Some Republicans fear Mike Johnson can’t match Kevin McCarthy’s fundraising prowess

By | October 28, 2023

The decision to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker and replace him with a little-known congressman, Mike Johnson of Louisiana, has left a glaring financial hole for House Republicans heading into 2024, when the party will have to defend its narrow and fragile majority.

Mr. McCarthy’s political operation has brought in more than 100 times the amount of money Mr. Johnson has raised so far in 2023 — $78 million to about $608,000, according to federal records and public disclosures . And over Mr. Johnson’s entire career in Congress, since his first election in 2016, the Louisiana Republican has raised a total of $6.1 million, less than Mr. McCarthy’s average monthly takings this year .

House Republicans’ willingness to trade a rainmaker for a member who has raised less than some of his more junior colleagues has caused a deep sense of uncertainty at the highest levels of the conference, even as relieved lawmakers are united behind Mr Johnson to end weeks of political paralysis.

“Mike Johnson is not known for being a prolific fundraiser. He raised money to meet his needs in an uncompetitive seat in Louisiana,” said Tom Reynolds, a former congressman from New York and former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. “It remains to be seen: will it be able to raise funds to help members next year?

In the days after taking the gavel, Mr. Johnson called Dan Conston, the president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the main House Republican super PAC, and he is expected to play an important role in that group’s fundraising in the future. And a sign of the urgency of the political task that awaits him – in addition to governing – Mr. Johnson, during a meeting first reported by Punchbowl Newsvisited the headquarters of the National Republican Congressional Committee hours after being sworn in Wednesday.

Mr. Johnson has heavy financial responsibilities to fulfill.

Mr. McCarthy is directly responsible for 10 to 25 percent of all campaign money raised this year by nearly all of the House’s most vulnerable Republicans, according to an analysis of federal records.

Mr. McCarthy’s transfers to the party’s House campaign committee account for more than 25 percent of the $70.1 million raised this year. Then there are the hundreds of millions of dollars that Mr. McCarthy has helped raise in recent years for the Republican Party’s main super PAC, which has been closely aligned with him.

In a brief interview Friday, Mr. McCarthy pledged to “help the party bridge the divide” in the coming weeks and months as the new president takes over, even if he is not still clear whether he will maintain the dizzying pace of travel that awaits him. his team had taken him to 22 states and 85 cities this year.

“I helped build the majority and I’m not going to walk away from it,” Mr. McCarthy said.

A person who has been in contact with the new speaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation, said Mr. Johnson understood the weight of his new responsibility, not only legislative but also political.

Adding to the sense of uncertainty among leading Republicans is how Mr Johnson’s hardline stances on social issues – his opposition to same-sex marriage and his strictly anti-abortion stance – will play out with some of the party’s top financiers, which tend to be more moderate. than the party base.

Mr. Johnson’s allies predicted he would quickly jump into the money loop. To some extent, the perpetual money machine that is modern Washington has already begun to adapt to the new Republican order.

“The event we’re doing for him will probably be the easiest money I’ve raised all cycle,” said Susan Hirschmann, a Republican lobbyist who runs the firm Williams & Jensen and is already organizing a fundraising campaign. funds. “I can tell you my phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to help raise money for President Johnson.”

Brian Ballard, who runs another major lobbying firm, said the new speaker team has already reached out and is now planning an event this fall. “The world turns, and this role requires him to take on that,” Mr. Ballard said. “My clients are very enthusiastic about working with him. As far as I’m concerned, it’s transparent.

Yet it is not only the prodigious nature of Mr. McCarthy’s fundraising, but also the specific methods he used to raise and distribute money that make his efforts difficult to replicate. His political operation has been a war chest for his party’s most vulnerable incumbents — a void the new president is unlikely to be able to fill in the months leading up to next year’s crucial elections.

Federal records show that for 21 of the 24 most vulnerable Republican incumbents, Mr. McCarthy was directly responsible for at least 10% of their fundraising in the first nine months of 2023. That’s one share unusually large coming from just one. source, and Mr. McCarthy did this by aggregating a large number of contributions before distributing them to his colleagues.

For some members, McCarthy’s share was closer to 25 percent of what they raised.

Rep. Brandon Williams of New York has received about $336,000 this year from committees linked to Mr. McCarthy, about a quarter of the $1.3 million he has raised. Rep. John Duarte of California, who won one of the nation’s tightest 2022 contests, received about $402,000 from the former president’s operation, more than 23% of the $1.7 million dollars he raised.

McCarthy’s team intended to shift soon to similarly fill the coffers of Republican challengers running against Democratic incumbents, according to three people familiar with the plan, who requested anonymity because they did not were not authorized to speak on behalf of Mr. McCarthy’s political operation, but the future of those efforts is now uncertain.

Despite Mr. McCarthy’s efforts, the National Republican Congressional Committee lagged its Democratic counterpart in fundraising this year, by $70.1 million to $93.2 million, and began the month of October with about $8 million less in the bank.

“Obviously, Republicans were extremely dependent on Kevin McCarthy for their fundraising,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “It puts them in a very difficult position.”

Mr. McCarthy spent more than a decade carefully tending donor relations while rising through the ranks of the House. Mr. Johnson ascends to the presidency without a significant donor network or a devoted following. His campaign account had brought in less than $300,000 in donations of less than $200 during his congressional career.

And although he served as chairman of the Conservative Republican Study Committee, an internal House conservative caucus, he was not a fixture on the Washington fundraising circuit and did not chair a standing committee.

Jeff Brooks, a partner at the lobbying firm Adams and Reese who knows Mr. Johnson, said “he has the personality” to succeed. “There’s going to be a gap, there’s no doubt about it,” he said of replacing Mr. McCarthy’s money. “But Mike will close it quickly.”

Mr. Johnson’s office declined to comment.

For now, Rep. Steve Scalise, the majority leader and fellow Louisiana Republican, is expected to help Mr. Johnson expand his operation.

“When someone like Mike steps into this very important role, very suddenly, I think it’s fair to say: Obviously, a person in this position has to be careful about who is truly loyal and committed to him rather than be opportunistic,” said David Vitter, a former Louisiana senator and now lobbyist who has known Mr. Johnson for years. “I know Mike trusts Steve and his team in general.”

Some in Washington scoffed that one of Mr. McCarthy’s top financiers, Jeff Miller, a lobbyist who has been a prolific fundraiser for years, said in Politics that he would help Mr. Johnson.

“Very selfless of him,” Mr. Vitter said with a laugh.

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