Iowa Congressional 1Q fundraising news roundup

While many Americans dread tax day, April 15 holds a silver lining for political junkies: the chance to read the latest federal campaign finance reports. Follow me after the jump for details on the money raised and spent by Iowa’s five U.S. House incumbents and five challengers between January 1 and March 31. Note: at this writing, Dave Loebsack’s primary challenger Joe Seng had not filed a quarterly report with the Federal Election Commission. I will update this post if one appears. He may not have raised enough money yet to trigger reporting requirements.

Click here for the latest voter registration numbers in Iowa’s four new Congressional districts.

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Newt Gingrich slowly learning about fiscal responsibility

Good news has been in short supply lately for supporters of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s presidential candidacy. But Gingrich told Seema Mehta of the Los Angeles Times this week that he’s turning things around:

“The fact is a month of media barrage is painful, and it slowed a lot of things down,” [Gingrich] said, before marching in a Fourth of July parade in Clear Lake, Iowa. “Our numbers will not be as good as we would like, and candidly, the consultants left us in debt. But every single week since they left we’ve been cutting down the debt, and we raise more than we spend in a week.”

Way to blame on the media for your own big mouth and lazy approach to campaigning, Newt. If you’re asking people to elect you president, you should at least be able to keep your own organization’s spending in line with its revenues.

Gingrich hasn’t given up on competing in the Iowa caucuses. His new spokesman R.C. Hammond told the Des Moines Register’s Jason Clayworth that the campaign will rely on the kindness of strangers volunteers. One of the most important free laborers will be former Representative Greg Ganske. He was part of the giant Republican “Class of 1994” in the U.S. House, taking down legendary Democrat Neal Smith in what was then Iowa’s fourth district. Ganske stepped up to be Gingrich’s finance chair in Iowa and is giving the candidate some money tips:

Ganske has already advised Gingrich to stop chartering expensive private planes and to instead fly commercial airlines, preferably in coach.  He’s also advised Gingrich to skip the Ames straw poll, a major Republican presidential shindig that will be held Aug. 13th.

“It’s basically who can buy the most buses to transport people in and then throw the biggest party,” Ganske said. “Basically it’s a fundraiser for the party.”

When a campaign is flat broke, the candidate shouldn’t need to be told to stop chartering planes. Then again, Gingrich developed an expensive airplane habit in his years running the American Solutions 527 organization.

Gingrich has no choice but to skip the Ames straw poll because he couldn’t afford to put in a bid for a spot outside the venue.

Last time Ganske made Iowa campaign news, he was hosting a fundraiser for Jim Gibbons, the Congressional candidate who lost badly to State Senator Brad Zaun in the 2010 IA-03 Republican primary, despite support from power-brokers in Iowa and Washington. Ganske’s been out of office for a long time, and rightly or wrongly, many Republicans feel his flaws as a candidate cost the GOP the 2002 U.S. Senate race against Tom Harkin. But beggars can’t be choosers. Gingrich should be thankful that anyone with any clout in Iowa offered to assist his hopeless cause.

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Iowa GOP cancels Lincoln dinner fundraiser (updated)

Donald Trump’s decision not to run for president put the Republican Party of Iowa in an awkward position, because he was supposed to keynote the party’s June 10 Lincoln dinner fundraiser. While Iowa GOP officials waited to hear whether Trump would keep his promise, even WHO television reporter Dave Price (a favorite among conservatives) couldn’t get a call back seeking comment. The state party finally got the bad news today and released this statement:

Earlier today the Iowa GOP was informed that Mr. Trump will not attend and keynote the June 10 Lincoln Dinner. Citing Mr. Trump’s unique appeal and the close proximity to the event, the Iowa GOP has decided to cancel the 2011 Lincoln Dinner.

Iowa GOP Chairman Matt Strawn issued the comment below following Mr. Trump’s decision to cancel his appearance at the Lincoln Dinner.

“In Iowa, your word is your bond. We are disappointed that Mr. Trump has chosen not to honor his commitment to Iowa Republicans.”

I know three weeks isn’t a lot of time, but I’m surprised party leaders couldn’t find some other well-known Republican to step up at the last minute. The Iowa GOP probably has already incurred printing and other expenses related to renting the Polk County Convention Complex for the event. Now money collected for record ticket sales will have to be refunded.

Maybe Iowa Republicans are better off not hitching their wagon to that horse, though. People with an unfavorable view of Trump greatly outnumber those who view him favorably, according to several recent national polls.

UPDATE: How bizarre.

