• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
rotating globe
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG


Feb 6, 2024, 5:43pm EST
politics

GOP small donors fizzle, Gaza war draws big bucks, and other FEC report takeaways

The crowd listens as Republican presidential candidate and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley speaks during a campaign rally at the University of South Carolina - Aiken on Feb. 5, 2024, in Aiken, S.C.
Getty Images/Brandon Bell
TweetEmailWhatsapp

Sign up for Semafor Americana: An insider’s guide to American power. Read it now.

Title icon

The News

Every three months, we get a serious gut check across the entire world of campaigns: Every federal candidate has to submit donations, receipts and spending for the quarter. If they double-counted or overhyped their funding, their FEC reports will reveal that. If they stopped raising money — maybe there’s a crisis, maybe they’re retiring — we find out. Here’s what we spotted on the scoreboard this month, after the latest numbers rolled out.

Title icon

David’s view

Small donors still aren’t excited about the presidential race. On Monday, Nikki Haley’s campaign reported its best month of fundraising ($16.5 million) after its best-ever fundraising quarter ($17.3 million). As the field shrunk, as she became the only game in town for Trump-skeptical donors, she was raising enough to fund a campaign through Super Tuesday.

Those numbers also represented a sharp drop from 2020, when a dozen Democrats were seeking the nomination and the first results — in Iowa and New Hampshire — shrunk the field. Haley raised about as much last quarter as Andrew Yang did four years earlier.

AD

In the first month of primary voting (which started in February, not January, for the 2020 Democrats), four candidates who lost the nomination raised more than Haley did last month: Bernie Sanders ($47.7 million, Elizabeth Warren ($29.5 million), Amy Klobuchar ($18.7 million), and Pete Buttigieg ($18.6 million). A fifth, Mike Bloomberg, largely self-funded his campaign, and only sought donations to qualify for debates.

This has become a theme of the quarterly reports. Big donors aren’t being cheap, super PACs are getting everything they need, but conservative small donors are less engaged with this race than liberal small donors were with the last one. That’s hurt the Republican National Committee’s bottom line, and helped the president build a cash lead over Donald Trump; the Republican front-runner ended 2023 with $33 million on hand, $13 million less than Joe Biden and a third as much as he had at the start of the 2020 campaign.

There’s more money than in prior cycles for third-party candidates, but it’s been spent quickly — a function of the work they need to do to get onto primary ballots. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. raised more than $7 million in his first full quarter as an independent candidate after closing down his Democratic primary campaign. He spent more than that, drawing on prior funds, and ended the year with $5.4 million. Cornel West raised a bit less than $317,000 over the quarter, and ended it with less than $87,000.

AD

Democrats outraised Republicans in Senate races, House Republicans held them off. Just two Senate Democrats are seeking re-election in states won by Donald Trump — Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown and Montana Sen. Jon Tester. Both outraised their opponents, including potential challengers who can draw on personal wealth to narrow the gap. Brown collected $6.4 million, and the three Republicans seeking their nomination raised a bit less than a third of that, combined. Tester raised $5.4 million, and National Republican Senatorial Committee recruit Tim Sheehy raised $1.5 million, not counting another $450,000 he loaned to the campaign.

Money dried up for the two incumbents, elected as Democrats six years ago, who the party wants to get rid of. In Arizona, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema raised just $379,090, after refunding nearly $45,000; in New Jersey, Sen. Bob Menendez refunded more ($16,200) to donors than he raised ($15,795). Both were handily outraised by Democrats – Arizona Rep. Ruben Gallego with $3.3 million, New Jersey First Lady Tammy Murphy with $3.2 million, and New Jersey Rep. Andy Kim with $1.7 million.

The Senate is becoming the preferred battleground for Republican donors who don’t want a Trump restoration but don’t think Nikki Haley can stop it, so the Democratic cash advantage is going to get erased. There are green shoots for Republicans in the House, too. Texas Rep. Vicente González, who dispatched ex-Rep. Mayra Flores last year, has more cash on hand, but Flores’s reach — she won a high-profile special election for an open seat in 2022 — helped her out-raise him all year. The humiliating departure of Speaker Kevin McCarthy last year didn’t hurt the Republicans who hold Biden-won seats in California, and most had blockbuster quarters.

AD

Democrats did better in New York, where they expect a new set of House maps to create more competitive races. The number of competitive seats across the country is still shrinking, and none of their races are under-funded. Democrats out-raised Republicans in eight of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s 17 “Red to Blue” races – 16 swing districts where Republicans won competitive 2020 and 2022 elections, and the Michigan district being vacated by Rep. Elissa Slotkin as she runs for U.S. Senate.

Two “Squad” members are in trouble — and the Israel lobby is loaded. The Israel-Gaza war broke out just a week into the final fundraising quarter. It took no time for the most left-wing members of the House to call for an immediate ceasefire, and no time for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other pro-Israel groups to target them for defeat in primaries.

United Democracy PAC, created by AIPAC to fund its independent expenditures, raised $35.5 million from the start of the war to the end of 2023; it came into 2024 with $40.8 million on hand. Already, it’s been putting money into California Rep. Katie Porter’s Orange County seat to help a more pro-Israel Democrat in the March 5 primary. But most of the “Squad” — four left-wing Democratic women elected in 2018, and four members who’ve joined them since — have no serious competition and raised a ton of cash.

Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American member of Congress, led the group with an astounding $3.6 million quarter — a 2400% increase from her June-September fundraising. Pennsylvania Rep. Summer Lee raised over $987,000, a five-fold increase from the previous quarter. Tlaib’s the highest-profile ceasefire advocate in the House, and Lee built her donor list by taking on AIPAC, twice, in 2022. Tlaib hasn’t drawn a serious challenger yet, while Lee’s raised about a third as much last quarter, and made some unwelcome local news by telling donors that she wanted pro-Israel conservatives to switch parties and support her.

Who is in danger? New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Missouri Rep. Cori Bush were both outraised by their challengers, who entered the race after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. Westchester County Executive George Latimer doubled Bowman’s fundraising (more than $1.4 million to around $725,000) and started the year with twice as much cash ($1.3 million to around $630,000); Bush and Bell raised roughly the same amount of money, but Bell started 2024 with nearly $409,000 and Bush started it with $216,000. And both got gifts from the news cycle — Bowman’s censure for pulling a House office fire alarm came right before the end of the quarter, and a DOJ probe into Bush started right after.

Democrats have a huge cash advantage in the George Santos special. If Democrats lose next week’s special election on Long Island, it won’t be for lack of spending. Ex-Rep. Tom Suozzi, who local Democrats nominated on Dec. 7, raised $4.5 million in just three weeks, ending January with $2.2 million. Mazi Pilip, who the GOP nominated on Dec. 14, raised $1.3 million, spending half of it, and entering the final stretch with less than $630,000. Suozzi had a decades-long rolodex to draw from, and Pilip didn’t. They raised a similar amount of money from donors who gave less than $200 apiece — a bit more than $520,000 for the Democrat, and a bit more than $380,000 for the Republican. Overall, it’s far more than the major party candidates raised in the last big New York special election, a 2022 race in the Hudson Valley, but a similar relative gap between team red and team blue.

Will it matter? We’ll find out in one week.

Title icon

Notable

  • In the New York Times, Maggie Haberman and Shane Goldmacher trace the cash that’s going from donors to the Trump legal defense.
  • In Politico, Steven Shepard and Jessica Piper pull apart the Biden “money machine.”
  • In The Lever, Amos Barshad looks at internal AIPAC documents to get the full story of its fundraising surge.
Semafor Logo
AD