The latest round of fund-raising revealed warning signs for some high-profile candidates in Pennsylvania’s critical U.S. Senate race.
Democrat Val Arkoosh and Republican Jeff Bartos each saw sharp slowdowns in donations, spent more than they collected from donors, and had to dip into personal funds to beef up their campaign accounts.
Republican Carla Sands showed she’s also willing to reach into her own pocket — dropping $3.1 million into her campaign fund — but raised less than $500,000 from supporters during her first three months in the race, when it’s often easiest to raise money. And much of that came from California.
For a third consecutive quarter, State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a Philadelphia Democrat, trailed far behind other major candidates, despite a number of high-profile endorsements. And Kathy Barnette, a conservative commentator who surprised many with a strong initial burst of fund-raising, saw her donations plummet and spent nearly twice what she raised.
While it’s still early in the contest, the declines or lack of donor support could raise questions for each about the enthusiasm for or sustainability of their campaigns.
At the same time, one summer stretch of fund-raising won’t decide a long race. Sands, Bartos, and Arkoosh, a Montgomery County commissioner, each contributed their own money to keep their accounts at or above the $1 million mark.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, widely seen as the early Democratic front-runner, continued to outpace everyone else, increasing his cash advantage with another surge of small donations. One of his top rivals, U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb, topped $1 million in fund-raising but spent much of it.
Sean Parnell, seen by many as the GOP’s early favorite after his August endorsement from former President Donald Trump, got a sharp increase in donations. Over the three months, he tweeted, he raised more than his Republican rivals combined. Sands and Bartos, however, still each have more money overall, thanks to their personal contributions.
» READ MORE: Meet Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate candidates
The latest public reports — filed Friday and covering fund-raising for July, August, and September — provide another snapshot of the candidates’ war chests in a nationally watched Senate race. It’s a contest likely to require tens of millions of dollars in a sprawling state with six media markets.
Aides for several of the campaigns that lagged said it’s common for fund-raising to slow after the initial round, since candidates have already tapped their most likely donors. And they said they often have to spend heavily early to ramp up campaign operations.
Money contributed by the candidates spends the same as money raised from donors.
But early in a campaign, donations can help gauge enthusiasm: Persuading people to open their checkbooks can signal that a candidate is resonating, or that insiders think they have a good chance to win. Sometimes candidate donations are “show” money only intended to make their numbers look stronger.
Money, of course, is only one factor, and candidates will often argue that they need only enough money, not the most money, to prevail. Here’s where they stand after the latest round of reports:
Fetterman has been the fund-raising leader from the start, and that isn’t showing signs of changing.
The former mayor of Braddock, near Pittsburgh, raised $2.7 million in the quarter, more than anyone in either party. He has $4.2 million in his campaign fund, also the most.
And he’s doing it with small donations — a reason to think he could keep hauling it in. Big donors quickly hit the $2,900 maximum per election cycle; smaller donors can give over and over. More than 60% of Fetterman’s donations last quarter, and nearly 70% of his total fund-raising, has come from those who gave $200 or less.
But Fetterman also spent $1.56 million during the quarter, more than his rivals.
His fellow Democrats spent less overall, but burned larger percentages of what they raised.
Among the contributions he reported: maximum donations from some of President Joe Biden’s top Philadelphia fund-raisers, lawyers Steve Cozen and Ken Jarin, and an email list from 2016 Democratic Senate nominee Katie McGinty, listed as an “in-kind” contribution worth $2,000.
Political operatives described a $1 million quarter for a Pennsylvania statewide candidate as solid but not outstanding.
Arkoosh, a physician and county commissioner, raised $527,000 from donors while spending $620,000. She added $500,000 of her own money to grow her campaign fund to $1 million. That’s half of Lamb’s total and a quarter of Fetterman’s but, her team argues, enough to compete.
Unlike Fetterman, Lamb and Arkoosh are also mostly relying on big donors who can write larger checks all at once but who can quickly hit the contribution limit. Nearly 80% of Arkoosh’s donations this past quarter and almost 90% of Lamb’s came from those who gave at least $200.
Both also have the support of Democratic political groups that could help close the financial gap. The women’s group EMILY’s list has endorsed Arkoosh, while the veterans’ group VoteVets is supporting Lamb.
Kenyatta, meanwhile, raised $320,000, well below what’s typically needed for a major candidate for Senate. He spent most of what he raised and had $319,000 on hand.
The biggest news in the Senate race this summer was Trump’s August endorsement of Parnell.
The former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan had raised just $525,000 in his first round of fund-raising but this time brought in $1.1 million, including about $485,000 from small donors. Parnell had $1 million on hand.
Bartos’ fund-raising fell from $567,000 last quarter to $250,000 this time around. He spent close to $266,00. But he also poured in $400,000 of his own money, bringing his personal contributions to $1.24 million — more than 40% of his total intake.
At the end of July, the Montgomery County developer, had a 3-1 cash advantage over Parnell. By the end of September it was closer to 2-1. But he still had $2.2 million in his campaign fund, second most among Republicans.
Bartos has help from a Super PAC, which by law cannot coordinate with his campaign but can still support him — or attack his rivals. It got a major boost with a $1.5 million “commitment” from Scott Wagner, who in 2018 ran for governor with Bartos on the ticket as the lieutenant governor nominee.
Sands, meanwhile, made her first big splash by putting millions into her campaign account, and launching a $1 million ad campaign. It signals she may be willing to spend heavily to try to win the nomination, though some Republicans interpreted the ad buy as an effort to test the waters.
A longtime Republican donor, Sands had less success getting people to give. Much of the $450,000 she raised came from supporters in Southern California, where she lived for years before becoming Trump’s ambassador to Denmark and then returning to the Harrisburg area to run for Senate.
Coming off a strong initial quarter, Barnette, of Montgomery County, raised just $193,000 over the summer while spending $294,000. She had $371,000 on hand.