On Friday, apparently stung by criticism from the spurned Iowans, Trump offered to travel to Iowa and speak if the Republicans would change their minds and hold the dinner.

“I promise you that my speech will be fantastic. My word is my bond,” he wrote to Matt Strawn, chairman of the Iowa Republican Party. […]

The state party’s response was essentially thanks, but no thanks. […]

“Iowa Republicans have moved on,” is all party spokesman Casey Mills had to say Friday afternoon.

A Trump aide released a copy of the letter, in which the tycoon said he had thought it would be inappropriate for him to give the speech once he decided not to run for president.

“I truly believe that this honor should be given to one of the other candidates or potential candidates, who could use this invaluable opportunity to get their word out,” he wrote. “I was very surprised and saddened to read that you canceled the event, and hence, called you immediately to let you know that if you wanted me to be there, I would be ready, willing and able.”

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Report scrutinizes Tom Miller's campaign contributions

Kevin McNellis of the National Institute on Money in State Politics published a report yesterday on Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller’s 2010 campaign fundraising. The report connects Miller’s contributions from out-of-state law firms and people in the finance, insurance, and real estate sector with the nationwide foreclosure investigation Miller has been leading since October. Miller objects that the report “is false or misleading from the start to the finish.” More details and context are after the jump.

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IA-04: More speculation about Vilsack challenging King

Citing “several sources familiar with her thinking,” Alex Isenstadt reports at Politico today that former First Lady Christie Vilsack is leaning toward challenging five-term incumbent Steve King in Iowa’s fourth Congressional district. Isenstadt notes that Vilsack met with Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel last week in Washington. Israel reportedly promised Vilsack that he would support her if she runs against King, but that he would “unequivocally” back Representative Dave Loebsack if she runs against him in the Democratic primary to represent the second Congressional district.

Isenstadt’s piece doesn’t clarify whether Israel promised the DCCC’s financial backing for Vilsack in an IA-04 race. The DCCC officially supports all Democratic nominees for the U.S. House, but usually only spends money on behalf of a few dozen candidates. The 39 counties in the new fourth district (map after the jump) are in five different media markets, although most of the population could be reached by advertising in just Des Moines, Sioux City and Mason City.

Last week the Des Moines rumor mill suggested Vilsack had been calling state legislators in the second district. According to Isenstadt, she has discussed a possible race against King with some Democrats in IA-04:

Jan Bauer, chairwoman of the Story County Democratic Party in Ames, said she spoke with the former first lady several weeks ago and that Vilsack raised the possibility of challenging the conservative congressman.

“I’d be surprised if she doesn’t do it,” Bauer said in an interview.

A campaign in IA-04 would be an uphill climb for any Democrat, although Vilsack would start the race with unparalleled name recognition and the capacity to raise significant funds. King has never been a major-league fundraiser; his latest FEC filing indicated that he had $142,610.38 in his campaign account as of March 31.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. I think a campaign in IA-02 would give Vilsack her best chance of winning a seat in Congress and holding that seat for more than two years. On the other hand, I would enjoy seeing a serious and well-funded challenge to Iowa’s most embarrassing politician of my lifetime.

Final note on IA-02: Loebsack’s latest FEC filing showed $121,874.47 cash on hand as of March 31. Representative Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin headlined a fundraiser for Loebsack in Iowa City over the weekend. Next month, Representative Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Senator Tom Harkin are hosting a fundraiser for Loebsack in Scott County, while Representative Leonard Boswell (IA-03) plans to hold a fundraiser for Loebsack in Jasper County.

UPDATE: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told Democratic state senators on Monday that if his wife runs for Congress, “it will be a holy war.” That suggests she is leaning toward challenging King, rather than forcing a Democratic primary in IA-02.

SECOND UPDATE: From Bret Hayworth’s blog on April 19:

This morning, Iowa Republican Party Chairman Matt Strawn was traveling through Northwest Iowa to talk politics, including making a stop to talk with me at the office. He was raring to talk about the possibility of a King-Vilsack matchup.

“She can try and take Steve King on, but I think that will be a great opportunity for Republicans to mobilize. A presidential year, having  a very highlighted race in Northwest Iowa, is a guarantee that we are going to be able to turn out every Republican and conservative vote that would benefit a presidential candidate, all the way down the ticket,” Strawn said.

“Not only does Mrs. Vilsack not have any natural connection whatsoever to Northwest and north central Iowa, but culturally is out of step. She’s someone that has an affiliation with some organizations that would certainly inflame a lot of the pro-life voters in this area… Congressman King has a national following as well, and he would have the ability to call in all sorts of resources to aid the fight.”

