Against a backdrop of the war in Iraq and new campaign financing regulations, Congressional candidates submitted April quarterly fundraising reports last week for the first time ever in an off-election year.
The March 31 reports, filed with the Federal Election Commission, were required as part of the new Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act that became law in November.
Among the ranks of vulnerable freshmen likely to see competitive races again next year, Republicans far outpaced their Democratic colleagues, a review of the reports showed. The top 10 fundraisers among the group of freshmen elected with 55 percent or less were all Republicans.
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-Ga.) led all other first-term Members, taking in a whopping $500,000 in the first three months of the year and ending March with $456,000 in the bank. Just less than half of the total raised came from political action committees.
Gingrey, who won the marginal 11th district with 52 percent in November, is hoping that his aggressive first-quarter fundraising will help stave off a top challenger next year. As a spokesman put it, “the odds will decrease of really getting a first-tier candidate.”
“To show almost a quarter-million dollars in cash when we were dead, dead broke on Election Day is pleasing,” said Chip Lake, Gingrey’s general consultant.
Lake said in the first quarter Gingrey received donations primarily in $1,000 increments, although the new law increased the individual contribution limit to $2,000.
“People are used to writing $1,000 checks to go to a campaign event,” he said, noting that the benefit of the increased contribution limit will likely not be realized until later this year. “It’s conditioning your donors to realize that now there are higher limits.”
Gingrey has a $248,000 debt from a personal loan to his campaign, after paying himself $100,000 in December. He spent roughly $1.3 million in the 2002 contest, in part because his district includes the Atlanta media market.
In addition to Gingrey, the list of top freshman fundraisers reads much like a compilation of likely Republican targets in 2004.
Rep. Bob Beauprez (R-Colo.), who won his 7th district seat by less than 200 votes, raised just over $300,000 in three months and showed a similar amount in cash on hand. Beauprez still carries a $455,000 debt from last year’s campaign, almost all of it owed to himself.
Republican Reps. Mike Rogers (Ala.) and Chris Chocola (Ind.), both elected to represent marginal districts with just 50 percent of the vote last year, raised $290,000 and $232,000, respectively.
Reps. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.) and John Kline (R-Minn.), the only two freshmen to defeat Democratic incumbents in 2002, posted notable fundraising numbers as well. Brown-Waite raised and banked roughly $220,000, while Kline raked in close to $150,000.
Other freshmen who raised better than $200,000 in the period include Reps. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and Max Burns (R-Ga.).
Renzi, who won with only 49 percent last November, also reported a $547,000 debt after repaying himself $6,000 of the funds he loaned to his campaign.
Burns, who represents the Democratic-leaning 12th district, raised $206,000 and ended March with $160,000. He is expected to be a top target next year, and one potential challenger already reported having more money in the bank than the incumbent as of March 31.
Athens-Clarke County Commissioner John Barrow, the only 12th district Democrat to file a fundraising report with the FEC, showed $200,000 in the bank after raising an impressive $205,000 in the period. He loaned his campaign $25,000.
Among House Democrats, Rep. Tim Bishop (N.Y.) led vulnerable freshmen in fundraising for the quarter. Bishop, who narrowly defeated Rep. Felix Grucci (R), took in $130,000 and showed $75,000 in reserve as of March 31.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), the only other Democrat to defeat an incumbent last year, raised $146,000 and had $38,000 banked, although he is not considered highly vulnerable.
While Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), who won with 51 percent last year, raised just $40,000 in the period, he posted $147,000 in the bank after repaying himself $16,000. His campaign still showed almost $220,000 in debt, most of it owed to himself.
Among freshmen who won with 55 percent or less last year, South Dakota Rep. Bill Janklow (R) was the weakest fundraiser. He pulled in a paltry $9,000 from January through March and reported $20,000 in his campaign account.
While targeted first-termers are afforded little breathing room when it comes to padding their coffers, sophomores have a bit more leeway.
After facing millionaire trial attorney Jim Humphreys (D) for the past two cycles, and winning by 20 points last year, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s (R-W.Va.) fundraising slowed substantially in the first quarter. Capito raised just $20,000 and reported a little more than $100,000 in the bank. By comparison, she raised $470,000 in the first six months of 2001 after narrowly being first elected in 2000.
Vulnerable freshmen weren’t the only Members seeking to bolster their re-election prospects and fend off potential challengers with the release of the latest reports. Targeted incumbents likely to see competitive races also sought to prove their fundraising prowess and pad their coffers for another re-election battle in the first three months of the year.
Republican Reps. Anne Northup (Ky.) and Henry Bonilla (Texas), both of whom were targeted by Democrats in 2002, led the group of Members whose re-election prospects are considered in the most peril.
Northup raised $236,000 and had $214,000 in the bank at the end of last month. Bonilla, who was re-elected with just 50 percent, raked in $265,000 and showed $377,000 in cash on hand.
Northup’s home-state colleague, Rep. Ken Lucas (D-Ky.), a perennial target for Republicans, raised $84,000 in the period and had just over $100,000 left in reserve.
Businessman Geoff Davis (R), who garnered 47 percent against Lucas last year and has already announced he is running again, outraised the three-term lawmaker for the quarter. Davis raised $216,000 and reported a little more than $190,000 in cash on hand. He still shows a $150,000 debt from previous loans to his campaign.
Two other Republicans running against Lucas also outraised the incumbent in the period.
Meanwhile, Rep. Earl Pomeroy (N.D.) led the way among the more vulnerable Democrats, raising more than $170,000 in the period. Pomeroy is heading up the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s Frontline program, designed to provide guidance to vulnerable incumbents.
Democratic Reps. Dennis Moore (Kan.), Rick Larsen (Wash.) and Tim Holden (Pa.) all raised roughly $125,000 in the period after winning re-election last year with just 51 percent.
Holden defeated Rep. George Gekas
(R-Pa.) in one of four Member-versus-Member matchups created by redistricting, and Republicans are expected to go after him aggressively next year. The only declared challenger so far, accounting consultant Frank Ryan (R), reported raising almost $60,000 — more than half from a personal loan — in his first FEC report.
In other noteworthy activity among the vulnerables, the only contribution Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa) showed for the period was a $15,000 loan to his campaign in January. He ended March with $1,000 in the bank and $182,000 in personal loan debt from prior races. Leach does not accept PAC money, out-of-state contributions or donations in excess of $500. He was re-elected with 52 percent in 2002 after being targeted by Democrats.
Meanwhile, Rep. John Hostettler (R-Ind.) showed the least activity of any potentially vulnerable incumbent. He reported raising just $188 in the quarter. Hostettler has had to consistently battle for re-election in the competitive 8th district, and he showed just $10,000 in the bank through March 31.
For political strategists and other observers, the first FEC reports of the cycle offer one of the earliest indications of which Members might be looking toward retirement.
Texas Rep. Ralph Hall (D), who perennially stays on retirement watch, has raised just $2,000 so far this year and his report showed a negative $24,000 balance in his campaign account. Hall’s 4th district voted 71 percent for President Bush in 2000, and even Democrats acknowledge it will be virtually impossible to hold the seat when Hall leaves.