As of June 30, 22 candidates in the 2016 elections have already crossed the million-dollar threshold, according to data available by midmorning Thursday. Some of those candidates reached the $1 million mark this early only by financing their own campaigns in whole or in part. Besides House leaders, who often spread what they raise to colleagues facing more competitive races, the list includes insurgents mounting campaigns against vulnerable incumbents who narrowly won in 2014 as well as sitting members of Congress who might expect to be on the other side of a close race.
Most House primary races won’t begin in earnest for months, and donor attention is likely diverted to the presidential campaigns and to the Senate. But this early positioning presents a tentative and unstable view of the House field to handicappers, who rate races as competitive or not, as well as to donors, says Michael Malbin, executive director of the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. The early campaign reports may reveal promising challengers to donors, and large fundraising totals from incumbents might serve as a signal to scare away competition in a primary election.
“Strong candidates raise money, candidates who raise money are better able to get their message out and get noticed,” Malbin said. “It’s usually a mutually reinforcing cycle.”
Of the nine House races the Rothenberg & Gonzales Report has predicted will be pure toss-up contests, incumbents in two — Republicans Robert Dold of Illinois and Bruce Poliquin of Maine — have already raised more than $1 million so far, filings show.
Joining them among the most prolific fundraisers is Martha E. McSally, the Arizona Republican whose 2014 general election was too close to call when the polls closed. She has raised $1.7 million, records show.
Also near the top of the list is Ro Khanna, a former Obama administration official and Democratic candidate for California’s 17th District. Khanna has raised $1.3 million so far this cycle, including donations from Silicon Valley executives and prominent venture capitalists. In 2014, Khanna narrowly lost to incumbent Democrat Mike Honda in a race made possible by California’s so-called “jungle” primary system, in which the top vote-getters in a primary election, regardless of party, advance to the November general. Honda has raised nearly $630,000, FEC filings show.
Meanwhile, House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has raised $4.9 million in total for the 2016 cycle, according to FEC data analyzed using the [Sunlight Foundation’s Real-Time Campaign Finance tracker](http://realtime.influenceexplorer.com/house/2016/#?candidate_filter=all). Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has raised $2.5 million, and Ways and Means Committee Chair Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., has raised nearly $2.1 million. The majority whip, Republican Steve Scalise of Louisiana, and minority whip, Democrat Steny Hoyer of Maryland, have both also raised more than $1 million, according to filings.
An early start to fundraising could be important in close races, which also tend to be the most expensive. In 2012, incumbents who won in a blowout spent about $1.3 million on average; incumbents winning by less than 60 percent of the vote spent $2.3 million; and challengers who defeated an incumbent, on average, spent $3.1 million, according to Vital Statistics on Congress, a report compiled by the Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute and Campaign Finance Institute.
Other names in the $1 million club include two insurgent Democrats, Shawn O’Connor in New Hampshire and Mary Lawrence in Minnesota, who loaned their campaigns nearly all of what they have raised so far. Both candidates are hoping to face off against an incumbent Republican seen as vulnerable. In New Hampshire, that’s Frank Guinta, who [agreed to pay a civil penalty of $15,000 and refund $355,000 in campaign contributions](http://www.fec.gov/press/press2015/digests/20150605digest.shtml) in connection with allegations that what he said were personal loans to his campaign were actually excessive contributions from his parents. In Minnesota, that’s John Kline, who last year became a target of TV personality Bill Maher. Both challengers would have to make it through a primary campaign first.
Super PACs and issue advocacy groups have tended to play a greater role in the final weeks of prior elections, and follow separate disclosure schedules. Super PACs have until the end of this month to disclose their donors to the FEC. Issue advocacy groups — also called 527s after their section of the tax code — have the same deadline to report their contributions to the IRS.
Early campaign fundraising activity may shape the field well in advance of the arrival of independent expenditure groups like these, Malbin says. In 2012, millions spent by PACs to support candidates who were behind in the polls or to defeat well-organized and high-performing campaigns often did not yield results at the ballot box.
“Independent spending follows competition more than creates it,” Malbin said.