As GOP candidates take the edge in tight-knit races across America, reports suggest the number of online donors in the GOP has dropped significantly in the first half of the year. Despite being in a tightly contested election cycle, GOP fundraising numbers have plummeted. While Republicans continue pushing ahead of Dems in other aspects, liberal fundraising has skyrocketed with the Democrat platform ActBlue receiving almost 1.5 million more contributions than the Republican platform WinRed.
Jessica Piper; September 8, 2022
The number of online donors to the Republican Party unexpectedly dropped in the first half of 2022, according to a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance data — one in a series of setbacks that have tempered expectations of a red wave in November.
Online fundraising usually ramps up dramatically and predictably over the course of an election cycle. But campaign finance data show that in the first half of this year, the number of people giving federal contributions to Republican candidates and committees through WinRed — the GOP’s widely used donation processing platform — fell to around 913,000 down from roughly 956,000 contributors during the six months prior.
The surprising dip illustrates broader fundraising difficulties that have plagued GOP candidates in key races across the country this summer, even amid hopes that the party could retake control of Congress. It reflects the party’s long-standing challenges in building donor lists to power its campaigns.
At the same time, the POLITICO review partially exonerates one perceived culprit of the party’s fundraising woes: former President Donald Trump. Though Trump is by far the GOP’s top online fundraiser, the data suggest he is not siphoning large numbers of donors from Republican candidates and committees doing battle in the midterms. Only 13 percent of Republican online donors this cycle gave solely to the former president’s new political group.
The drop in donor numbers means some people who had previously contributed to GOP candidates stopped giving, and Republicans did not recruit enough new donors to replace them. The dip coincided with a decline in total WinRed fundraising, as well as lower fundraising totals between the first and second quarters for key Republican groups.
By contrast, the number of donors giving to Democrats through ActBlue, their preferred online donor platform, has increased over the course of the 2022 election cycle, from about 1.9 million who gave through ActBlue to federal committees in the last six months of 2021 to 2.5 million in the first half of 2022. Democratic campaigns have long outraised their Republican counterparts online, though Trump helped the GOP grow its online base ahead of the 2020 elections.
“Republicans have known for a long time that we were behind in online fundraising,” said Eric Wilson, a Republican digital strategist. “There was always the assumption that we could catch up. Now we’re learning that it’s too late.”
Since the start of 2021, around 2 million people have given money to federal committees through WinRed, according to the POLITICO analysis of federal campaign finance filings. By contrast, more than 4.1 million gave federally through ActBlue over the same period.
In nine out of the 10 most competitive U.S. Senate races this cycle, Democrats have outraised their Republican counterparts. Fundraising alone does not decide elections, of course. Outside groups — often funded by deep-pocketed donors — can close some of the gaps for Republicans. But even those well-funded super PACs and nonprofits have finite resources, and the low online fundraising numbers have alarmed GOP professionals.
Democrats have long had an advantage in online fundraising. ActBlue launched in 2004; until a few years ago, Republican campaigns were without a similar party-wide platform. After small-dollar donations fueled Democrats’ 2018 midterm surge, Republicans launched WinRed in the summer of 2019 to help them compete.
The data about the two platforms’ user bases, drawn from public filings, largely conforms with the perceptions of GOP fundraising professionals. In a survey earlier this year by the Center for Campaign Innovation, which Wilson directs, seven out of every 10 Republican digital fundraising professionals who responded said their early 2022 fundraising had not performed to their expectations. They most frequently blamed inflation and competition among candidates for a limited pool of donors.
Wilson argues Republican candidates aren’t doing enough to recruit new donors, instead relying on list rentals that largely target the same set of past contributors. He said policy changes with platforms such as Facebook that make it more difficult for campaigns to target have also increased the costs of list-building compared to a few years ago.
“The ladder has been pulled up,” he said
Another factor consultants noted when diagnosing GOP financial struggles was fundraising by Trump, who has raised more than $100 million through WinRed since leaving office. That is more than any other single Republican candidate or cause over the same period.
Trump’s popularity with the grassroots and the launch of his Truth Social platform last year were noted as positives by GOP fundraisers. But those surveyed by Wilson’s group also worried that Trump’s political group, the Save America joint fundraising committee, was competing with candidates who are actually on the ballot in 2022.
Trump has also spent a relatively small share of that total on boosting his preferred candidates. What his groups have spent has largely been to influence primary elections, including millions in Georgia to attack Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, who won a primary earlier this year despite conflict with Trump over the former president’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election results there.
Though Trump’s fundraising numbers are eye-popping, donors giving solely to the former president made up only a fraction of the WinRed contributor universe this cycle.
About 13 percent of donors on the platform from January 2021 through June 2022 gave solely to the Save America joint fundraising committee, POLITICO’s analysis found. Another 16 percent gave to both Trump’s group and other Republican candidates or causes. And a solid majority of WinRed contributors — more than 70 percent, or about 1.4 million people — have not given to Save America this election cycle.
Watching their Democratic opponents raise more money is not a new experience for Republican candidates, nor is it a sole predictor of election outcomes. In 2020, Democratic Senate candidates far outraised their Republican counterparts, including in deep-red states such as Kentucky and South Carolina, but still lost handily. Republican Sen. Susan Collins won reelection in blue-leaning Maine despite being outraised more than 2-to-1 by her Democratic challenger.
Polling this year shows Republican candidates remain close in certain key races despite Democrats’ financial advantage.
Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who has faced criticism from some in his party over his control of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which has faced money issues of its own, defended key contenders in an interview on Fox Business earlier this week — but identified resources as a major issue.
“We’ve got great candidates across the country,” Scott said. “We’ve got to raise money.”
Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP Photo