from July through September, of which $5,200 came from PACs. But he spent $45,173.45 during the quarter, mostly on payroll and consultants.

Steve Reeder didn’t submit a quarterly report. The fourth Republican running against King launched his campaign the last week of September and presumably didn’t raise enough to trigger FEC filing requirements.

The splintered opposition will help King, who has universal name recognition already and needs only a plurality of at least 35 percent to win the IA-04 primary outright.

The GOP nominee will face Democrat J.D. Scholten, who brought in $408,493.40 in less than two months ($384,993.40 from individuals and $23,500.00 from PACs). Scholten has far more small donors than anyone else in the IA-04 field. He raised $194,288.40 in unitemized contributions below $200 from each person. After spending $58,189.85 during the reporting period, Scholten had $385,937.74 cash on hand as of September 30 (a little money was left over from his 2018 campaign).

As Bleeding Heartland discussed here, Scholten has a realistic chance to beat King.

What is King’s path to victory in the primary, given that he has less cash on hand than three of his challengers?


Since losing his House committee assignments in January, King has portrayed himself as a brave truth-teller and victim of the dishonest media and corrupt Republican establishment. He has also highlighted his support for the president’s policies, particularly on immigration and building a wall along the southern border of the U.S.

Most recently, King has loudly protested the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Various national polls have shown growing support for impeaching Trump amid reports of his abuses of power when conducting foreign policy. But the president remains popular among Republicans, especially conservatives who will dominate the IA-04 primary electorate.

On October 16, King and several colleagues who don’t serve on the relevant House committees tried to crash a closed meeting.

A short while later, King claimed in a speech on the House floor that Democrats are attempting a “coup” and that “our Republic is under threat.” He endorsed a Republican motion to censure House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, whom Trump despises.

His remarks, as transcribed in a news release from King’s office:

“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. It’s my privilege and honor to be recognized to address you here on the floor of the House of Representatives.

I come here to the floor to address circumstances that are historic in the way they are shaking the very foundation of this Republic. Our Constitution is under threat. Our Republic is under threat. There are secret meetings taking place down in the House Select Committee on Intel, the most confidential place in this place, but they’re talking about finding a way to impeach the President of the United States. They don’t have a charge, yet, they’re still looking for one.

We went through two years of the Mueller investigations, and now we’re grinding through this under the guidance of Adam Schiff. There’s a resolution here, that’s been presented to this floor, to censure him for the misinformation that came out, clearly, in front of all the public.

They’re cherry picking quotes from the people that are testifying. They refused to allow us, just an hour ago, to read the Volker transcript. They are allowing no exculpatory evidence coming in that might defend our President, and there’s no representation for the President. They have turned this committee into a partisan committee, and, Mr. Speaker, I’ll submit that it’s going to be awfully hard for this Select Committee to ever function again if it’s going to be a partisan secret committee attempting to overturn the election of the President of the United States.”

The censure resolution alleges that during a September 26 hearing, “instead of quoting directly from the available transcript, Chairman Schiff manufactured a false retelling of the conversation between President Trump and President Zelensky.” In so doing, Schiff allegedly “misled the American people, bring disrepute upon the House of Representatives and make a mockery of the impeachment process, one of this chamber’s most solemn constitutional duties.”

Also on October 16, King was one of 60 House Republicans who voted against a resolution “Opposing the decision to end certain United States efforts to prevent Turkish military operations against Syrian Kurdish forces in Northeast Syria.” About two-thirds of the GOP caucus–an astounding 129 Republicans–voted with every Democrat to condemn the president’s decision to pull forces out of Syria.

It’s a safe bet that White House minders will let Trump know who stood with him and who distanced themselves when the going was tough. The president may not end up endorsing the incumbent next spring; he snubbed King in June when he refused to let him fly to Iowa on Air Force One and didn’t give him a shout-out at an Iowa GOP fundraiser in West Des Moines. But perhaps he will reward King’s loyalty by staying neutral in the IA-04 primary.

Either way, King can show Trump’s fans that he has done everything he can to support the president. That’s arguably worth more than a large campaign bank account.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that early this month, King’s campaign released partial results from an internal poll.