THIRD UPDATE: Matt Paul, a former staffer for Governor Tom Vilsack, told the Des Moines Register on April 19,

“I can confirm that Christie and Tom Vilsack have completed a transaction and are moving to Ames,” said Matt Paul, a Democratic strategist who was a staffer for Tom Vilsack when he was governor. […]

Paul declined to offer further details about Christie Vilsack’s political intentions, but said: “There will be an announcement very soon.”

FOURTH UPDATE: A rare moment of agreement between Governor Terry Branstad and me:

“Well, she’s never lived in northwest Iowa and it’s a heavily Republican area,” Branstad said this morning. […]

“I think in southeast Iowa she would be a pretty formidable candidate where she grew up,” Branstad said. “I think in northwest Iowa she’d be a fish out of water.”

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Follow-up on Iowa Republican fundraising for legislative races

Last week I discussed the strangely low fundraising numbers reported by some Republican candidates in battleground Iowa House and Senate districts. Craig Robinson of The Iowa Republican blog is worried about the “lackluster fundraising numbers of the House Republicans,” not so much by candidates running in the open seats but by the GOP leaders:

Obviously, party leaders will always prefer candidates who can raise money to fund their campaigns, but very few candidates actually raise enough money to be self-sufficient.

This means that the leadership team in both chambers must raise money to help win or protect seats. House Republicans are not hitting on all cylinders in this area. […]

At this time in 2008, [Chris] Rants’ five-person leadership team had raised over $437,000. [Kraig] Paulsen’s seven-person team has raised significantly less, bringing in $364,000.

Another problem for the House Republican effort is that two of the seven-member leadership team are facing stiff competition this fall. Representatives Renee Schulte and Dave Deyoe both occupy seats that are very expensive in which to campaign, and both will have to use every dollar that they raise on their own races instead of helping others. If Schulte and Deyoe’s fundraising totals are subtracted from the leadership team’s total, it means that Paulsen’s team has really only raised $298,000. […]

In total, the 2008 leadership team for the House Republicans raised $785,000. That means that, at this point in the 2008 election cycle, Rants’ leadership team had raised 56% of the total funds they would raise that year. If Paulsen’s crew raises only what was raised in 2008, then they are only 46% of the way there if you include Schulte’s and Deyoe’s contributions, and they are a disappointing 38% of the way there if [Schulte] and Deyoe are excluded because they have their own races to worry about.

If House Republicans want to wrestle control away from the Democrats, they need to get serious about fundraising. Legislative campaigns are expensive. The average cost of a rural House seat is $200,000, while an urban house seat can easily cost $400,000 or more. […]

Robinson also posted a table comparing Iowa House Republican leaders’ fundraising from 2008 and the current election cycle, which you can find after the jump. House district 37 (map here) is one of Iowa Democrats’ best pickup opportunities. It contains a large part of northern Cedar Rapids, ending where the suburbs Hiawatha and Marion begin. Schulte defeated first-term State Representative Art Staed by just 13 votes in 2008. Even after recent Republican gains in voter registration, registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in district 37 (no-party voters have a plurality). Robinson is right: Schulte won’t be able to afford to share her campaign funds with other House Republicans, because her Democratic opponent Mark Seidl is pounding the pavement.

Deyoe’s House district 10 (map) covers most of Story County outside Ames as well as the eastern part of Hamilton County. Compared to House district 37, this is slightly more favorable terrain for the GOP, as registered Republicans outnumber Democrats. But as in many Iowa legislative districts, no-party voters comprise the largest group of registrants. Moreover, Deyoe has a more experienced opponent in Selden Spencer, who was the 2006 Democratic nominee against Tom Latham in the fourth Congressional district. Both Spencer and Deyoe have just under $26,000 cash on hand, according to the July 19 disclosure reports.

I hadn’t realized before reading Robinson’s post that Iowa House GOP leaders were not keeping up with the party’s fundraising pace in 2008, but that’s not surprising. Ask any professional working in the development field: the recent recession and stock market declines make it more challenging to raise money now than in 2008. In addition, Republican statehouse leaders had much less competition for donors two years ago. The statewide offices weren’t on the ballot, and John McCain had a small donor pool here, having mostly bypassed the Iowa caucuses. Now Terry Branstad and to a lesser extent Brenna Findley are raising big money from the same people Paulsen needs to tap for the House races.

Share any relevant thoughts in this thread. If you can afford to do so, please donate to one or more Democrats running for Iowa House. You can give online through ActBlue or the candidates’ official websites.

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