Losing incumbents sitting on millions in campaign cash
Democrats and Republicans who lost their congressional seats in last year’s midterm elections may have packed up their offices and turned in their voting cards, but there’s one valuable asset they can hold on to — campaign committees.
The 39 incumbents who lost reelection are still sitting on a combined $11.2 million in unspent campaign committee cash according to Federal Elections Commission reports filed as of the end of March. The 33 ousted Republicans, mostly from the House, are holding onto $3.8 million. The six Democrats who lost office have a combined $7.3 million. The median cash on hand for all candidates is $42,202, so some losers are hanging on to more cash than others.
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Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) lost her 2018 reelection campaign to Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) by eight points despite spending nearly $24 million. She and fellow ousted Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) have launched an effort to recruit and train Democrats to run for election in rural areas. But even months after her campaign shuttered, Heitkamp, is hanging onto about $6 million in unused funds — the largest amount of any incumbent who lost by far.
Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.) also lost his seat after coming up short in a primary last year. His committee still has $1.3 million in the bank, and the former governor and Trump critic hasn’t ruled out trying to take back his seat in 2020. Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) lost in the general election, and while she only has about $42,000, that starting cash could give her a leg up if she’d face a primary against candidates entering the race with little to no seed cash. Love has said she’s still in talks with the NRCC about a rematch.
Some defeated members on both sides of the aisle aren’t interested in trying to win back their seats. At least four have said definitively they wouldn’t run again.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that she’ll never run again but she’ll stay involved with Missouri’s Democratic political scene. Rep. John Faso (R-N.Y.) served only one term, but he released a statement making it clear it was his last term. As of the end of last year, McCaskill had more than $99,000 in her campaign account, which has now been turned into a PAC under the name “Get Stuff Done.” Faso had just more than $200,000 at the end of this year’s first quarter.
Former incumbents such as McCaskill and Faso are scattered around what will be battleground districts in 2020. Using their leftover 2018 funds, these defeated candidates may be able to spread some seed money for early campaigners. In districts where primaries could get crowded, such cash could be especially valuable.
Of the 39 total defeated former members, 7 have donated to others’ campaigns in the first quarter of this year.
FEC regulations only allow campaign committees to directly contribute a maximum of $2,000 to other campaigns for each election. An old committee could, however, give to a party committee, which could then independently support the candidate with those resources. Depending on the state’s laws, candidates may be able to exceed the cap on contribution size for state or local offices.
Some former members’ committees have also been spending in the first quarter. While some of them are just paying off old expenses and loans from their 2018 elections, some of the more recent disbursements may provide hints that they’re exploring the idea of another bid.
Former Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) hired a campaign consultant, escrow service and is paying for his office phone bill according to his latest filing. He has publicly said he hasn’t made any decisions about running again.
Former Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.) has announced she’s running to retake her seat in 2020. She has the fifth largest amount of cash on hand of all members of Congress defeated in 2018, partly the result of running in the most expensive campaign in House history, a special election, nearly two years ago. Prior to her announcement in mid-March, FEC filings show she was spending on accounting services, catering and travel to an exploratory meeting.
Other closely-watched former members rumored to be exploring re-election campaigns include Reps. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), David Valadao (R-Calif.) and Rod Blum (R-Iowa). They have kept some of their nuts and bolts campaign infrastructure such as phones, web services and office supplies.
North Dakota doesn’t have another Senate election until 2022, though there are gubernatorial and the single House seat up for election in 2020. In the first quarter, Heitkamp poured a small fraction of her campaign cash into nonprofits and advocacy groups. She contributed $125,000 to a nonprofit called Alliance for a Better North Dakota, which has ties to the state’s Democratic-oriented union infrastructure.
The group has a limited online presence, but according to its filing with the North Dakota Secretary of State the group’s primary activities are to “inform citizens about public officials/candidates on issues.” The nonprofit shares an address with North Dakota United, the state’s joint public sector and teachers union. The principal agent of Alliance for a Better North Dakota, Gary Rath, is also the chief financial officer at North Dakota United.
Officials at the DCCC and the NRCC didn’t respond to requests for comment.
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