McCarthy Raises Campaign Cash, But He's No Boehner

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is one of the strongest campaign fundraisers in his conference, but he still can't hold a candle to outgoing Speaker John A. Boehner, say Republicans mulling McCarthy as Boehner's successor.

Boehner’s fundraising operation was so extensive and successful — he donated tens of millions to his colleagues and candidates via multiple campaign committees and PACs — that his departure will leave a massive hole in Republican Party and GOP candidate coffers.

McCarthy is a Boehner protégé who has emulated the speaker’s fundraising practices — something that gives him a huge leg up in the contest to replace Boehner.

The only other House Republican considered in McCarthy’s league as a political money rainmaker is House Ways and Means Chairman Paul D. Ryan, a former vice presidential candidate who chairs a fundraising arm of the Republican National Committee known as the Presidential Trust. Ryan has taken himself out of the running for the speakership.

McCarthy has netted $13.1 million for his campaign committee and his personal leadership PAC since the beginning of 2014, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit that tracks political money. In the 2014 election cycle, a lucrative McCarthy joint fundraising committee known as the McCarthy Victory Fund pulled in $4.2 million.

But in that same election cycle, Boehner’s joint fundraising committee netted eight times that amount, with $35.4 million in receipts for the 2014 midterms alone. The Boehner for Speaker joint fundraising committee — a type of campaign account that raises large contributions and divvies them up amongst smaller committees — collected more than $71 million during Boehner’s tenure as speaker, CRP data show.

“The political operation that Speaker Boehner put together, I think, is unmatched, unparalleled,” said Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors. “He just raises a phenomenally large sum of money for members of the House and for candidates, and it remains to be seen what the future of the organization will be.”

National Appeal 

McCarthy has national name recognition and a strong fundraising base in money-rich California, GOP operatives note. He has lucrative connections in the banking, real estate and insurance industries, according to CRP, and his top donors include global insurer Zurich Financial Services and California Resources, an oil and natural gas company.

He also noticeably outpaces most of his colleagues in the GOP conference, including Daniel Webster, R-Fla., a possible rival for the speakership, and his GOP colleagues eyeing the chance to move up the leadership ladder. This includes Majority Whip Steve Scalise, of Louisiana, who is seeking to become majority leader. He has raised well more than $4 million for his campaign and leadership PAC accounts but has not cleared the $5 million mark.

“This is going to happen pretty quick,” said Trent Lott, a former GOP senator from Mississippi and senior counsel at Squire Patton Boggs, of the leadership race. “That's one reason McCarthy's locked in: he's been very active in recruiting in 2010 and he's been all over the country raising money.”

“We are excited about the prospects of a potential Speaker McCarthy, because we think he can be extremely successful in filling that hole” left by Boehner, concurred Mike Shields, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that backs House GOP candidates. McCarthy “is one of the few people in the House right now that has a national appeal and a solid fundraising network.”

That said, Boehner was in a class by himself, say Republicans, partly because he simply logged so many hours hosting events for his own fundraising operation, for his colleagues and for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP's political arm. 

"I don’t think McCarthy’s going to keep pace with Boehner; frankly I don’t think anybody can," said one House Republican chief of staff, who asked for anonymity to speak candidly.  "John Boehner raises a lot of money for our guys and was the financial backbone for the NRCC. He was responsible for our 63-seat pick up in 2010 and expanding the majority in 2014, I think it will be a challenge for anyone to fill those shoes."

Impact on NRCC

Boehner’s departure will likely hurt most at the NRCC, which has struggled to keep pace with its Democratic counterpart in recent election cycles. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $53 million more than the NRCC in the 2014 elections, despite Democrats’ minority status, in part thanks to strong digital fundraising and help from President Barack Obama.

But Republicans say the difference between the committees would've been worse for Republicans without Boehner. GOP operative Brian Walsh, a partner with the consulting firm Rokk Solutions, said many Republicans in safe districts did not appreciate Boehner's role.

"You have this small group of members that enjoy all the perks of being in the majority, but really have done very little to help sustain it," said Walsh, a former aide at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "It’s the folks like Boehner and others who have done the hard work to maintain the majority and win the tough seats, and unfortunately a lot of these folks in the Freedom Caucus aren’t in battleground districts and so they don’t fully appreciate the work it takes to sustain the majority."

It would take McCarthy time to become the kind of fundraiser Boehner was after more than two decades in Congress, Republicans acknowledge. But the title of speaker would help, said John J. Pitney Jr., a professor of American politics at Claremont McKenna College and a former Republican Party aide. 

“When Kevin McCarthy enters the room, a lot of money will flow in now that he’s speaker,” said Pitney, speaking as if McCarthy had already won the House’s top job. “The speakership is a much bigger magnet than the post of majority leader.”

Kate Ackley contributed to this report.