Small Donors Fuel a Big Democratic Lead in 2018 Fund-Raising

An army of Democrats giving money over the internet has lifted the party’s House candidates to a strong financial advantage over Republicans in the final weeks of the 2018 midterm election, with Democrats in the most competitive House races outraising their Republican rivals by more than $78 million.

Democratic challengers have outpaced Republican incumbents in large part by drawing in millions of dollars from many thousands of supporters online — a strategy wielded by Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders in presidential elections but never replicated on a massive scale in House races, until now.

Across the 69 most competitive House races, Democrats have raised a total of $46 million from small donors during the 2018 election, compared with just $15 million for their Republican opponents, according to campaign finance data released this week.

Total raised by candidates in tight House races, in millions




Note: Numbers are for races considered competitive by the Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper., as of Oct. 12

Democrats have taken in $252 million altogether in those races over the course of the campaign, versus $172 million for Republicans. The gap in small donors accounts for about 40 percent of the Democrats’ overall financial advantage.

Nicco Mele, director of Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public policy, said the breakout fund-raising by Democratic congressional candidates reflected a confluence of two forces: the steady growth of political giving online over more than a decade, and the unique passion of Democrats this year to challenge Mr. Trump.

“We have been building toward this,” said Mr. Mele, a former political strategist who built online outreach campaigns. “I think when we look back, we will not see this year as an outlier.”

The flood of online donations on the Democratic side has reshaped the campaign for control of the House, diminishing the financial might Republicans expected to wield in the closing rounds of battle to keep their majority. Republicans have long enjoyed stronger support than Democrats among wealthy individual donors and much of the business community, and the party can still rely on a network of lavishly funded super PACs to blanket many districts with advertising in the coming weeks.

But the influx of Democratic donations touched every corner of the House map, from high-profile races in the suburbs of New York and California, to more rural, conservative-leaning stretches of Indiana, Kansas and Alaska.

Scores of Democratic candidates were less reliant on money from wealthy check-writers and industry groups that tend to support incumbents, instead tapping into the churning political energy of distraught liberals around the country. Some raised millions to attack their party’s favorite bogeymen: Andrew Janz, a Democratic prosecutor in California, collected $4.3 million, since June, in a long-shot challenge to Representative Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee chairman who is a high-profile ally of President Trump. (The race is not among the 69 considered most competitive by The New York Times.)

Mr. Janz, who appears to have raised more from donors than any other Democratic congressional candidate in the last quarter, despite receiving little help from the national party, said he had benefited from Mr. Nunes being “globally disliked among progressives.”

“We put together, I think, a credible national message that revolves around ending the corruption in Washington,” Mr. Janz said in an interview. “And Nunes is at the heart of all of that.”

Democrats without lightning-rod Republican opponents also disclosed enormous fund-raising numbers. Several were women with compelling personal biographies, including Amy McGrath, a former fighter pilot running in Kentucky, and Sharice Davids, a lawyer running in Kansas who would be one of the first Native American women elected to Congress.

Ms. McGrath raised $3.6 million in the last three months and Ms. Davids raised $2.7 million. Both women have raised more than a fifth of their money during the 2018 campaign from small donors.

Democrats who raised the most from small donors

District

Candidate

Total raised (in millions)

From small donors

Percent small donors

Wisc. 1

Randy Bryce

$7.41

$4.52

61%

Ohio 12

Danny O’Connor

6.85

2.36

34

Ky. 6

Amy McGrath

6.69

1.63

24

Calif. 25

Katie Hill

6.29

1.31

21

Tex. 31

Mary Hegar

3.54

1.30

37

Calif. 45

Katie Porter

5.03

1.17

23

Wash. 5

Lisa Brown

4.60

1.12

24

Calif. 10

Josh Harder

6.09

1.08

18

Calif. 48

Harley Rouda

6.36

1.06

17

Calif. 49

Mike Levin

4.91

1.01

20

N.J. 11

Mikie Sherrill

7.02

1.00

14

Wash. 8

Kim Schrier

5.34

0.90

17

Va. 7

Abigail Spanberger

4.95

0.90

18

Minn. 3

Dean Phillips

4.03

0.85

21

Va. 10

Jennifer Wexton

4.56

0.84

18

Ill. 6

Sean Casten

4.73

0.81

17

N.J. 3

Andy Kim

4.43

0.81

18

N.Y. 19

Antonio Delgado

6.59

0.80

12

Calif. 50

Ammar Campa-Najjar

2.49

0.79

32

Minn. 2

Angie Craig

4.24

0.73

17

A number of Democrats in close races appeared to turn Republican super PAC ads to their advantage in the last quarter, converting Democratic outrage about Republican tactics into campaign donations. Antonio Delgado, an African-American lawyer running for Congress in New York’s Hudson Valley, raised $3.8 million in part by decrying Republican ads blasted him as a “big-city rapper.”

In Virginia, Abigail Spanberger, a former intelligence officer, took in $3.6 million after a Republican group, the Congressional Leadership Fund, was revealed to have obtained a copy of her confidential application for a federal security clearance. The document contained information that the group has since used in attack ads.

Tiffany Muller, president of End Citizens United, a Democratic group that favors strict campaign finance regulations, said Democratic candidates had effectively upended the traditional model of financing congressional campaigns. She said Democrats had marshaled so many small contributions in part through a pointed message attacking corruption and the influence of corporate money in politics.

“This is not just a backlash to Trump,” Ms. Muller said. “This is a fundamental difference in the way we’re funding campaigns.”

Percentage of money raised by small-donor dollars




Note: Numbers are through the third quarter of the election year. Only candidates who raised at least $50,000 are included.

Republicans continue to hold an important upper hand in super PAC fund-raising, which allows partisan electioneering groups to collect money in unlimited amounts from wealthy individuals. The principal Republican group focused on defending the House, the Congressional Leadership Fund, has raised and spent a titanic sum this cycle, collecting about $126 million and ending last month with $36 million left to spend.

House Republicans have leaned especially hard on a small number of extremely prolific political donors as the political climate has darkened. More than a third of the money the Congressional Leadership Fund has raised has come from just two people: Sheldon and Miriam Adelson, who have given the group $50 million from their casino fortune.

Still, in recent days, Republican strategists have warned of a “green wave” approaching from the left – a tide of Democratic money pouring in online to dislodge entrenched lawmakers. That money, delivered directly to candidates, gives Democrats in the hardest-fought races a better chance to hold their own against a barrage of Republican advertising.

Corry Bliss, who heads the Congressional Leadership Fund, warned donors in a memo last week that Democratic candidates were overwhelming some Republican candidates with advertising.

“Democratic candidates are outspending Republican candidates in key races by $50 million,” Mr. Bliss wrote, invoking the “green wave” metaphor and noting that Democrats had billionaire backers, too, including Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor.

Mr. Mele said Republicans had plainly failed to match Democrats’ enthusiasm for online political giving, noting that the party had struggled for years to match the infrastructure Democrats have constructed for amassing small dollars.

“There’s no ActBlue in the Republican Party,” Mr. Mele said, referring to the website that serves as the Democrats’ main fund-raising portal. “And by the way, I know of at least three attempts to start one.”

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