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Lawmakers, challengers plan fundraising blitz ahead of Friday deadline

After Jan. 6 and COVID-19 disruptions, PACs plan a relatively normal fall

Senate candidate Tim Ryan wants you to know he’s “freaking out,” and he’s not the only one trying to drum up some last-minute dollars this quarter.
Senate candidate Tim Ryan wants you to know he’s “freaking out,” and he’s not the only one trying to drum up some last-minute dollars this quarter. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

It must be near the end of a pivotal fundraising quarter, because Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Rep. Tim Ryan is “freaking out.” Colorado’s GOP Senate nominee, Joe O’Dea, is offering to “personally 1,400% MATCH” select campaign donations. 

Lawmakers and challengers are planning a fundraising blitz ahead of Friday’s quarterly deadline, the last big one before the November midterms, which are on track to be the priciest nonpresidential cycle yet. The onslaught of appeals includes desperate-sounding emails like the ones from Ryan and O’Dea, as well as more than 100 in-person events planned this week in Washington for members of both parties to raise campaign cash from K Street lobbyists and political action committee donors while Congress is in session.  

The scene this week seems almost normal for a two-year election cycle that has been anything but. It began with the violent attempted insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, and the resulting fundraising freezes from numerous corporate PACs in response. Eventually, even most paused PACs went back to donating. COVID-19 mitigations shifted many fundraising events online for much of the cycle, but while fundraising Zooms still occur, they are in the minority now.

“Things do seem to be getting back to somewhat normal in terms of in-person events,” said Micaela Isler, executive director of the National Association of Business Political Action Committees. “Over the summer and certainly since Labor Day, there really does feel like a real shift in wanting to just be back in person, with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement for in-person events.”  

Isler said the company and association PACs her group represents have mostly resumed donating to members of both parties and that she has seen only a few examples of companies folding their PACs in the turmoil after Jan. 6. 

“We’ve seen more interest in wanting to start PACs than wanting to shut down PACs,” she said. 

The group Accountable.US, which has tracked corporate donations since January 2021, found that business interests collectively donated more than $1.6 million this August to the 147 Republican lawmakers who voted against certifying the 2020 presidential election for Joe Biden. Company and association PACs have given more than $27.3 million to those lawmakers since January 2021, according to the group’s most recent research, based on Federal Election Commission reports.

‘Necessary steps’

Tori Ellington, manager of PAC and grassroots at the Public Affairs Council, said the majority of business PACs are active this election cycle. In the council’s most recent survey, from last year, 47 percent of its member PACs said they had reevaluated their criteria for donations and had made changes, while another 19 percent said they were still in the process of reevaluating their criteria.  

“We feel like PACs took the necessary steps,” Ellington said, in terms of determining candidate support going forward. For this fall, she added, “the trend will likely be ramped-up spending, because there are more fundraisers happening.”

This week, House Democrats alone have slated some 70 fundraising events, according to a roundup from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Vulnerable members, such as Reps. Cindy Axne of Iowa and Elaine Luria of Virginia, are among those with events in Washington, D.C. Luria is planning a happy hour fundraiser at the National Democratic Club on Wednesday, while Axne is planning an event Thursday, along with Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin, at Cornerstone Government Affairs, according to invitations. 

House Republicans, similarly, are planning a flurry of events, including a happy hour Thursday at Bullfeathers for Iowa Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks and a dinner Wednesday with Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer, who helms House Republicans’ campaign arm, according to invitations shared with lobbyists.

Senate Republicans up for reelection this year have events on the calendar this week, including Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Lee of Utah, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski. A number of Democratic senators held a Labor Council Reception on Tuesday, according to an invite to lobbyists.

Rising campaign prices

All such events aim to fuel campaigns in what is expected to be the costliest midterm election cycle to date, according to a new analysis from OpenSecrets. The group, which tracks money in politics, projects that campaigns and other political organizations will spend more than $9.3 billion on the 2022 elections, with more than $4.8 billion already tabulated.  

The uncertainty of which parties will control the Senate and House next year has helped to motivate donors, including in D.C. 

Michael Fraioli, a Democratic fundraiser, said he has seen an uptick in interest for his clients’ events not only as concerns about the pandemic fade but also as election prognosticators have downgraded the number of seats House Republicans are expected to win. Republicans, though still favored to gain control of the House, may pick up fewer seats than had been expected earlier this year, and the Senate appears to be a toss-up for control. 

“It’s really created positive energy for Democrats’ fundraising for the House and Senate,” Fraioli said.

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