Congressional Fundraising Poised to Plunge as Some Loathe to Ask

Congressional campaigns still have an election ahead, but with in-person dinners, events and gatherings canceled and lawmakers cautious about asking donors for money during a pandemic, fundraising that had been expected to pour in by now is slowing to a trickle.

The first fundraising quarter of the election year ends next week. While the totals from the first three months may not appear far off pace, political consultants expect a significant drop over the next three.

“We predict the average campaign’s fundraising will slow by 50 percent in [the second quarter],” said Sarah Elizabeth Pole, director of marketing with Grassroots Analytics, which advises liberal campaigns and groups. “Everyone is really adjusting right now on the field side of things.”

Half a dozen candidates who spoke to Bloomberg Government expressed optimism about their chances and said they continued to connect with voters through the phone or online. Still, voters tend to give smaller sums online than they do in person, Pole said, and candidates are keeping in mind that some of their donors have taken significant financial hits from the market and business downturns caused by the coronavirus.

The challenge is especially tough on candidates facing established incumbents who sought to increase name recognition through in-person meetings and large ad buys, something they now might not be able to spend as much money on.

“As the campaign moves forward, you have to spend money,” said Eugene DePasquale, a Democratic candidate in the race to challenge Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) for his southeast Pennsylvania seat. “But I want to recognize how people’s finances right now may be in a totally different place than a week or two to three days ago.”

“We’re all human beings here,” he added.

(Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg)
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) is being targeted by Democrat Eugene DePasquale, who is facing challenge of raising funds during the coronavirus crisis.

Still, fundraise they must. Both the Republicans’ and Democrats’ House campaign arms are encouraging campaigns to keep at it. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee told candidates in a memo this month that more hours fundraising via phone would be needed to prevent falling behind.

Several candidates said they have yet to see a big drop in donations, although some said donors were asking if they could give later in the summer. A broader picture of the reality will emerge in mid-April and again in mid-July when campaign fundraising and spending numbers are released.

“I don’t think the first quarter will paint a good picture of what’s happening because it will only have effected one month,” Pole said. “I think the second quarter is gong to be the biggest indicator of how this has effected candidates.”

Amie Kershner, a Democratic consultant, agreed. “Next quarter you’re going to see massively lower numbers,” she said. “That’s the one I’m far more worried about.”

Kershner said she is advising clients to keep calling donors — not to ask for money but to check in on them.

Kelly Mitchell, one of several Republicans running for the seat of retiring Rep. Susan Brooks(R-Ind.) in the Indianapolis suburbs, said she’s started all of her phone calls by asking people how they are doing and what she can do to help. Sometimes, she said, she doesn’t bother to make a fundraising request.

“Sure, without the coronavirus, we would have raised more money this quarter than we will now,” she said. “But I still think we’re making gains, because even if what I do is just talk to someone or listen to them, that’s a relationship strengthened.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernie Kohn at bkohn@bloomberglaw.com; Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com

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