Politics

Democratic House Freshmen Show Fundraising Edge Over GOP Classmates

First-term Democrats outraise Republicans in first and second quarters

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., in his office in the Cannon House Office Building in February, was the top fundraiser for House freshman in the first two quarters of 2017. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Corrected at 5:28 p.m. on July 24 | Republicans may hold the House majority, but that doesn’t give them every advantage.

With their first two fundraising deadlines behind them, Democratic newbies in the chamber are demonstrating their ability to out fundraise their Republican colleagues.

Among first-term lawmakers in the chamber who will likely run for re-election next year, Democrats have taken in, on average, about 46 percent more in receipts per member than Republicans, according to a Roll Call analysis of Federal Election Commission filings.

The margin between the two parties was largest during the first quarter of the year, when Democrats raised an average of $281,000 per freshman member, compared to $189,000 among Republicans. The disparity shrank slightly in the second quarter, but Democrats kept a sizable advantage.

It’s well-known that House freshmen are quickly introduced to the fundraising machine once they arrive in Washington. Calling potential donors from party headquarters outside the Capitol — where fundraising is prohibited — quickly becomes an important part of the job for members of Congress.

For freshmen especially, their future electoral potential is judged in part by their initial FEC filings, providing an incentive to bring in the big dollars.

Party, of course, is not the only factor that contributes to fundraising success. Desirable committee assignments, such as placement on the powerful Ways and Means and Energy and Commerce committees, can connect members with big donors. Name recognition from previous office can also help, as is the case a former Florida governor turned representative, Democrat Charlie Crist (who was a Republican governor). And freshmen in districts with competitive ratings, unsurprisingly, brought in more cash during the second quarter than those in districts with a “solid” race rating, as determined by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales.

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Fundraising totals have added importance in competitive districts, which freshmen have a disproportionately high chance of representing. While the advantages that incumbency brings can make re-election campaigns easier than initial challenger bids, freshmen are twice as likely as House members in general to be in districts considered competitive, according to the Inside Elections race ratings.

There’s also the threat that members who aren’t well-established will face intraparty primary battles.

“Every quarter basically determines whether they’re going to get a primary opponent,” a Republican fundraising consultant told Roll Call in February.

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Of the top five freshman fundraisers this year, four are Democrats. They include: Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey ($1.59 million), Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois ($1.55 million), Brad Schneider of Illinois ($1.33 million), Crist ($1.23 million) and Republican Brian Mast of Florida ($1.16 million). Gottheimer and Crist are in competitive districts.

Of the bottom five freshman fundraisers this year, four are Republicans: Reps. Tom Garrett of Virginia ($122,000), Francis Rooney of Florida ($140,000), John Rutherford of Florida ($162,000) and Ted Budd of North Carolina ($172,000). The lone Democrat is Al Lawson of Florida ($155,000). All are in districts rated solid in their favor.

Correction: This story previously used an analysis that included forms filed to the Federal Election Commission that were later amended. Some numbers and rankings have been changed since original publication. The current version reflects the correct totals. 

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