Despite a lousy economy and tanking poll numbers for Congress, Americans still continue consider politicians a worthwhile investment.
The Federal Election Commission has completed an analysis of campaign finance reports for the first half of the year from congressional candidates. Despite the recession and the record-low regard for Congress, the money continues to pour in—at a historically high rate for Senate races. Below are a few of the highlights from the FEC's report. (All figures are rounded.)
The Empire (State) strikes. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is the top Senate fundraiser for the first half of 2011, raking in a grand total of $6.3 million. Of that, $5.3 million came from individual donors, making her the leader in that category as well.
The Empire strikes back. Three senators with the biggest targets on their backs in this campaign cycle are taking full advantage of incumbency when it comes to fundraising. The three senators most successful in raising money from political action committees: Orrin Hatch, R-Utah; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
Money sometimes walks ... away. Some of the most impressive figures registered in the first half of the year came from candidates who are no longer candidates. Roger Williams spent $1.2 million—more money than any other Senate candidate except incumbent Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.—but gave up his bid for the Republican nomination in Texas to run for a House seat instead. Florida state Senate President Mike Haridopolos also dropped his bid for his state's GOP Senate nomination after raising $3.3 million from individuals. Only two incumbents, Gillibrand and Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., raised more money from individual donors.
Not messing around. Brown, who shocked the political world when he won the seat that Sen. Edward Kennedy had held for 47 years, is ready for a battle royal to keep the seat in Republican hands. He's got $9.6 million in cash on hand. Next closest senator: Bill Nelson, D-Fla., with $6 million in the bank.
Smart money betting against House Democrats. Incumbent House Republicans have opened up an advantage over Democrats in contributions for the first time at this stage of the election cycle since 2005. For Democrats, the median receipts for the first half of 2011 were $246,000, compared with $316,000 for Republicans.
Smart money betting on House Democratic challengers. Giving to non-incumbents is up sharply in the first six months of 2011 compared to the same period two years ago, and the advantage tilts heavily to the party out of power. Median contributions to Democratic challengers totalled $74,000, compared with $50,000 for Republicans. And Democratic challengers' campaigns had a better than two-to-one advantage when it comes to cash on hand: Their median was $61,000, compared with $30,000 for Republicans.
House GOP frosh are learning to shake the money tree. House freshmen raised $37.2 million in the first half of this year—a 34 percent increase over the rookie class of two years ago. Rep. Steve Stivers, a first-year Republican from a swing district based in Columbus, raised $453,000 from political action committees, the 11th highest amount of any House incumbent.
Getting bankrolled for redistricting. Among the top 10 House members with the most cash on hand are two Democratic veterans who might need it: Reps. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., with $3.6 million, and Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, with $3.1 million, both have had their districts drawn out from under them and will face tough primary battles to win reelection.
Promising to cut money gets you money. House deficit hawk-in-chief Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has a bigger bankroll than any House incumbent. His $3.8 million in cash on hand puts him ahead of Speaker John Boehner, who has $3.6 million.
Comeback kid. Former Sen. George Allen, R-Va., is getting plenty of financial help in his effort to win back his old seat. Allen ranked No. 5 among Senate candidates in terms of spending ($966,000); No. 8 in contributions from individuals ($2.2 million); and No. 25 in contributions from political action committees. Everyone else above Allen in PAC contributions is an incumbent member of the House or Senate.