The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republicans lead 2022 money race as both parties hit record levels of cash on hand

Republicans gather on the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the party's national convention, on Aug. 27, 2020. (Alex Brandon/AP)

Major Republican organizations focused on winning back control of the House and the Senate ended last year with significantly more money than their Democratic counterparts, a reversal of past fortunes that suggests shifting momentum ahead of the midterm elections.

The new fundraising totals, revealed Monday in filings to the Federal Election Commission, showed both parties holding record amounts for the off-year of the congressional cycle. But the growth in the Republican cash hoard compared with the 2020 and 2018 cycles outstripped Democratic gains, as GOP donors, particularly those who give seven- and eight-figure checks, leaned into the effort to take back control of the House and the Senate this fall.

Trump began 2022 with a war chest of $122 million

The Republican Party’s campaign committees for the House and the Senate, along with the super PACs affiliated with Republican House and Senate leadership, reported nearly $220 million in combined cash on hand on Dec. 31. By contrast, the corresponding Democratic organizations reported $176 million in cash reserves.

The same Democratic groups had nearly $161 million in cash on hand at this point in the 2020 cycle, about $50 million more than the corresponding Republican groups.

The disclosures come as Republican leaders have become increasingly confident about taking back control of the House and Democrats have begun to criticize each other publicly about the strategy for winning over voters. Some Democratic leaders say worries about the election environment and the sidelining of former president Donald Trump as a unifying target have diminished donor enthusiasm on their side.

“When you are a Democrat, you are raising money for a very-likely loss, so that is hard to get around,” said David Brock, the founder of American Bridge 21st Century, a super PAC that supports Democratic candidates. “And in 2018 and 2020, there was a good chunk of anti-Trump money that is not coming back unless he is the nominee again.”

But several other Democrats said the relative drop-off is less important than the eye-popping amounts of money that both parties have been able to harness. President Biden’s party, they say, will have enough money down the stretch. They also noted that cash-on-hand figures for the end of the year are just a single snapshot of time, which does not take into account spending last year or fundraising that is in the pipeline for later this year.

“House Democrats’ record-breaking fundraising shows we’re ready to compete across the battleground and make sure voters know just how dangerous Republicans’ extremist agenda is,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Chris Taylor said in a statement.

A clear bright spot for Democrats came at the national party level, which funds field operations in the states that can benefit House and Senate campaigns. With Biden in the White House, the Democratic National Committee ended last year with $65 million in cash, compared with just $10 million at the start of 2020 and $6.6 million at the start of 2018.

The Republican National Committee reported $56 million in cash at the end of 2021.

Democrats also took solace in the strong fundraising for some of their 2022 candidates, which does not show up in the filings for party committees and their corresponding outside groups. Sen. Raphael G. Warnock (D-Ga.) reported collecting $9.8 million in the last three months of the year, compared with $5.4 million for former football star Herschel Walker, who has been endorsed by Trump as the Republican candidate for his seat.

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) raised about $9 million in the same period, compared with $1.4 million for finance executive Blake Masters and $800,000 for Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who are competing for the Republican nomination.

“While Republicans put forward flawed candidates that are locked in vicious primaries, this record-breaking fundraising quarter for Democrats shows the power of our grass roots support,” said Jazmin Vargas, a spokeswoman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. The DSCC ended the year with $23.7 million in cash on hand, compared with $32.8 million for its counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Democrats hold on to power by slim margins in both chambers. In the evenly divided Senate, Vice President Harris now provides the tiebreaking vote. In the House, Democrats govern with 222 seats, just four more than the minimum majority need to maintain control.

Since the fall, a majority of Americans have disapproved of the job done by Biden, and recent national polls have shown that a significant majority of Americans believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Both suggest a dim mood for the party as primary season begins in March.

The party with control of the White House has gained House seats in a midterm elections only three times since 1910. President Bill Clinton lost 54 Democratic seats in his first midterm election. President Barack Obama lost 64 House seats in the first test after his 2008 election. Trump gave up about 40 seats in 2018.

That pattern tends to excite donors and voters for the out-of-power party, a factor that benefited Democrats in the 2018 cycle and, as last year’s financial reports suggested, Republicans in this one. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and his Republicans colleagues have clearly seized upon expectations they will retake control of the House, with a sharp increase in donations to the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), the super PAC associated with House Republican leaders.

CLF ended 2021 with $61 million in cash, more than double the $28 million it had at the same point in the 2020 election cycle. That included seven-figure donations from multiple individual donors last year and two $10 million donations — from hedge fund investor Kenneth C. Griffin and retired insurance magnate Patrick G. Ryan, who previously ran the Aon Corporation. The group’s Democratic counterpart, the House Majority PAC, ended the year with $39 million, and no eight-figure donations.

Republican Party campaign committees, which are limited like their Democratic counterparts in how much money they can take from a single donor, also made strides.

“We are the closest we have ever been to the DCCC at this point in this cycle,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams said. “Republicans and their donors are excited to fire Nancy Pelosi and put a stop to the toxic Biden agenda.”

Republicans credited part of their success to a concerted investment in small-dollar and digital fundraising, a practice that Democrats excelled at during the 2018 election cycle. Since then, Republicans have closed the gap with increased focus, in part by supporting a new online-processing company called WinRed, which facilitates more GOP donations much like ActBlue does on the Democratic side.

“We were facing a permanent online fundraising gap, and WinRed’s feature set, plus concerted efforts to invest more, plus energy being in our side means we are all breaking records now,” said Gerrit Lansing, WinRed’s founder and president.

There is still time for the money race to shift over the coming months, especially if deep-pocketed Democrats get more involved. Billionaire investor and Democratic donor George Soros announced plans last week to make a significant donation to his group, Democracy PAC, which plans to spend the money on a range of causes, many of which could benefit Democrats. His group gave $1 million last year to the House Majority PAC and $2.5 million to the Senate Majority PAC, two super PACs affiliated with Democratic Party leaders.

Another major Democratic donor, former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, has in the past spent tens of millions of dollars on House and Senate races in the final months of the campaign. He has not announced his plans for the 2022 cycle, after spending more than $1 billion on an unsuccessful presidential campaign in 2020.