Government & Politics

Kevin Yoder’s campaign is being fueled by PAC money

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican, confers with a fellow lawmaker during a hearing on spending bills.
U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder, a Kansas Republican, confers with a fellow lawmaker during a hearing on spending bills. AP

Republican Kevin Yoder’s campaign is boasting that his record fundraising haul shows an “historic level of support for his candidacy” in Kansas.

But more than half of that money — 53 percent — came from political action committees funded by special interests, corporations and other politicians, including $14,000 in donations from pharmaceutical companies, $10,500 from banks and accounting firms, and $5,000 from Koch Industries, Federal Election Committee records show.

Just $489 of the $512,000 Yoder raised in the fourth quarter of 2017 came from individual donors who gave in amounts smaller than $200. That’s a small fraction of 1 percent. The rest came from individual donors who gave larger amounts, up to the $2,700 maximum per election cycle.

The pattern was the same for Yoder throughout last year. About 53 percent of the $1.8 million he raised in 2017 came from PACs, and less than 1 percent from small donors.

Yet Yoder’s campaign insisted Kansans are embracing him enthusiastically.

“Voters across the Third District are responding with a historic level of support for his candidacy,” Yoder’s spokesman CJ Grover said last month in a statement announcing the congressman’s latest fundraising numbers. “This kind of outpouring will energize Kevin and our campaign team as we roll into 2018 with strong momentum.”

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee eagerly pointed out Yoder’s reliance on PAC money to rack up those record fourth-quarter donations, branding him “a career politician bought and paid for by Washington special interests.” The DCCC has targeted Yoder’s seat in this year’s midterm elections as part of its effort to flip the U.S. House from red to blue.

“Kevin Yoder’s record of voting with President Trump to raise health care costs and give tax breaks to the wealthiest may win him the support of billionaires and corporations, but not Kansans,” said Rachel Irwin, DCCC regional spokesperson. “Given his abysmal grassroots support, Kevin Yoder should spend less time in Washington courting donors and spend more time in Kansas hearing from the everyday folks he was elected to represent.”

Yoder’s campaign dismissed the criticism as a desperate attack meant to distract from how Yoder’s potential Democratic opponents are far behind him in the money chase. All three Democrats vying in the party primary raised less than $250,000 combined in the final quarter of last year.

“In reality, as anyone who reads the FEC reports can see, Kevin received more than twice as many individual contributions from Kansas than all of the Democrats combined,” said Grover, Yoder’s spokesman. “Only a desperate political operative would argue that isn’t an indicator of the strong support for his candidacy.”

Yoder is running for re-election in a district 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton narrowly won in 2016.

Although more than 40 Republican incumbents have been outraised by their Democrat challengers so far this cycle, Yoder is not among them. His campaign notes he is in the top 5 percent among all House GOP incumbents in fourth-quarter contributions and money in the bank.

His PAC money haul is part of the reason for that success.

It’s common for incumbents such as Yoder to raise a significant chunk of their campaign cash from PACs rather than small donors, though Yoder’s percentage is somewhat higher than average.

Challengers tend to raise far less from PACs because they are not yet in a position to influence policy.

In the current election cycle, the average challenger running for the U.S. House raised just 3 percent from PACs, while the average incumbent raised 43 percent from PACs, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.

“The overwhelming majority of PACs represent corporations and are conservative in their giving strategy,” said Sheila Krumholz, the center’s executive director. “They like to give to incumbents who represent a sure thing: People who can influence policy now as opposed to waiting to see if they are victorious on election day.”

So Yoder’s 53 percent is higher than the 43 percent average in the House, “but not wildly higher,” Krumholz said.

By comparison, Democratic Rep. David Scott of Georgia has registered the highest percentage of PAC money so far, with 94 percent of his $700,000 in donations coming from PACs.

Yoder ranks 188th out of 726 challengers and 383 incumbents this cycle for percentage of PAC money received by his campaign, the analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics shows.

Some candidates refuse corporate PAC money. Among them is Brent Welder, one of Yoder’s Democratic opponents.

Welder has accepted PAC money from political or labor groups that have endorsed him. Of the $125,000 Welder raised last quarter, $6,700 came from the committees, including the National Nurses United PAC and the Academy of Rail Labor Attorneys and Justice Democrats, a progressive PAC.

Welder reported a total of more than 2,000 contributions in 2017, with a median contribution of $25.

“The difference between Kevin Yoder’s campaign and mine could not be clearer,” Welder said in a statement. “Yoder takes corporate PAC money, I don’t. He can keep fighting for payday loan sharks and Wall Street, and I’ll keep fighting for working people like the thousands of union laborers, nurses, railroaders and painters that have already joined my campaign.”

Tom Niermann, another Democrat in the race who raised $140,000 in the 4th quarter of 2017, has no formal policy on PAC money but will not accept donations from groups that don’t align with his campaign’s principles. He has yet to receive any donations from PACs.

Niermann’s campaign reported that 75 percent of his contributions totaled $100 or less, although some donors gave small amounts multiple times.

“Tom’s campaign is supported by contributions from real people, and the overwhelming majority are small donations from Kansans,” said his spokesperson Zach Helder. “Tom will never put money before his principles — his whole life is proof of that.”

While campaigns love to battle over PAC contributions versus small donors, in the end, these metrics might not matter that much at the ballot box, said Nathan Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, which provides nonpartisan analysis of campaigns for Senate, House, governor and president.

“I get it that challengers love to talk about where the money is coming from,” Gonzales said, “but the dollars spend the same in the campaign.”

Lindsay Wise: 202-383-6007, @lindsaywise