House Campaigns Clash Over New Speaker's Donor Appeal After Kevin McCarthy Sidelined

Ten days after he was deposed as speaker of the House in October, Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) campaign team touted his fundraising credentials: $15.3 million raised during the quarter and a record $78 million for the current 2024 election cycle.

So when the campaign arm of the House Republicans, the National Republican Congressional Committee, bragged that it had seen a big fundraising haul on new Speaker Mike Johnson’s first full day with the gavel, many in the GOP were hopeful McCarthy’s absence would not hit so hard.

But the significance of that marker has, perhaps not surprisingly, left the NRCC and its counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, at odds.

The NRCC told Politico that Oct. 27, the first full day since the Louisiana Republican was sworn as speaker, saw its best online fundraising amount in 18 months: about $175,000. Axios reported that the end of October, when Johnson’s ascension ended three weeks of stalemate in the House, was the best online fundraising week of the cycle for the GOP, with $1 million raised.

The first caveat is the last week in any month is often the best fundraising window, as small donors are bombarded with emails and texts noting a campaign finance reporting deadline is near and claiming that without that donor’s contribution, no matter how small, absolutely horrible things will happen to the candidate or their campaign.

The bigger caveat for evaluating Johnson’s ability to raise the cash necessary to help the GOP defend its oh-so-slim five-seat majority is that money raised for the NRCC, whether online or through in-person fundraisers, has not been as important to the party’s fortunes as the speaker’s ability to convince megadonors to write checks worth hundreds of thousands or more to the House Republicans’ super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund. (House Democrats have their own super PAC, House Majority PAC.)

Both Democrats and Republicans have reason to worry about their super PAC fundraising: McCarthy and former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) were both considered best-in-class for their respective parties, and now Johnson and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) need to replace them.

While super PACs do not need to report their fundraising again until year’s end, Republicans’ Congressional Leadership Fund had raised $19 million and Democrats’ House Majority PAC roughly $20 million through the first six months of the year.

There’s no way to prove how much the month-end effect boosted Johnson’s haul. But the DCCC could not pass up the chance to chide the NRCC and note its superior online fundraising numbers. The DCCC raised about $975,000 online in the last week of October, and has had two $1 million fundraising weeks during this election cycle.

“I was a little bemused to learn that the NRCC’s ‘best’ online day of fundraising this cycle was just a day that ends with ‘Y’ for us. I suppose it makes sense, since the DCCC has consistently outraised them this entire year,” DCCC spokesman Viet Shelton said in an email.

The NRCC had its own take.

“Speaker Johnson helped the NRCC break online fundraising records and Democrats are salty about it,” Will Reinert, the NRCC’s national press secretary, said in an email.

“Instead of trying to boost Hakeem Jeffries’ fragile ego with a week late fundraising pitch, the DCCC should focus their efforts into rectifying targeted House Republicans’ $566K cash-on-hand advantage over targeted House Democrats,” Reinert added.

In a memo out earlier this week, the NRCC noted that Republican members it said were high priority targets for defeat had about $1.8 million in cash on hand, compared to about $1.3 million for targeted Democrats. The targeted Republican members also had raised more money than the targeted Democrats in the third quarter, the NRCC said.

The DCCC’s Shelton downplayed the importance of that gap, though.

“No amount of money will be enough for Republican incumbents in middle-of-the-road swing seats to explain away their embrace of [Make America Great Again] Mike Johnson’s agenda of a nationwide abortion ban, cuts to Social Security, and peddling conspiracy theories to undermine our democracy,” Shelton said.

McCarthy, who transferred $21.6 million to the NRCC and state GOP parties in the 2024 election cycle, has said he intends to stay involved and help elect Republicans to Congress. But without the megaphone of the speaker’s office, it’s unclear how effective he’ll be. McCarthy initially built his way up the House GOP leadership ladder with tireless fundraising efforts.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) said he hoped McCarthy would continue to help out despite losing the gavel.

“If you had Tom Brady on the bench because he was injured, he’s still the best quarterback in the game and I think I’d ask him about what the next play call ought to be,” Cole said soon after Johnson took over.

“That’s what created this majority. It’s very much a majority he created,” Cole said.