1 of 2 | Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel has been criticized by GOP presidential primary candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. File Photo by Chris Carlson/UPI | License Photo
CLIVE, Iowa, Dec. 7 (UPI) -- The Republican National Committee -- and some embattled state parties -- are dragging behind previous election cycles in fundraising weeks before the first primary voting for president in 2024.
The RNC had $9.1 million in cash on hand as of the Oct. 31, quarterly deadline, according to data reported to the Federal Elections Commission. That is less than half what it started with as it prepared for the 2020 general election cycle.
Some state GOP committees say they are in "dire" financial situations.
The reasons driving the shortage of funds are varied and debatable. Some donors may be waiting for candidates to clear the crowded field for president and other offices. Others may be hesitant to buy into a party in flux.
"There's an awful lot of donors trying to make a tough choice," Richard Hall, a public policy professor at the University of Michigan, told UPI. "Do I go with someone I think is going to win, regardless of how much I like them - or someone I like, regardless of if they are going to win? I want to sit back and see who the viable candidates are."
Promises of a "red wave" came up empty in midterm elections last year, leaving some in the Republican Party taking aim at its leadership.
RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel became the target of Republican presidential primary candidate Vivek Ramaswamy during last month's debate.
The debate came the day after another election night that yielded some notable losses for Republicans. Abortion access was codified in the Ohio Constitution, and Virginia Republicans failed to win a majority in the state Senate, denying Gov. Glenn Youngkin a clear path toward passing a 15-week ban on abortion.
On the debate stage in Miami, Ramaswamy said the Republican Party had become the "party of losers" and placed the lion's share of the blame on McDaniel.
"If you want to come on stage tonight -- and resign, I will yield to you," Ramaswamy said.
Election results aside, the RNC is not in uncharted water as it trails behind the Democratic National Committee in fundraising at this point, Hans Hassell, associate professor of political science at Florida State University, told UPI.
"It tends to cycle through that parties are not savers," Hassell said. "Their objective is not to make a profit. They spend down everything that they have and sometimes they face financial troubles."
Because the RNC and DNC are focused on the presidential election and the incumbent is a Democrat, Hassell said it is no surprise to see the DNC raising more at this point in the election cycle. When a Republican candidate is nominated, fundraising typically accelerates for the party, he said.
"Yes, it's scary. But at the same time most parties would say, 'Yes, we're low on cash, but we're not going to be in a situation where we can't support candidates,'" Hassell said. "It's not by any means a death knell to the Republican Party."
State party data
The national party committees are just one of many fundraisers for candidates. Political action committees that support conservative or liberal causes or policies specific to certain industries or subsections of the population are among others.
There are also committees in states that are solely focused on contributing to congressional candidates or local offices. The Republican and Democratic party's Senate and U.S. House fundraising committees have received comparable contributions this year.
PACs widely outpace candidates and party committees in fundraising nationwide. PACs have raised more than $2 billion this year. Party committees have combined for $511.6 million and candidates have raised $949.7 million.
"[Contributions] are really important to fielding a competitive election" in Florida, Lonna Atkeson, director of the Leroy Collins Institute at Florida State University, told UPI. "It has huge implications. Not having money means not recruiting candidates. The party plays a huge role in trying to mobilize voters just in normal political activity."
Nevertheless, the Republican Party is behind schedule in multiple states, especially in Minnesota, which has been beset by scandal, as well was shifting demographics.
The Republican Party of Minnesota started the year with $1,124.28 in cash on hand. Through Oct. 31, it is up to $145,500.81 with $414,354.65 debts or loans owed.
For comparison, in Wisconsin, a battleground state that was narrowly won by President Joe Biden in 2020, the state Republican Party began the year with $1.1 million in cash on hand. It has received $1.06 million in contributions in 2023, while Minnesota has raised $624,386.95.
C. Daniel Myers, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, described the former leadership in the Republican Party of Minnesota hampering its ability to raise money.
"It's been a pretty long-running struggle for them," Myers said in an interview. "Their state accounts have a pretty similar pattern that basically they're broke."
