The House Republicans who were the most vocal in opposing Kevin McCarthy’s bid for Speaker reaped substantial financial rewards for it, new campaign finance filings show.
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who referred to McCarthy as the “biggest alligator” in a swamp-themed fundraising email in early January, reported his top fundraising days among itemized donors on Jan. 6 and Jan. 7. Such strong fundraising days early in the quarter are unusual and suggest the Speaker fight was a significant driver of donations. The Florida congressman brought in a total of roughly $675,000 during the first quarter, including more than $480,000 from donors giving less than $200 — a sign of enthusiasm from the party’s small-dollar base.
Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), who led the charge against McCarthy’s assumption of the speakership and sent a fundraising email in late December calling the eventual speaker a “RINO Establishment hack,” raised $217,000 during the first quarter, including $88,000 from donors giving less than $200. Among itemized donors, his best fundraising day in the first quarter was Jan. 2, the day before the Speaker votes began.
Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo), who spent several thousand dollars on Facebook ads in January that touted the Speaker fight as having “fundamentally changed the direction of our country,” reported more than $760,000 in first-quarter receipts. That included just shy of $270,000 from small-dollar donors and $95,000 through a joint fundraising committee. The speaker fight produced several days of above-average fundraising for Boebert in January, although her top fundraising days came later in the quarter.
It’s not rare for each party’s more incendiary members to also be their most prolific fundraisers. In the age of grassroots giving, appeals to the base can generate big bucks. Less common, however, is for lawmakers to organize those appeals around direct challenges to their own party’s leadership.
The effort to capitalize on the Speaker race was not without cost, both reputational and financial. The trio burned through cash at a higher rate than most candidates in the first quarter, a POLITICO analysis found.
The Gaetz campaign spent more than $490,000 over the course of the quarter, including more than $100,000 on fundraising expenses, according to his filing. He still had more than $700,000 left in the bank due to cash left over from his 2022 campaign. In response to questions from POLITICO about the link between the Speaker battle and fundraising, Gaetz defended his fight against McCarthy’s ascension, saying that he started “firing back” after “shadow groups” peppered his district with calls asking him to support the California Republican.
Biggs’ campaign spent $168,000 over the period, including $53,000 on list rentals — a common fundraising expense — as well as $38,000 on direct mail and $14,000 on fundraising consulting.
Boebert’s campaign also spent more than $500,000 over the quarter, with direct mail, digital advertising and fundraising consulting as her biggest expenses. The Colorado Republican, who won reelection in 2022 by fewer than 600 votes, was one of the few lawmakers who opposed McCarthy’s ascension who faces a potentially competitive election in 2024. Boebert was outraised in the first quarter by Democratic challenger Adam Frisch. She did not address questions from POLITICO about whether the Speaker fight drove fundraising but said in a statement that there was “no doubt Democrats will raise more and spend more to try and steal” her seat.
While McCarthy was ultimately elected to the speakership on the 15th ballot, the fundraising successes of those lawmakers who opposed him along the way, underscore just how tenuous his hold on the majority actually is. The insight into fundraising comes as the House GOP faces new internal conflict with a high-stakes standoff over the debt ceiling approaching, where McCarthy once again will need to keep nearly all of the members of his caucus in line.
It pays to be a party firebrand.