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GOP donors get behind new House speaker

Mike Johnson hauls in cash for campaigns in his first 100 days in office

House Speaker Mike Johnson of La., left, and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., take the stage to speak during the National Prayer Breakfast at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Harnik

GOP donors get behind new House speaker

Jane Gill, 85, has voted Republican her whole life but has only ever donated to one or two political campaigns. She remembers giving to Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., and maybe one other candidate.

But when she read U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson’s bio shortly after he assumed the role in October 2023, Gill, who lives in South Carolina, started donating $25 a month to support his efforts. She identified Johnson’s Christian faith as a key reason for her contribution.

“Every day as a part of my prayer time, I pray for our nation,” Gill said. “I felt God was starting to answer my prayers with Mike Johnson. If we can get more like him in our government, maybe we can turn the direction our country is heading in.”

She’s not alone.

Newly released Federal Election Commission (FEC) records on Thursday show that Republican donors rallied around Johnson in the fourth quarter of 2023, filling up GOP coffers to start an election year.

Raising campaign funds is a key part of  the speaker’s job—an area Johnson had relatively little experience in when he assumed the gavel just 100 days ago.

“I would have said that until Mike Johnson was elevated to the speakership that being an excellent fundraiser was a prerequisite for assuming a position of leadership,” said Joseph Postell, associate professor of politics at Hillsdale College. “But Mike Johnson doesn’t have much of a fundraising record; he was kind of an exception to the rule.”

Between when Johnson became speaker on Oct. 25 and the end of the year, the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) fund received $20.4 million in reported contributions over $200. (The FEC does not require disclosure of donations below $200 for individual donors.) Former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, whom Johnson replaced, raised just $1.9 million in a similar amount of time after he assumed the speakership on Jan. 7 of last year.

House Republican leaders have used the Congressional Leadership Fund since 2009 to support the campaigns of Republican candidates in competitive House districts. The speaker’s fundraising role itself goes back a bit further.

“The year that everyone associates with a transformative year for the speakership is 1994 and the Contract with America year where Newt Gingrich ascends to the speakership, and he’s sort of the first speaker in a century to assume a kind of national leadership role of his party. Gingrich raises the fundraising arm of the speaker’s office,” Postell explained.

In the first seven days of Johnson’s speakership, the leadership fund received $12,200, a relatively modest amount. By the end of Johnson’s first month, the donations had ballooned to $4.8 million.

Jim Curry, director of graduate studies at the political science department at the University of Utah, said Republicans should be encouraged by the outcome.

“[It’s] a solid amount,” Curry said. “The CLF is essentially the leadership’s campaign fund. It may be worth noting that the CLF raised $36 million in the third quarter so $20 million from a new speaker is well done.”

Postell said it’s too soon to say how McCarthy and Johnson will compare in the long run. Despite Johnson’s good start, he’s collected only a fraction of what McCarthy raised to help win a majority in the last election cycle.

“McCarthy was a perennial all-star fundraiser for the party,” Postell said. “Some people noted this during the ousting of Speaker McCarthy that one of the things the Republican party was going to have to address was whether they’re going to be able to raise enough money to defend the House in 2024.”

With just a two-seat majority in the chamber, Republicans have work to do to hold on to power in the House. At the moment, 18 Republicans hold seats in districts that support Biden, making their defense harder in a presidential election year.

Leo Briceno

Leo is a WORLD politics reporter based in Washington, D.C. He’s a graduate of the World Journalism Institute and has a degree in political journalism from Patrick Henry College.


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