The party's former chair, Jennifer Carnahan, resigned during her second term amid allegations that she ignored claims of sexual harassment by her staff members. She also co-hosted a podcast with donor Anton Lazarro, before he was charged with conspiracy sex trafficking of underage girls. He was sentenced to 21 years in prison earlier this year.
Myers has also observed a shift in party support in the Twin Cities metro area. Minneapolis and St. Paul once elected Republicans for statewide offices with some regularity, while more rural areas went to Democrats. The Twin Cities have since shifted in favor of electing Democrats and the Democratic Party remains competitive in midsize cities like Mankato and Rochester.
"Minnesota, like a lot of particularly Midwestern states, has seen a really big increase in geographic polarization," Myers said. "The shift of college-educated voters toward the Democrats has to some degree undermined the fundraising base of the Republican Party."
Atkeson said donors will open their wallets in places they believe they can win. This may also explain the Republican Party having more success in Wisconsin than in states like Minnesota or her home state of New Mexico.
The Republican Campaign Committee of New Mexico had $64,358.69 in cash on hand on Jan. 1, and $339,463.94 on Oct. 31. Its contributions this year total $172,503.09. It has also received $330,993.68 in funds transferred from affiliated committees.
Michigan was one of several battleground states to swing in favor of Biden in 2020. The state was won by former President Donald Trump in 2016.
The state has since favored Democrats for statewide positions. Democrats were victorious in the races for governor, secretary of state and attorney general in 2020.
Since the presidential election, the Michigan Republican Party has been divided, according to Jonathan Hanson, lecturer at the University of Michigan's Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. On one side are what he describes as the "traditional" Republicans, and on the other are Republicans who follow Trump's example.
The Michigan Republican Party began the year with $1.9 million in cash on hand. As of June 30 -- the date of its latest report -- it had $146,931.16. About $2.4 million has been disbursed, including $1.9 million transferred to affiliated committees.
Hanson said the party has become less transparent under the leadership of chair Kristina Karamo. She became the party chair after an unsuccessful secretary of state campaign in 2020. Following her loss, she refused to concede. Much like Trump, she has claimed without evidence that there were irregularities in the election.
The largest donations to the party this year have not exceeded $4,000. Traditionally big donors like Amway's wealthy co-founding families the Devoses and Van Andels have not given to the party this year.
"What's happened with the takeover of the party by so-called MAGA extremists is traditional donors are sitting out," Hanson said. "They are not providing the typical level of support they normally do."
The Democratic National Committee has received $44.7 million in contributions this year with $17.6 million in cash on hand as of Oct. 31. It tallied $92.8 million in total receipts, which includes transfers from other committees, interest and offsets.
The RNC totaled $59.9 million in contributions and $73.9 in total receipts. It started the year with $14.3 million in cash on hand, versus $30.5 million for the DNC.
While Republicans are struggling in states that lean Democrat, many state Democratic committees are not experiencing the same shortcomings in states that lean Republican.
Interpreting the reports from both parties is not as simple as making one-to-one comparisons, Hall told UPI.
"There's a number of different things happening," he said. "You have a noncompetitive presidential primary on one side and a competitive one on the other. You have a lot of members of both parties that are retiring. Fewer incumbents running means less fundraising going on."
Iowa, which was once considered a purple state, has voted for Republicans for president in the last two elections. It is also represented by four Republicans in the U.S. House and two in the U.S. Senate.
The Republican Party of Iowa has been among the most active in 2023, hosting all Republican presidential candidates on at least one occasion and some more than that ahead of the Jan. 15 caucuses. It has received $616,086.20 in contributions and $1.5 million in total receipts. After beginning the year with $43,908.09 in cash on hand, it had $525,940.91 at the end of the third quarter.
The Iowa Democratic Party has raised $773,906.99 in contributions and $1.2 million in total receipts this year. It had $394,405.14 cash on hand at the end of the third quarter after starting with $327,071.84 on Jan. 1. It owes $57,412.35 in debts and loans.