Ahead of a health-care vote that will mark the biggest test of his leadership, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan had something to offer his wary Republican members: money in the bank.
In January and February, Ryan sent $7.8 million to the main campaign committee for House Republicans, campaign finance records show. During the same period in 2015, his predecessor, John Boehner, sent $895,000.
Those 2017 amounts came after Team Ryan, the speaker’s joint fundraising committee, collected $65 million for the 2016 elections. While historical comparisons are imperfect because contribution limits change over time, the amounts suggest that Ryan — an extreme-workout fan and self-described reluctant fundraiser — has been running a campaign-money marathon.
“The money he raised last cycle played a critical role in helping Republicans retain a strong majority, and his continued fundraising prowess is also earning him a lot of goodwill among his colleagues this year as well,” said Brian Walsh, a political consultant for industries and other groups and a former official with the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Some of that goodwill may be on the line as Ryan tries to wrangle enough votes to dismantle and begin replacing the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Opposition within his party has come from a conservative group of House members — a faction that helped drive out Boehner less than two years ago — who say the bill doesn’t go far enough to remove the federal government from health care.
Kevin Seifert, the executive director of Ryan’s political operation, acknowledged that it’s never a bad thing to have campaign cash available to share with others when you’re trying to secure votes. But he said having Ryan spend time in members’ districts during their campaigns pays bigger dividends.
“Just them knowing that Paul went to their district multiple times, toured local organizations, had their backs at a critical time for them, it does help when Paul needs their support to try and get big things done,” Seifert said.
And the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday afternoon that the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC under Ryan’s oversight, would be withdrawing support from Rep. David Young (R.-Iowa) who pledged to oppose Ryan’s health care legislation, closing an office it recently opened in Rep. Young’s district.
While Ryan, 47, limits the days he devotes to gathering contributions, each of those days can be quite full: Five to seven meetings in as many as three cities might show up on his schedule. In the past year, he set six monthly records for dollars transferred from a Republican speaker’s committee to the National Republican Congressional Committee, according to his political staff.
The NRCC raised $52.5 million more than the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the last election cycle. At the end of last month, the Republican organization had $19.9 million more in the bank than its Democratic counterpart.
This week, aided by appearances by President Donald Trump and Ryan, the NRCC raised more than $30 million at an annual dinner in Washington, according to spokesman Matt Gorman. Officials said the amount was a record.
While the 2018 congressional elections are still more than 19 months away, Republicans will have to prepare to fight a recent trend: The party holding the presidency has lost seats in every midterm election since 2006.
Ryan’s fundraising has concentrated on states known for their clusters of big donors. Texas, New York and Florida were his top three, providing $20.6 million of his 2016 haul. Prolific GOP donors, including billionaires Charles and David Koch and Paul Singer gave $200,000 or more to Ryan’s committee, which could accept as much as $233,800 for the NRCC per year. Two-thirds of its 2016 total came from donors writing checks of $10,000 or more.
Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, made more modest contributions to Team Ryan in 2016, totaling $82,000, but they were the biggest supporters of the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super-PAC aligned with the speaker that is already building out staff in key districts where close 2018 races are expected. In August 2016, the Adelsons contributed $20 million to the entity, FEC filings show.
When he accepted the speaker’s post in 2015, Ryan said he was doing so only under certain conditions — including that he would reduce the amount of travel involved. He said he wanted to spend most weekends at home in Janesville, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Janna, have three school-age children.
Consequently, his political team works to schedule fundraising events during early or late parts of the week, so he can attend them on his way to or from Washington.
“He made a commitment that a couple days a month, when the House was not in session, he would be on the road raising funds to support his colleagues,” Seifert said. “He made very clear that he wanted to be home at Janesville on the weekends and that is something, even during the height of the campaign last fall, he stuck to and made good on that promise.