NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The early line on 2014 is that Democrats might gain House seats, assuming voters still remember this month's government shutdown when they go to the polls.
Looking at the financial trends on key races, however, paints a slightly different picture. The anti-incumbency wave is well-funded, and a lot of the money is coming from outside the incumbents' districts.
"There may be business groups or PACs trying to send a message," with early donations, notes Viveca Novak, editorial and communications director for the Center for Responsive Politics.
That seems true, as I found by diving into the financing of key contests that may decide who controls the House in 2015. As a guide, I found two districts the Cook Political Report rates as "toss-ups," one held by a Republican, another by a Democrat. I also looked at a district where a Republican incumbent already faces competition from an insurgent identified with the "Tea Party."
I focused my examination on contributions made in September, as the shutdown controversy gained steam. Here is what I found.
In Colorado They Act Blue
One of the more interesting races is shaping up in Colorado's 6th Congressional District, the southern suburbs of Denver, where incumbent Republican Mike Coffman faces Andrew Romanoff, a former state legislative leader who lost the 2010 Democratic Primary to current Senator Michael Bennett.
For the third quarter the money race seems very close, with Romanoff raising about $524,000and Coffman $461,000 . But while Coffman drew 26% of his haul in September, during the run-up to the shutdown, Romanoff raised 62% of his quarterly stake during that period.
How did he do it? Mainly through a Political Action Committee called ActBlue, which matched many of the individual contributions he got during the quarter, dollar for dollar. Partly as a result Romanoff's Federal Election Commission or FEC form for the period runs to four pages, with 1979 entries. ActBlue matched contributions as small as $10, and as big as $2,600. Each match is a separate entry on the form.
As a result, Romanoff appears to have drawn a haul of $326,315 from individuals. You should discount that, given the PAC's involvement. Yet even if you cut that in half to $167,000, it still beats Coffman's $56,140 from individuals during the month by more than three-to-one. Was that $167,000 even partly the result of ActBlue's match offer? Probably, but it's still a lot of money.
Coffman remains competitive, financially, thanks to an early start and business contributors, a benefit of incumbency. These groups donated almost $70,000 to his campaign during September alone. At least in this district, Democrats seem fired up and ready to go.
But what about a marginal district Democrats have to defend?
Republican People Power in Florida
In Florida's twenty-sixth District, Joe Garcia finally made it to Congress in 2012 after two failures, defeating David Rivera in his second attempt. Rivera was hurt by several allegations, including the charge that he funded a primary challenger to Garcia in order to drain Garcia's finances.
For the coming election Republicans seem to be getting behind Carlos Curbelo, a member of the Miami-Dade County school board, who reported $437,000 in individual contributions for the quarter ending September 30, according to FEC figures. Garcia, meanwhile, raised a total of $404,000 during the quarter.
You would have to call that advantage, Curbelo. But the challenger raised 51.5% of his quarter in September, while Garcia raised 82% of his quarterly money during that month.
Before you start cheering for the Democrat, here's an interesting point. Garcia brought in over $100,000 during September alone from corporations and lobbyists. He did raise $227,000 from individuals during the month, but over $50,000 of that came from people giving the maximum $2,600 individual contribution. That's downright Republican: Curbelo got over $75,000 in September that way.
It's likely that Garcia thought he might have an easy race, then noticed Curbelo's money-raising success and called in the troops. But Curbelo does have reason to be concerned over how quickly that Garcia financing machine ramped-up.
Whoever wins this race, money won't be the reason. Democrats will hope Republicans remember the shutdown but forget Garcia's chief of staff going to jail over absentee ballot fraud, and Garcia comparing Republican shutdown proponents to the Taliban. Yes, this is Carl Hiaason country. The bizarre isn't unusual.
In Idaho the Money is Flooding In
Idaho is known as a pretty cheap place to run a campaign. Boise TV stations charge a lot less than those in Miami or Denver.
Those stations need to get ready for a flood of money, because the Republican primary race in Idaho's Second District is looking like a barn-burner. The incumbent, Mike Simpson, faces a challenge from lawyer Bryan Smith, who identifies with the Tea Party, and both are raising tons of cash.
Simpson raised almost $419,000 during the third quarter of the year, Smith $405,000. Some 57% of Simpson's quarterly money flowed in during September, and over 66% of Smith's money came in during that month.
Where the money came from, however, is most interesting. Smith got $131,000 of his September money from individuals, while Simpson got just $87,000. Smith cashed over 180 checks from individuals outside Idaho, more than twice the number Simpson collected.
Many of Simpson's outside contributors seem to live in or around Washington, D.C., while many of Smith's outside backers list their occupation as "retired." Some two dozen of Smith's out-of-state contributors donated the $2,600 maximum. Only two of Simpson's individual contributors were from outside Idaho.
That's not to say Simpson isn't drawing big money from outside. Over half the money the incumbent raised in September came from sources identified as lobbyists, corporations or business groups, and some of those Washington-area individuals are doubtless active in the lobbying field as well.
What really stands out with Smith, however, is something listed as "Club for Growth Earmark." These are contributions given to the Club by individuals and designated for contribution to this particular race. Smith got over $123,000 in such contributions, almost as much as Romanoff in Colorado raised through his ActBlue efforts.
It's Going To Be A Bumpy Ride
Both the ideological left and the ideological right are funded, in part, by groups I'd identify as lobbies. Whether you're matching small checks or earmarking larger ones to hide their source, an outside group can have a dramatic impact on a local race by giving early and giving often.
Money is the mother's milk of politics, they say. Early money is like yeast, setting the stage for everything that will come afterward. The anti-incumbent tide in 2014 is well-funded, and the business groups which like things as they are will have to empty their wallets to keep up with it.
--Written by Dana Blakenhorn for MainStreet