Something of a wake-up call for establishment Republicans, I think. The New York Times is reporting that “insurgent” Republican groups are outraising more establishment-oriented organizations.
By a lot.
Four Republican-leaning groups with close ties to the party’s leadership in Congress — Crossroads and its “super PAC” affiliate, the Congressional Leadership Fund, and Young Guns Action — raised a combined $7.7 million in 2013. By contrast, four conservative organizations that have battled Republican candidates deemed too moderate or too yielding on spending issues — FreedomWorks, the Club for Growth Action Fund, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and the Tea Party Patriots — raised a total of $20 million in 2013, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed on Friday.
“This is by far the biggest nonelection year we’ve ever had,” said Matt Hoskins, the executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund. “It shows how committed people are to electing true conservatives and to advancing conservative principles.”
It’s true that David Koch’s group, Americans for Prosperity, has been pouring early money into Senate races. But almost all of that money has been directed at vulnerable Democrats and not spent in service to any GOP incumbents. It’s unknown if Koch will jump into any Republican primaries on the side of anti-establishment candidates.
Other groups have not been shy about where their allegiances lie:
The Senate Conservatives Fund has feuded bitterly with party organizations, including the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and has financed challenges to incumbent senators who it does not believe adhere sufficiently to conservative orthodoxy.
In Kentucky, the fund is backing Matt Bevin, a businessman, in his bid to unseat Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s Republican leader.
“If Mitch McConnell wins, the party will continue to drift away from its conservative principles and become increasingly hostile to the grass-roots,” the Senate Conservatives Fund states on its website. “But if Matt Bevin wins, the establishment’s stranglehold over the party will be broken and power will be restored to the people who elect these politicians.”
Because some of the biggest groups are not required to report their fund-raising to the Federal Election Commission and declined to volunteer the information, the figures do not include some major spenders on both sides, including Americans for Prosperity, and the American Action Network, which focused on House races and is affiliated with the Congressional Leadership Fund.
And the party-oriented organizations, which were organized and remain oriented toward helping Republicans win general elections, typically raise most of their revenue later in the election cycle.
“Our pledges are on track with previous cycles and we are increasingly enthusiastic about prospects for winning a majority in the Senate and holding the majority in the House,” said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for Crossroads.
Moreover, major trade associations with ties to the Republican establishment have signaled they will spend heavily in this year’s election cycle, in part to help elevate candidates who can perform strongly in matchups against Democrats. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, traditionally one of the biggest players in campaigns, is forecasting that it will spend about $50 million on a mix of general election and primary races.
Yet there are signs that some of the establishment-oriented groups are being particularly careful with their cash. American Crossroads, the American Action Network and the YG Network announced a joint $1.2 million advertising campaign in the special election for a congressional seat in Florida, suggesting that the groups were taking care to pool their spending to achieve greater impact.
The downside is that millions of dollars are going to be spent on primaries instead of the general election. This may have been inevitable given the rancor between the camps, but the question has to be asked: how many of those challengers have a realistic shot at upending an establishment GOP senator or congressman?
To some, victory is not more important than making a statement about the purity of one candidate or another. While tribalism may be the smart political move, the practical effect of all of this is a questionable use of resources that could have been better used elsewhere.