Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Democrats in Pennsylvania got an infusion of money after Roe v. Wade was overturned

An Inquirer analysis of the data found an overall boost in both donations and the number of daily donors for Democrats in the week after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling.

Supporters of abortion rights gather at City Hall in Philadelphia on May 3, 2022, after the Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade leaked.
Supporters of abortion rights gather at City Hall in Philadelphia on May 3, 2022, after the Supreme Court draft opinion to overturn Roe v. Wade leaked.Read moreHEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania Democratic candidates got an infusion of campaign cash following the Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

On the day of the decision, June 24, and in the week after, fund-raising increased for most Democrats running for the U.S. House and Senate in the state.

The influx is somewhat expected – Democrats reported a boost in fund-raising after a draft opinion was leaked in early May. But campaign finance data from the last three months shows ongoing engagement over the issue in a key midterm election where abortion remains front and center and could continue to shape the race.

An Inquirer analysis of the data found an overall boost in both donations and the number of daily donors for Democrats in the week after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. Some campaigns also saw an increase in the share of new donors giving to their campaign.

Pennsylvania’s abortion laws could become much more restrictive if Republicans remain in control of the statehouse and secure the governor’s mansion. GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano has vowed to ban all abortions without exception. Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro has said he would protect the state’s existing law, which allows access to abortion up to 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The situation has set up a battle in tight congressional races and in Pennsylvania’s open Senate race as Democrats pledge to codify abortion rights at the national level and Republicans vow to fight such attempts.

“I think you see voters saying, ‘Oh my gosh, this all matters much more than we even thought it would in this moment,’” said Sarah Niebler, political science professor at Dickinson College. “Pennsylvania voters, they can’t vote right now, so the next thing they can do is contribute money.”

Whether the fund-raising momentum continues will likely depend on how much candidates focus on the issue in their campaigns, Niebler said.

Some Republicans have shrugged off the influx in donations to Democrats, pointing to inflation and high gas prices as the key issues voters will respond to in November.

“The Democrats have very cleverly taken all these issues that came up over the summer, the Dobbs decision, the concerns about guns, and they’ve used these as excuses to raise money from the Democratic loyalists,” Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz said when asked in a Fox interview to explain why Lt. Gov John Fetterman is far outpacing the celebrity surgeon in donations.

» READ MORE: John Fetterman is getting a flood of national money as he faces Mehmet Oz

But the fund-raising boost came during a period where Democrats were already trouncing Republicans in donations almost across the board, worrying some national Republicans who are mindful of the resources candidates need in close midterm elections.

“I think most Republican candidates in competitive districts really did not welcome this decision,” said former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, a Lehigh Valley Republican, who was the last House Republican to support abortion rights when he resigned in 2018.

Dent said the issue could create sustainable political energy for Democrats as state legislatures move to limit or ban abortions.

“Now there are consequences politically,” Dent said. “People are outraged. There’s all kinds of problems here for Republicans.”

Fetterman’s bump

Fetterman’s campaign said online fund-raising surged 258% in the week following the Supreme Court ruling.

According to The Inquirer’s analysis of individual contributions visible in FEC records, Fetterman also saw a big bump in donors. He was getting money from about 3,000 donors a day in the week before the court decision. On the day of the ruling, that number doubled to more than 7,000 donors. And in the week that followed, Fetterman continued to average about 6,600 donors a day.

That number may be even higher since purchases at the online retail store and mailed-in checks below $200 were not reported as itemized contributions and not included in the analysis. For instance, on the Monday after the Friday ruling alone, the campaign said it received $180,000 in mailed-in check donations.

“Send me to Washington, and I’ll be the 51st Democratic vote we need to abolish the filibuster + codify Roe into law,” Fetterman wrote in a June 24 fund-raising appeal. “Please rush a donation of any amount today to help us win this race, flip Pennsylvania and protect the right to an abortion nationwide.” Fetterman also encouraged supporters to donate to a Western Pennsylvania women’s center’s abortion fund.

