Freshman U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida has only been in Congress a little more than six months but his fundraising to date puts him near the top of all House members, federal campaign finance records show.
Curbelo, a Kendall, Fla., Republican who beat a sitting Democrat in the 2014 election, has raised more money in the first half of the year than hundreds of his more-senior colleagues.
His district, which extends from southwest Miami-Dade County to Key West, already has a declared Democratic challenger – Annette Taddeo – and the two of them combined have raised more than all but about 20 districts nationwide.
The data from the Federal Election Commission reflect campaign activity from the first half of the year, through June 30. The reports were generally filed by members of Congress and their challengers last week.
Of about 600 House members or their challengers, Curbelo’s total receipts from the first half of the year put in him the Top 10.
The top fundraisers were House leaders such as Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio; Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.; and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc. All of those national figures pulled in more than $2 million in the first half of the year, FEC records show.
Curbelo’s total was $1.2 million, which included both individual and political action committee donations.
That level for a freshman congressman is unusual – but could represent the wave of the future.
It also represents the reality Curbelo faces as a new lawmaker in a swing district who eked out a very expensive win last year over incumbent Rep. Joe Garcia. The Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based non-profit, calculated that between direct spending by the candidates and indirect spending by outside groups, the Curbelo-Garcia race was the ninth most-expensive in Congress last year.
Candidates can never really have ‘enough’ money; they can never get off the fundraising hamster wheel.
Sheila Krumholz, Center for Responsive Politics
“Given that the average cost of a winning House race has hovered around $1.5 million for the last three cycles, raising $1 million at this early stage in the cycle is fairly rare,” said Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics. “It may be an indication of an expensive race to come, or a skilled fundraiser, or both.”
Beyond that, the revamped political landscape after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the pivotal Citizens United case means that outside money can and will have more and more of an impact.
“A candidate can never be sure when or where an attack could spring up from an outside super PAC or nonprofit – which can raise unlimited sums from unlimited sources,” she said.
For his part, Curbelo has a decidedly mixed view on that intense fund-raising pressure.
“I don’t enjoy fundraising at all, and it takes away valuable time from working on legislation and developing relationships with my colleagues – not to mention the limited time I have with my family,” he said. “However, I don’t have a choice. The DCCC has shown that it is willing to do anything and everything to win in this district.” (The DCCC is the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the official campaign arm of the Democrats in the House of Representatives.)
As for Taddeo, her campaign manager, Shaun Daniels, agrees the pressure is there – but said they feel compelled to keep up with incumbent Curbelo.
“We’re seeing lots of campaigns starting earlier and earlier,” Daniels said. “The stakes are so high – and people are taking it seriously. So vulnerable incumbents are raising money earlier, and challengers are feeling compelled to do the same.”
Part of that, he said, could be a byproduct of the presidential calendar moving earlier and earlier. Now, congressional election cycles are as well, he said.
Taddeo raised about $235,000 this year, about 85 percent in direct individual contributions.
Curbelo’s $1.2 million included $545,000 in direct individual contributions. Most of the contributions were $1,000 or more; about 84 percent of the itemized dollars were from Florida.
Curbelo’s political action committee funds represented about $436,000, and a majority of that money was in checks of $1,000 or more. Most was from outside Florida – about 84 percent – and the biggest location represented was Washington, D.C., where PACs tend to be based.