Unmasking Ryan Lizza's Mystery Fundraiser

Earlier today, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza got to witness something most reporters don't: a member of Congress hard at work at their second job, fundraising. Lizza tweeted the series of calls, but declined to name the politician. We decided to try and figure it out.

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Update: Responding to our Twitter boast that we found his man, Lizza says, "Nope." See full update below.

Earlier today, the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza got to witness something most reporters don't: a member of Congress hard at work at their second job, fundraising. Lizza tweeted the series of calls, but declined to name the politician. We decided to try and figure it out.

"I now understand the case for public financing of congressional elections," Lizza concluded, after the multiple-hour marathon of calls. Over the course of his tweets (which we've listed at the bottom of this article), Lizza not only shared the words of the elected official — "I'm running for reelection and running around with my hand out for help already. I know that sounds crazy." — but also a smattering of clues about his or her identity.

Some things we don't know. We don't know the person's gender, though at least one person responding to Lizza assumed it was a man. We also don't know the chamber in which the Congressmember serves, though we can make some guesses about that.

What we do know:

  • The politician is a Democrat.
  • It is his or her first term.
  • He or she is in a tough race.
  • He or she is already facing ads against reelection.
  • He or she estimates that "over three million" will be needed for the race.

Let the hunt begin.

Step 1. Identify the chamber.

It seems very likely that the person is a member of the House. For one thing, most people don't refer to senators as "members of Congress," though it happens. For another, a senator up for reelection in 2014 was elected in 2008, and normally wouldn't be referred to as a "freshman," as Lizza did. But the best indicator is that dollar amount. Three million is far from an exorbitant amount of money for a Senate race; in fact, you can't get a Senate seat anywhere for that dough. Even freshman Congressmember Mark Begich, up for reelection in 2014, needed $6 million to win his seat in Alaska.

So we're looking at the House.

Step 2. Identify the freshmen Democrats.

That part is easy. Our friends at Wikipedia keep a list. Turns out that there are 47 first-term Democrats in the House.

Step 3. Identify who's in a close race.

This one is pretty easy, too. The Cook Political Report is generally considered the go-to source for information on Congressional races, identifying them by the likelihood of a party's victory. The ranking looks at voter registration and vote history and assigns each congressional district a ranking on the following scale: solidly Democratic, likely Democratic, lean Democratic, toss-up, lean Republican, likely Republican, solidly Republican.

We figured out the likelihood for each of the 47 races, and limited the options to those Democrats in "toss-up" or "lean Democratic" districts. (There were none in "lean Republican" districts.) We ended up with the following twelve possibilities.

  • Ann Kirkpatrick, Arizona 1 (Toss-up)
  • Raul Ruiz, California 36 (Toss-up)
  • Patrick Murphy, Florida 18 (Toss-up)
  • Joe Garcia, Florida 26 (Toss-up)
  • Brad Schneider, Illinois 10 (Toss-up)
  • Carol Shea-Porter, New Hampshire 1 (Toss-up)
  • Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona 9 (Lean D)
  • Scott Peters, California 52 (Lean D)
  • Ami Bera, California 7 (Lean D)
  • William Enyart, Illinois 12 (Lean D)
  • Sean Patrick Maloney, New York 18 (Lean D)
  • Pete Gallego, Texas 23 (Lean D)

Step 4. Identify how much each race cost.

In Lizza's tweets, we learn not only how much the politician has to raise, but his or her attitude about it.

(Note: It was only after we re-read this tweet that we realized that the "majority" comment above ruled out the Senate. Oh well.)

In other words: three million is more than the politician had to raise last time. Here's how much each one's race cost in 2012, in descending order.

  • Patrick Murphy, $4.7 million
  • Scott Peters, $4.3 million
  • Ami Bera, $3.6 million
  • Brad Schneider, $3 million
  • Sean Patrick Maloney, $2.2 million
  • Kyrsten Sinema, $2.1 million
  • Ann Kirkpatrick, $1.9 million
  • Raul Ruiz, $1.9 million
  • Pete Gallego, $1.8 million
  • Carol Shea-Porter, $1.6 million
  • Joe Garcia, $1.4 million
  • William Enyart, $1.1 million

We can eliminate Murphy, Peters, Bera, and Schneider, since that's what they had to raise last time. And we can probably drop Shea-Porter through Enyart. A 100 percent increase seems unlikely over two years.

And so we're left with five options, bolded above and appearing in the rank of likelihood.

Step 5. Who is already facing ads?

We'll start with Maloney. Is he facing ads?

Well, yeah. Newsday reports:

Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has only been in office a few months, but Republicans already are targeting the freshman lawmaker in negative TV ads and on the Internet, setting the stage for next year's election.

Sinema, however, doesn't appear to be under similar attack.

Which, for us, settles it. Somewhere in DC (but not at the Capitol), Ryan Lizza was sitting near Sean Maloney of New York as the congressman was scrambling to raise the $3 million he needed in order to win reelection.

Probably. Update: Or perhaps not. As indicated above, Lizza says we're wrong.

And he's apparently not bluffing. A reporter for the New York Observer actually reached out to Maloney's office.

All of which of course re-raises the question. We've reverted to our second-best guess, not specified above. Lizza has indicated he won't entertain any more guesses, so we're now content in the knowledge that we're almost certainly right.

View the story "The Mystery Fundraiser" on Storify]

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.