That surge in the number of donors also played out in the amount of cash generated — it represented about a 300% increase in average daily dollars raised.

And in addition to bringing in more donors, Fetterman brought in more new donors, people who had never given to his campaign.

In the week before the Dobbs ruling, about 30% of Fetterman’s daily donors were new to the campaign. On the day of the court decision, 50% of donors were new to the campaign, and that remained the case the week after the decision.

“That’s actually the bigger deal than the total dollar amount,” Niebler said of new donors. “Because those folks now become part of the databases of people who have given before, and we know that the best predictor of whether someone will give in the future is whether they have given in the past.”

Oz, on the other hand, averaged $13,532 a day in the week before the ruling. He made far less than that on the day the ruling came out, in sharp contrast to Fetterman and many other Democratic candidates.

And though Oz’s fund-raising picked up dramatically in the last few days of the month, that’s not unusual: many campaigns fund-raise more aggressively at the end of a fiscal quarter.

House Democrats also got a boost

The Supreme Court decision and fund-raising could be factors in the two Pennsylvania congressional races expected to be most competitive this year: U.S. Rep. Susan Wild’s bid for a third term in the Lehigh Valley and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright’s bid for a sixth term in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Wild reported a surge in donations and volunteers after the court ruling and had Shapiro sent her supporters a fund-raising plea calling for abortion to remain legal in Pennsylvania.

She had been averaging about 72 donors per day in the week before the decision was released. That increased to 244 donors on the day of the ruling and continued at about 182 donors per day until the end of June.

Wild campaign manager Sarah Carlson noted the Republican nominee in the district, Lisa Scheller, has said she is open to a federal ban on abortion, even in cases of rape or incest

“That really drove people to donate,” Carlson said. ”The stakes couldn’t be higher, and that urgency is reflected in our fund-raising.”

Cartwright’s campaign has been cautious on the issue because he represents a “crossover district” where he won reelection in 2016 and 2020 while voters there backed Donald Trump for president. But he sent a fund-raising email the day of the decision and also had Shapiro appeal in an email to supporters three days after the ruling was issued.

“House Republicans have already begun discussing introducing a nationwide 15-week abortion ban,” the June 24th appeal read. “Will you chip in $5 or more to Matt’s campaign to ensure we keep him in Congress defending reproductive rights?”

Cartwright, who had been averaging about 34 donors per day in the week before the ruling, saw an increase to 75 when it was issued. He averaged 80 donations per day after that until June. 30.

His campaign declined to comment.

The most significant spike in donations after the ruling went to Democrat Ashley Ehasz, who is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in his Bucks County district.

She had been averaging 14 donors per day in the week before the ruling, and saw that increase to 132 on the day it was issued and then 77 per day after that.

“People in the district realize their anti-choice representative wants to take away their right to choose,” said Hannah Jeffery, Ehasz’s campaign manager. “In this overwhelmingly pro-choice district that voted for Biden and Clinton, he’s in deep, deep trouble.”

What does it mean for November?

Fetterman has far out-raised Oz, and Democrats are out-raising Republicans in four of five swing districts. But a cash advantage doesn’t necessarily mean victory. In 2020, Democrats across the country out-raised Republicans and still suffered bruising defeats.

“More money doesn’t guarantee a win,” Niebler said. “The way to think about money in politics is more that there is a bottom level that if you can’t reach, you’re likely not going to be successful. But by the time you get to a general election, even significantly underfinanced candidates are going to have that name recognition because they’re the major party nominee.”

» READ MORE: John Fetterman inches back onto the campaign trail in Philly

Democrats are likely hoping abortion rights remain front and center to motivate their base. And Republicans may be helping keep the issue in the spotlight, said Alison Dagnes, political science professor at Shippensburg University.

“The Democrats should just be headed toward a shellacking if history says anything,” Dagnes said. “But the candidates on the Republican side are very extreme and this is an issue that … is going to mobilize a voter race on the left and center-left that will get people to the polls in a midterm election who may not necessarily have cared all that much.”