House Fundraising Up, Especially for Democrats

Posted July 27, 2005 at 6:04pm

House Members are off to a “roaring start” in their efforts to amass campaign cash for next year’s midterm elections, with Democrats doing particularly well, according to a report the Campaign Finance Institute released Wednesday.

The center analyzed data filed by Congressional candidates with the Federal Election Commission and found that the rate of growth in House incumbents’ has nearly tripled in two years. That increase amounted to House incumbents raising 29 percent more during the first six months of this election cycle than they did during the same period in 2003.

The CFI report acknowledged that incumbents generally raise more money than they did in the preceding campaign, even accounting for inflation. Nonetheless, the growth rate in the first half of 2005 greatly exceeds the two preceding cycles. The 29 percent average growth rate between 2003 and 2005 compares with an average growth rate of 11 percent from 2001 to 2003, and 8 percent from 1999 to 2001.

Beyond the overall increases, CFI found that at least twice as many candidates topped both the $500,000 and $1 million thresholds in the first six months of the year than during the same time frame in 2003. In the first half of 2005, 52 House candidates raised more than a half-million dollars, with six of them raising more than $1 million. Those figures compare to 23 and three, respectively, in 2003. Nearly all the candidates who passed those markers this year are incumbents.

Perhaps illustrative for House electoral prognosticators, CFI’s analysis revealed that House Democrats may have much reason for optimism heading into next year’s midterms. The number of GOP challengers filing against Democratic incumbents is at its lowest point in President Bush’s administration, while Democratic challengers to Republican incumbents has hit a Bush-era high-water mark.

In the first six months of this cycle, 52 Democratic challengers have filed fundraising reports with the FEC, compared to only 25 GOP challengers who have raised funds during that period.

Additionally, Democrats seem to be on an upswing of new recruits, while Republicans took a 50 percent hit compared to the previous cycle in the number of GOP candidates challenging incumbent Democrats. By comparison, in the first six months of 2003, 42 Democratic challengers reported fundraising activity to the FEC, compared to 58 GOP challengers.

The early filings suggest Democratic candidates have been more brazen this cycle in trying both to take open seats and to knock off GOP incumbents. Although these numbers in no way speak to the strength of each candidate vis-à-vis her opponent, CFI’s figures delineate the raw number of candidates in a variety of categories.

Democratic challengers currently have active fundraising operations in 38 districts held by Republicans, compared to 31 in 2003 and 27 in 2001. In contrast, GOP challengers have filed fundraising reports in 16 districts represented by Democratic incumbents, compared to 41 in 2003 and 25 in 2001.

Republicans were more competitive in the number of candidates competing for open seats. A total of 24 GOP candidates have filed bids to replace outgoing lawmakers, while the Democrats have fielded 22 recruits for open-seat races. So far there are 14 open seats this cycle.

But again the Democrats seem to be on the growth path, as Republicans had fielded 32 open-seat challengers at this time in the previous cycle, compared to only eight by Democrats.

The Campaign Finance Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization affiliated with George Washington University.