House

GOP leader warns lawmakers on fundraising: ‘Getting our ass kicked’

Greg Nash

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in a closed-door meeting of his conference on Tuesday admonished Republicans for insufficient fundraising, telling the members, “We’re getting our ass kicked.”

The stark message comes amid rising concerns that Democratic Party committees and candidates are building a massive financial advantage, seriously compromising the GOP’s chances of reclaiming the House in the elections in November.

At the meeting, McCarthy, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) urged members to step up their fundraising and their contributions to the NRCC. 

“Emmer said we are sounding the alarm,” one source in the room told The Hill. “Steve said members need to be raising money and paying dues, Kevin said we’re getting our ass kicked.” 

“McCarthy and Emmer reviewed the overall numbers and the disparity. Also stressed difference between D and R member and candidate campaign COH [cash on hand] — about a $40m disparity,” one GOP lawmaker texted The Hill. “ Members need to meet their dues commitment minimally while also funding their campaign. Too many members well behind on their dues.” 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $125 million in 2019, according to DCCC Chairwoman Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.). Emmer said this month the NRCC had raised $85 million last year, a serious deficit even for a minority party.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) raised $87 million for party committees and candidates in 2019; McCarthy’s office said Tuesday he had raised $52.3 million for Republican candidates and the NRCC, while Scalise raised $21 million.

“It’s not so much we’re doing badly or lagging where we’ve been,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a former NRCC chairman who attended Tuesday’s meeting. “You’ve got to tip your hat off to them, and we’ve got to do more.”

Dozens of potentially vulnerable Democrats who first won their seats in 2018 have reported been raising money at a breakneck pace; three-quarters of the DCCC’s roster of vulnerable incumbents will report raising more than $500,000 in the last three months of the year alone, far outpacing Republican challengers who are only now getting their campaigns off the ground.

In the battle for the Senate, the most promising Democratic candidates are hauling in eye-popping sums.

Mark Kelly, the retired astronaut challenging Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), reported raising $6.3 million in the final three months of the year, the third straight quarter Kelly has outraised McSally, who pulled in $4 million.

Maine state House Speaker Sara Gideon (D), challenging Sen. Susan Collins (R), pulled in $3.5 million over the final quarter of the year, her campaign said Tuesday.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) raised $2.8 million for his campaign against Sen. Cory Gardner (R). Democratic candidates in South Carolina and Texas will report hauls north of a million dollars, too.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has a slight cash advantage over its Democratic counterpart. The Republican National Committee has a huge edge over the Democratic National Committee, but the Democratic presidential candidates outraised President Trump and the RNC combined in the last quarter.

The Senate Majority PAC, the largest outside group backing Democratic Senate candidates, reported hauling in $61 million in 2019, while the House Majority PAC pulled in $41 million. Neither of the two largest Republican outside groups have reported their 2019 totals yet.

Some Republicans have laid blame for the party’s fundraising woes at the feet of the presidential election cycle as Trump’s campaign hauls in tens of millions of dollars. 

“You’ve got members that are well behind in their fundraising goals,” one senior Republican lawmaker said. “I just think it’s hard to do when there’s so much money being sucked up by Trump, his campaign and the super PAC.” 

But others say the problem is more structural.

Those Republicans pointed to Democratic success in building donor programs that hoover up money from thousands of small-dollar donors; ActBlue, the leading online fundraising platform that Democratic candidates use, reported raising more than $1 billion for the party, its candidates and causes in 2019. Its Republican counterpart, WinRed, only launched halfway through last year.

“The real problem is the giving cultural advancements that Democrats have made with their small-dollar donors that frankly have left Republicans in the dust. It’s not uncommon to meet a middle-class Democrat who has donated 20 bucks to a couple different presidential candidates and a handful of Senate and House candidates. This donor is currently a unicorn for Republicans,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican strategist with close ties to party leaders. 

Some Republicans downplayed the seriousness of the warning delivered Tuesday. One House Republican said the meeting represented a standard “pay your dues” meeting.

Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.), who is leaving Congress to run for governor, signed over $250,000 to the NRCC in a show of solidarity. Cole handed Emmer a $15,000 check on Monday.

Republicans hope to become the first party to lose the House in a midterm and win it back in a presidential election since they reclaimed control on Dwight Eisenhower’s coattails in 1952.

“The reality is, most places across the country, we’re going to be on offense. We’re going to have to have the money to do that, and we’re clearly not there,” Cole said. “A lot depends on how the president runs. He’s pretty unorthodox and in some ways unpredictable, but it’s hard for me to see him not carrying the seats he carried last time.”

“If people believe they can take the majority back, they’re a lot more likely to do it,” he added. “We’ve got to get more members to believe that.”

Updated at 1 p.m.

Tags Cheri Bustos Cory Gardner Donald Trump Greg Gianforte John Hickenlooper Kevin McCarthy Martha McSally Nancy Pelosi Steve Scalise Susan Collins Tom Cole Tom Emmer
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