The poll was conducted on October 1-3, 2019 by G1 Survey Research and has a margin of error of -/+ 4.89 percent. State Senator Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, came in second place, followed by Woodbury County Supervisor and former State Representative Jeremy Taylor, former Irwin Mayor Bret Richards, and Arnolds Park real estate developer Steve Reeder.

King – 59 percent
Feenstra – 15 percent
Taylor – 6 percent
Richards – 2 percent
Reeder – 0 percent
According to the poll, King also enjoys a 72 percent approval rating among Republican voters.

The poll also asked voters who they would vote for in the event of a two-way race against and King tops both Feenstra (64 percent to 24 percent) and Taylor (64 percent and 19 percent) by large margins.

I’m generally skeptical of internal polling, and this poll may have oversampled voters over age 65. But I’ve always believed King is generally popular among rank and file Republicans. He was well-received at the town halls he held around the district. Comments that generate negative attention for King among a national audience likely resonate with his base.

Speaking to WHO Radio’s Simon Conway on October 7, King noted that other campaigns have conducted internal polling of the IA-04 primary, but no one has released the results.

King also told Conway that “being attacked from the left and the right from almost the first days of this Congress” has been distracting.

You know, if I could turn all my energy into defending this president, in this time of this impeachment that’s just being poured forth on him in such an unjust way, that would be a better use of my time. But now I think I can turn more attention to defending the president and trying to save our constitution.

If this turns into, whenever the majority of the House of Representatives is a different party than the elected president, you just impeach the president because you don’t like him politically, that destroys our constitution. That pulls our republic down. This is the fight we have before us. There’s hardly a pretense that Donald Trump did anything wrong or illegal or impeachable. It’s just simply, they don’t like him. They’ve been determined to impeach him since the night that he was elected.

King is obviously wrong about impeachment. The House voted down several efforts to impeach Trump and did not open formal impeachment hearings, even after the Mueller report included strong evidence that Trump obstructed justice. The current inquiry is happening only because the president’s attempt to hold up military aid in exchange for political favors from Ukraine was such a blatant abuse of power. (Iowa’s three Democrats in Congress were among the last to publicly support the inquiry.)

Meanwhile, the Democratic-aligned PAC End Citizens United added King to its target list this week. The group spent nearly $33 million during the 2018 cycle, including more than $12.5 million in independent expenditures on U.S. House or Senate races. It made contributions to all four Democratic nominees for Congress in Iowa as well.

Scholten’s campaign commented on the endorsement in an October 17 news release.

Since 2007, Steve King has taken nearly $600,000 in corporate PAC donations, reflecting his voting record that benefits corporations and wealthy elites and promotes his selfish agenda, while cutting billions from vital services Iowans rely on like unemployment insurance and SNAP. J.D. Scholten is running a people-powered campaign against King that doesn’t take a dime from corporate interests. Instead, Scholten’s campaign prioritizes the people of Iowa’s 4th district through its strategy of getting out directly to the people and through its platform of creating a health care system, an economy, and a government that works for all.

J.D. Scholten said: “Steve King is a symptom of the greater corruption problem in Washington of politicians being beholden to corporate interests and their wealthy donors. Our campaign is different: we don’t take a dime from corporate PACs; instead our power comes directly from the people. We’re already seeing the excitement on-the-ground in our first 39-county tour, meeting with and learning from people in towns of less than 1,000 people. This is how you ensure a government is of, by, and for the people — by meeting with your constituents where they are, not writing anyone off, and staying accountable and accessible to them, not just those who can make the maximum donation to your campaign.”

“Rep. Steve King’s racist and demeaning behavior is fueled not by Iowan voters but by the support of corporate special interests who just want to buy a vote in Congress,” said End Citizens United President Tiffany Muller. “From siding with Wall Street to using campaign cash to live a luxurious lifestyle in Washington and abroad, Steve King’s corruption runs deep. J.D. Scholten is proving he’s the antidote to King by rejecting corporate PAC money and pledging to give Iowans a voice in Congress. End Citizens United is proud to stand with Scholten, and we will do everything we can to make sure King never steps foot back in Congress again.”

About the Author(s)

Laura Belin