Aug. 1, 2014

Operatives: Abysmal Campaign Fundraising in Third Quarter

Only a few days after the third quarter ended, party operatives warned that the past three months will yield some of the worst Congressional fundraising totals in recent memory.

House and Senate candidates typically bring in lackluster hauls in the third quarter of an off year. It’s traditionally a low point in the cycle because donors are not focused on an election more than a year away and put off writing checks until after summer vacation.

But these past three months will feature some of the most dismal fundraising numbers in the past few cycles, according to interviews with 20 operatives on both sides of the aisle. Consultants speculated fundraising across the board could be down about 25 percent this quarter, while others complained that it took twice as many solicitations to meet their goals.

The bipartisan grumbling varied: Some Democrats griped that the Jewish New Year took up otherwise prolific fundraising days in September, and one Republican operative complained that Hurricane Irene slowed down fundraising in August.

In the end, a laundry list of factors contributed to a poor fundraising quarter, including the effects of a struggling economy on normally deep-pocketed donors.

“I think it’s really challenging right now for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the economy,” Democratic consultant Mark Nevins said. “People are reluctant to invest heavily in campaigns right now because they have their own personal financial concerns to worry about.”

Action — or lack thereof — on Capitol Hill also contributed to poor fundraising. In July, the finger-pointing associated with the debt ceiling debate left a bad taste in the mouths of small-dollar donors.

That was followed by the August recess, which always falls in the third quarter and deprives Members of a month’s worth of fundraising events with K Street donors.

“I think you’re going to see incumbents on both sides a little bit off more than usual due to the lighter schedule this September in Washington,” Republican consultant Brad Todd said. “The debt fight, also, took a ton of calendar in July.”

Many Members hit the road to raise money during the August recess, but sources say traveling for fundraisers is not as lucrative as in previous cycles.

Again, a poor economy is partially to blame. While the earlier recession dried out fertile fundraising ground in New York City, the most recent economic downturn is more widespread. The donor class in second-tier fundraising destinations such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Orlando are thinking twice before opening their wallets.

Many consultants also described extreme competition in the fundraising market with the presidential campaign. Candidates must be careful not to hit the same city within a couple of weeks of a presidential candidate’s trip to raise money there.

“It’s been pretty difficult for House candidates, even for the Members. The president is sucking up everything,” one Democratic fundraiser said. “If he’s going anywhere within a two week radius around your event, it’s really difficult to try to do anything.”

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