Democrats 'whooping' Republicans in fundraising game – or are they?

All the first-quarter fundraising results show that Democrats are doing significantly better than Republicans. But Republicans are increasingly raising money in other, more opaque ways.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File
Rep. Steve Israel (D) of New York is quite pleased with how Democrats did in first-quarter fundraising.

One thing is clear from the first-quarter fundraising results: The 2014 midterms are likely to be the most expensive ever.

Another: Democrats are doing well, at least when it comes to money.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) raised more than $10 million in March, and now sits on an impressive war chest of about $40 million, putting it at the top of party-linked campaign committees. (Last week, disclosures showed that the Democrats' campaign committee for Senate candidates raised $8.1 million in March, compared with the GOP's $6.3 million.) 

Not only that, an Associated Press tally of cash raised through independent groups in the first quarter gives Democrats a 3-to-1 edge over similar Republican groups. That number, though, is somewhat misleading, given how many conservative groups – including the Koch brothers' powerful Americans for Prosperity – don't have to disclose fundraising because of the way they're classified.

And that could be an enormous asterisk. In the new and murky world of political fundraising ushered in by the Supreme Court's Citizen's United ruling in 2010, "the two parties simply spend money especially outside money very differently," Politico concludes in a rundown of the fundraising tally.

Republican outside money is increasingly being run through groups like the Kochs' 501(c)4 and 501(c)6 groups that aren't required to disclose donors and don't disclose spending levels until much later. But most Democratic money goes through labor groups and "super political action committees."

"It’s an illusion that Democrats are winning the money race at this point," Politico says.

Steve Israel, the New York congressman and DCCC chair, praised what he called a "blistering fundraising pace" by the DCCC in a statement, adding that "Americans are hungry for a Congress that will buckle down and focus on creating jobs and strengthening the economy and that's why they're supporting the DCCC at record levels."

In terms of individual House and Senate races, the results are more mixed, though a Wall Street Journal analysis of the 53 most competitive House races gave Democrats a clear overall edge. The Democratic candidates had a combined total of $41.8 million in the bank and raised $14.9 million in the first quarter of 2014, compared with $30.1 million in the bank for the GOP candidates in those races and $13.8 million raised this past quarter.

"So far in the 2014 campaign, Democrats are whooping Republicans when it comes to raising money," the WSJ concluded, noting that in total, the Democratic Party has so far outraised the Republicans by nearly $100 million.

But the results for Republicans were positive in certain key races.

Among the "winners" cited in the Washington Post's analysis of the first-quarter fundraising results is Tom Cotton, the Republican challenging Arkansas' Democratic Sen. Tom Pryor for his seat. He raised $1.35 million to Pryor's $1.22 million.

In Alaska and Virginia, the top Republican challengers also posted good results. (In the case of Virginia, Republican challenger Ed Gillespie raised less than incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Warner, with $2.2 million to Warner's $2.7 million, but Gillespie's number was particularly impressive given his late entry to the race.) While Senator Warner is still seen as the favorite, Gillespie's strong entrance could force Democrats to spend more money there than they had hoped.

"The Virginia state party was down in the dumps just a few months ago after losing the gubernatorial and two other statewide races in the wake of the federal government shutdown. Now with a viable Senate candidate, donors and activists have perked up," writes conservative Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin. "Every million dollars spent to save Warner’s seat is a million that can’t be used in Michigan or Arkansas or Colorado," writes Rubin.

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