Online fundraising has slowed across much of the GOP in recent months, an unusual pushback from small donors that has set off a mad race among GOP political operatives to understand why — and reverse the sudden decline before it. hurt the party’s chances this fall. .
Small donations often increase as the election approaches. But in recent months the opposite has happened in a wide range of Republican entities, including every major party committee and former President Donald J. Trump’s political operation.
The total amount donated online fell more than 12 percent across all federal Republican campaigns and committees in the second quarter compared to the first quarter, according to an analysis of federal records by WinRed, the leading Republican donation processing portal in the United States. line.
More alarming for Republicans: Democratic contributions increased at the same time. Total federal donations to ActBlue, the Democratic counterpart, increased by more than 21 percent.
The overall Democratic online fundraising lead widened by $100 million from the last quarter of 2021 to the most recent three-month period, records show.
Compounding the fundraising problems for Republicans is that Trump remains the party’s top fundraiser, and yet virtually none of the millions of dollars he has raised has gone to defeating Democrats. Instead, the money has funded his political team and his agenda of retaliation against Republicans who have crossed paths with him.
The current political climate favors Republicans as President Biden’s approval rating hits new lows. But nearly a dozen GOP strategists directly involved in fundraising or campaign oversight have raised concerns about how falling fundraising could limit their party’s gains.
Working in the party’s favor is that Wall Street billionaires and other industry titans have handed out seven- and eight-figure checks to Republican super PACs, offsetting some of the party’s low-money struggles, which some blamed on inflation and others to deceptive tactics that are turning off followers over time.
“We have to raise the money,” Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said repeatedly on Fox News on Friday when asked about the outlook for 2022. “We got the money, we won.”
For the Senate Republican committee, online fundraising plummeted $6.7 million in the most recent quarter, to $11 million, from $17.7 million. The leading Republican Senate candidates, even those whose fundraising increased, are falling far behind their Democratic rivals in the race for money.
The money gap is so steep that Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, an endangered Democratic incumbent, raised more online last quarter ($12.3 million) than WinRed’s combined quarterly earnings from Republican nominees or presumptive nominees. to the Senate in seven key races: Georgia, Wisconsin, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
Money alone doesn’t win political races, and Republicans have been used to trailing Democrats in online fundraising for years. Democratic donors, for example, spent more than $200 million to lose the Senate races in Kentucky and South Carolina last cycle, with neither race finishing even close.
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But the drop in online donations less than four months before Election Day — not just compared to Democrats, but compared to the previous quarter — has still sent ripples of anxiety through Republican circles.
Eric Wilson, director of the Center for Campaign Innovation, a conservative nonprofit focused on digital politics, commissioned a recent survey of Republican fundraisers and found that 70 percent did not meet expectations.
“This perfect storm is happening that has really slowed down grassroots fundraising,” Mr. Wilson said.
Some Republicans blamed inflation. Some technology platforms blamed. Others accused certain campaigns and committees, particularly the highly aggressive Trump operation, of simply overfishing and polluting a limited donor pool for everyone.
Trump’s PAC often sends out more than a dozen fundraising emails a day and relentlessly seeks new donors via text messages and by renting conservative email lists. At times, the operation has relied on deceptive and manipulative tactics. As one Republican in Mr. Wilson’s poll put it, “Republicans are struggling to increase revenue from online fundraising because the big dogs are eating all the food in the bowl.”
Two strategists involved in other low-cost GOP races, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid angering the Trump team, said the former president’s rental of donor lists has at times shut out other 2022 candidates or forced them. to accept less favorable terms when prospecting. for new taxpayers.
Some Republicans have surveyed their donors to ask why they weren’t giving, and according to people familiar with the results, inflation was the top answer. At a closed-door donor retreat last month, Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, also blamed inflation for the slowdown in small giving.
Still, the role of inflation is hotly debated in digital circles because it has apparently not affected Democratic donations, which rose particularly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
“They have a lot of motivating factors,” Wilson said of the Democrats.
Some Republican strategists said their small donor base is especially susceptible to price increases because their small donors are increasingly working class or relying on fixed incomes. A New York Times analysis of 2020 campaign contributions nationwide showed that, compared to Democrats, Republicans raised a much higher proportion of their money in ZIP codes where the median household income was less than $100,000, part of the evolving realignment between the two parties.
Still, when it comes to multimillion-dollar mega-donations to super PACs, the GOP is easily outpacing the Democrats in 2022.
The Senate’s top Republican super PAC had nearly $40 million more in cash on hand than its Democratic counterpart at the start of July. The cash advantage of the House Republican super PAC was even greater: almost $70 million.
Kenneth C. Griffin, CEO of Citadel, a giant hedge fund, has poured nearly $50 million into various federal super PACs ahead of the 2022 election, including $10 million for the Senate’s main arm and $18.5 million for the super Chamber CAP.
Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chairman of Blackstone, another hedge fund, has contributed a combined $20 million to the top House and Senate Republican super PAC this year. Timothy Mellon, the heir to the banking fortune, and Patrick R. Ryan, who became a billionaire through the insurance industry, each contributed $10 million to the top House Republican super PAC.
And Miriam Adelson, a physician whose husband, Sheldon Adelson, was long one of the party’s most generous contributors until his death last year, made her first $5 million donation of the 2022 cycle this month.
Democrats have had fewer donors at that level. And some of the party’s top financiers in the past, notably Michael R. Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor, have largely stayed out of the super PAC wars of 2022.
While Mr. Bloomberg has often contributed closer to the election, wrote an opinion essay this year warning that the Democratic Party was headed for “annihilation” barring a “course correction.” He has so far donated just $1.5 million to a super PAC that he uses for federal races; most of that amount went to a single Democratic primary in Georgia.
For Republicans, House candidate fundraising has been a relatively bright spot, as a growing number of candidates are raising significant funds online. At this point in 2020, only 28 Republican House candidates and incumbents had raised more than $500,000 on WinRed, according to data compiled by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Now, that figure stands at 94.
But House Republican leadership has not been immune to the general slowdown. Representatives Kevin McCarthy of California and Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the top two House Republicans, have seen steep drops in WinRed donations. Fundraising in its main accounts focused on smaller donors fell by about $2 million combined, or about 25 percent, in the most recent quarter.
Andrew Fischer, Bea Malsky, and Rachel Shorey contributed research.