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Low-profile Trump backers struggle to raise cash

High-profile Trump backers in Congress who tried to block President Biden's election win have raked in cash this year. Many of their lesser-known rank-and-file colleagues have not.

Why it matters: New campaign finance data underscore a disparity among election objectors. Some have used the infamy to catapult themselves into MAGA stardom. Those who haven't — including some facing competitive 2022 reelection fights — are stuck with all the baggage and little financial benefit.


By the numbers: Axios analyzed data from midyear filings with the Federal Election Commission, and there have been some clear winners in the money race.

  • Fundraising for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) shot up by 3,552% compared to the first six months of the 2019 cycle. Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Texas) was up by 832%.
  • Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) pulled in 752% more in the first half of the year, even as corporate PAC donations dried up almost entirely.
  • Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), who reportedly helped organize the "Stop the Steal" rally that preceded the Jan. 6 Capitol siege, raised more than four times as much during the first six months of 2021 — when he announced his 2022 Senate bid — than he did in 2019.

Hawley, Cruz, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), Reps. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) — part of House leadership — and MAGA stars Gaetz and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), collectively raised $45.5 million more during the first half of 2021 than they did two years ago.

On the other side of the equation are lesser-known lawmakers who haven't been able to capitalize on grassroots popularity to juice their 2021 fundraising.

  • Fundraising for Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) was down by more than 93%. Mississippi Rep. Michael Guest saw an 89% decline. The haul for Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.) dropped by 80%.
  • A pair of Republicans on House Democrats' 2022 target list saw some significant fundraising declines: Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) pulled in 45% less than he did in 2019. The total for Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.) was down 26%.
  • Other members whose districts were considered competitive last year also raised significantly less. The haul for Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) fell by 49%. North Carolina Rep. Dan Bishop's declined 42%. Fellow North Carolinian Rep. Richard Hudson pulled in 18% less.

Between the lines: Of the 110 objectors elected before 2020, 65 saw their total fundraising decline in the first half of the year, most of them by a quarter or more.

  • Some 45 objectors brought in more than they did during the equivalent period last cycle.
  • Total fundraising by those 110 members was up by $41 million this year, but that rise was attributable entirely to huge spikes for a handful of prominent election objectors.

The bottom line: Media attention is literal currency in the modern GOP.

  • Those who can establish themselves as torch-bearers of the Trumpian right can translate any controversy into massive grassroots fundraising hauls. Those who can't must weather the fallout.
  • Doug Heye, a Harvard Institute of Politics fellow and a former senior House GOP leadership aide, called it the "immediate celebrification" of politics during an interview with Axios.

Be smart: Heye pointed to an infamous photo of Hawley raising his fist in solidarity with Jan. 6 demonstrators before they breached the Capitol.

  • "It's not an exaggeration to say that one picture is worth a million dollars," he said.

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