Every three months, Washington gets flooded with financial reports from congressional campaigns across the country, each touting a flurry of numbers as signs of their well-being—the more zeroes on the end, the healthier. The sheer volume gets repetitive and occasionally confusing. But every so often, a campaign finance disclosure catches the eye and illuminates something about a particular campaign.
Here are eight financial reports from the second quarter that particularly stood out, and why.
Hey, Big Spender—Sen. Mary Landrieu, Louisiana Democrat
Landrieu's big fundraising number, over $2.1 million, caught attention when she released it, but the other side of Landrieu's campaign ledger is more interesting. The senator spent nearly $3.4 million in the spring as her campaign aired an expensive series of TV ads aimed at reintroducing her to Louisiana voters. (For reference, that's along the lines of what some Democratic Senate candidates in similarly sized states spent at the end of their campaigns in 2012.) That spending is one of the clearest effects we've seen of what outside money has done to the 2014 elections: Landrieu was the target of millions worth of outside advertising by conservative groups at the end of last year, which helped prompt her early ad run. After that expense, Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy has nearly as much cash in the bank as Landrieu despite raising less in the second quarter ($1.6 million).
Parlaying Hog Castration Into Cold Hard Cash—Joni Ernst, Iowa Republican
Ernst shot to prominence in the Iowa Senate race thanks to her famous ad about castrating hogs, but worries still persisted about her low fundraising during the Republican primary. Ernst's second quarter report—nearly $1.8 million raised, just outpacing Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley's $1.7 million—demonstrates that she has found a previously missing campaign piece, just as the general election polls have tightened. Ernst still trails Braley in fundraising, but the disparity isn't as bad as some feared.
Fundraising Star—Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky Democrat
Last election, Elizabeth Warren was the undisputed Democratic fundraising star (besides President Obama, of course). This time around, Grimes has taken over that title with several strong fundraising reports, capped by a Kentucky record $4 million raised in the second quarter. Grimes's problem, though, is that even though she's now bested Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in three of four fundraising quarters, McConnell still has nearly $10 million in the bank after raising money at a pretty healthy clip himself. Bottom line: Neither is going to be starved for cash this fall.
Trouble With the Day Job—Thom Tillis, North Carolina Republican
Weary of long legislative records, both parties run fewer state-level lawmakers for Congress than they used to, even though they do have pluses, especially campaign connections and experience. Tillis, the state House speaker, highlighted another drawback with his most recent fundraising report, which showed $1.6 million raised in the second quarter while Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan raised $3.6 million. Tillis is stuck in an extended state legislative session that's causing GOP infighting and keeping him from full-time campaigning. He'll be out soon enough and there's plenty of outside money in North Carolina to help him along, but it's another example of how state legislatures can interfere with congressional campaigns.
Keeping Up With the 1 Percent—Rep. Chris Gibson, New York Republican
Gibson's well-heeled House opponent, Democratic venture capitalist Sean Eldridge, has already given his campaign over $1 million and could give much more between now and November. The Republican incumbent's response: nearly $820,000 raised in the second quarter, the most Gibson has ever raised in a three-month span by some margin. Eldridge could still end up swamping the Republican, but Gibson is doing everything he can to keep up.
The Best Defense—Rep. Patrick Murphy, Florida Democrat
The freshman Murphy raised tons of money in 2012 when he was running against controversial Republican Allen West, but Murphy has managed to keep up the pace this election even without West stirring up Democratic donors. Murphy's strong fundraising—over $500,000 in every quarter, including nearly $760,000 in the second quarter of 2014—is one of the reasons a marquee Republican challenger never emerged in the Port St. Lucie area, though Murphy could still have a tough fight in this district that Mitt Romney won in 2012.
Staying in Striking Distance—Martha McSally, Arizona Republican
House Democrats have a financial advantage this year, as their vulnerable incumbents have stockpiled cash ahead of expected tough campaigns. But another strong fundraising quarter from McSally helped her keep pace with Democratic Rep. Ron Barber ahead of their rematch in southeastern Arizona. McSally raised over $650,000 to boost her bank account to over $1.1 million, within striking distance of Barber and his nearly $1.6 million.
How to Get Ahead in the Capitol—Rep. Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican
Scalise doesn't have a competitive election on the horizon. But the newly minted majority whip-elect raised and spent more money than in any quarter since his 2008 election as he campaigned for a Republican leadership position last month, following House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprising primary loss. That $359,000 in spending included over $26,000 on meals for meetings at steakhouses and other restaurants (one tab, at a Cajun restaurant in D.C. where Scalise dined with his whip team, ran nearly $9,000); $30,000 in campaign donations to 14 different Republican members (including Cantor); and $7,000 worth of baseball bats (which he gave to members of his campaign team) in the 20 days between Cantor's loss and the end of the second quarter.
After the GOP conference elections, Scalise recouped some of the costs: Over $122,000 came into Scalise's campaign account from 64 different PACs on the last day of the quarter, along with a smattering of donations from presidents and partners of Washington government-relations firms. That helped power Scalise to almost $350,000 in total receipts in the second quarter—again, more than he had brought in since he last ran a competitive election. Scalise had averaged just over $200,000 per quarter in fundraising since the beginning of 2013.