What Happened: Fundraising Part 1

Today we’re bringing you a first look at 2020 Democratic state legislative fundraising in the key battleground states of Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, and Texas. Heading into the 2020 election, Democrats were optimistic to flip the State Houses in all of these states, plus the Arizona and North Carolina State Senates. Instead, Democrats made limited inroads in some chambers and saw net losses in others.

When EveryDistrict was founded in early 2017, we were cautioned that such a venture was likely to fail because it would be impossible to get Democratic donors to care about the states. 2020 proved that wrong in a big way. In 2019, we set minimum fundraising goals for candidates in each of these chambers based on 2018 raises in competitive districts. All but one of the 32 candidates we look at in this analysis exceeded that goal.*

Despite the disappointing election results, state legislative fundraising was a big success in 2020. These 32 candidates raised an average of $768,000; the below graph shows average raise by chamber. Thanks to these big budgets, most of our candidates were able to go up on TV and spend big on communications, which was crucial in a year that saw in-person campaigning curtailed if not fully eliminated for most candidates.

While the above graph reinforces the fundraising success of 2020, it also shows its greatest weakness: timing. EMILY’s list hit it right on the nose with its name: Early Money Is Like Yeast. Our candidates just did not have the early resources to build out their program and strategically and methodically build a coalition for their candidacy.

What the election results show is that in the challenging and GOP-leaning state legislative landscape, a big communications push in the final months and weeks of the campaign isn’t enough to flip a district blue. It takes year-round organizing to make the needed in-roads with voters to flip these chambers, which requires year-round investment. The below chart shows the accumulated raise per chamber for the average candidate in each of these states at various periods throughout 2020.

ChamberJanuary 1, 2020End of JuneMid-JulyEnd of SeptemberMid-OctoberTotal Raise
AZ Legislature$29,014$144,877$431,214$584,779
NC House$25,644$185,686$747,071$904,887
MI House$15,011$110,080$438,666$495,861
IA House$10,483$62,818$293,242$346,792
TX House$48,802$191,610$648,339$1,506,509

The average candidate had only $26,000 in the bank as of January 1, 2020 and raised only $139,000 by the midpoint of the year, 18% of the average overall raise. That means that rather than spending the summer months maximizing voter contact with people who actually live in their district, candidates were stuck dialing for dollars from donors all across the country. Even more astonishing is the high percentage of their budget that candidates raised in the final 2-4 weeks of the campaign. The North Carolina candidates raised over 15% of their raise in the final two weeks, the Arizona candidates raised over 25% in the final month, and the Texas candidates raised over 55% of their total raise in the final four weeks.

In 2017, EveryDistrict was founded to take on the GOP big donors who had previously dominated state legislative fundraising, and in 2020, we proved that was possible. As we head into the next four years of our work and beyond, our fundraising challenge is to get more money to candidates earlier. Redistricting makes this effort even more complicated as we look to Virginia in 2021. It’s hard for a candidate to sign up to run for office when they don’t know whether or not they’ll end up living in the district.

That’s why your early support for EveryDistrict is so important. Your donation today will allow us to make the much needed early investments in candidates in Virginia this year and other battleground states next year to ensure we protect the gains of the past four years and flip more legislative chambers blue in 2022 and beyond. Click here to contribute now.

*In this analysis, we look at EveryDistrict-endorsed candidates with the following chamber breakdown: AZ Senate (4), AZ House (2), IA House (5), MI House (5), NC House (6), TX House (10). This represents most, but not all, of EveryDistrict’s endorsed candidates in these states (some had not filed final campaign finance reports as of this post’s publication and were excluded). These candidates were identified as top-tier flip opportunities by the DLCC and other in-state and national organizations. Further analysis will examine other battleground states, more candidates in these states, and compare GOP fundraising.