US Senate

November 5th, 2013

Money Talks: Ernst Gets By With a Little Help from Her Friends

Billy Graham once said, “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is.”  Well, give me five minutes with a campaign financial disclosure, and we can learn an awful lot about the campaign itself.

A few months ago, we examined the initial fundraising reports from the three Republican U.S. Senate candidates in the race at that time, Sam Clovis, Matt Whitaker, and David Young.  Today we examine the latest candidate to enter the Republican primary for the Unites States Senate, State Senator Joni Ernst.

Ernst raised more money in her initial fundraising report than all of her opponents.  From July 10th through September 30th, Ernst raised $252,397.45.  That’s almost $100,000 more than David Young raised in his initial fundraising period when he outraised the Republican field.  While Ernst’s fundraising numbers were much better than her Republican counterparts, they didn’t blow anyone away.  Furthermore, once you dig into the report, you can see that the Ernst campaign isn’t as finely tuned as it may appear to be.

The Ernst for U.S. Senate campaign got off to a slow start.  Financial disclosures show that the campaign only received 22 donations over $200 in July totaling just $30,700.  Some of the early money the campaign raised was from Ernst herself, her husband, and her state senate campaign.  In August, Ernst’s fundraising slowed.  That month she brought in just 20 contributions totaling $19,700.  Two thirds of the way through her first reporting period, Ernst had raised just over $50,000.

Most of the money that Ernst raised in the quarter came in the month of September.  In total she received 135 contributions that month, but most of those, 113 to be exact, came in the final two weeks of the reporting period.  From September 1st to September 29th, Ernst raised $109,300.  What’s odd is that she raised $77,159.29 in the final day of the reporting period.

On one hand, the campaign was able to scramble late and get a lot of checks in the door just before the end of the reporting period.  Yet, on the other hand, the Ernst campaign was very close to having a very underwhelming fundraising report.  Looking through the report you can see her staff and consultants scrambling to raise money.

For example, Derek Flowers, a campaign staffer, writes the campaign two contributions for $1,300 on September 30th.  Likewise Brian Kennedy, the campaign’s fundraiser, also donates $1,300 on September 30th.  David Polyansky, an Ernst consultant, also made a late contribution to help Ernst raise money.  He gave the campaign $3,600 on September 28th.  In total, Ernst’s staff and consultants donated over $21,000 to her campaign.  Yet in the case of Mr. Flowers, he has yet to be compensated for his work on the campaign.

A large portion of the money that Ernst raised came from outside of the state of Iowa.  Ernst brought in $117,900 from out of state donors, which represents 47 percent of all the money she raised.  Ernst may be an unknown gun-toting state senator from a small southwest Iowa town, but her initial fundraising report is littered with some very wealthy individuals who don’t even call Iowa home.  For example, August Busch, the billionaire beer mogul, donated $5,000 to Ernst’s campaign.

While Busch is the most recognizable name on her report, there are other billionaires who have thrown some money Ernst’s way.  Take, for example, Robert and Diana Mercer. Robert Mercer the co-CEO of a $15 billion hedge fund in New York, and he and his wife have maxed out to the campaign.  So too has A. Jerrold Perenchio, the former chairman and CEO of Univision who Forbes Magazine estimates is worth $2.5 billion.  Tom Rastin and Karen Wright, from Mount Vernon, Ohio, have also maxed out to the campaign.

It’s unknown how Ernst knows these wealthy individuals, but her campaign report indicates that she did attend a political conference hosted by the illustrious Koch brothers.  At least one of the billionaire donors listed above, Mr. Rastin has connections to the Kochs’ political empire.

Back home in Iowa, it is apparent that some of the same people who helped fund Governor Terry Branstad’s 2010 campaign were also encouraged to help Ernst.  Familiar names like Bruce Rastetter, Gary Kirke, Cam Sutton, Don Lamberti, and Eldon Roth each gave Ernst at least $2,600.  One name not included on Ernst’s fundraising report is Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, who has publically endorsed the campaign.  In total, it looks like Branstad was able to help Ernst raise about $42,850 for her campaign.  That’s not race altering money, but it’s not insignificant either.

It’s obvious that Ernst has received a lot of help in the fundraising department.  While all money spends the same way, one has to wonder if these outside forces will continue to help the campaign with it’s fundraising throughout the primary.  If you take away the $117,900 Ernst raised outside of Iowa, the $21,700 from her staff and consultant, and the $42,850 from Branstad’s most loyal donors, the Ernst campaign raised just under $70,000 in its first three months of existence.

As is always the case, the second reporting period will tell us just how formidable the Ernst campaign is.  The campaign reported having $224,285.38 in the bank at the end of the reporting period, but the campaign had not yet paid any staff yet, nor had it paid all of its consultants as of the close of the reporting period.  It’s also important to note that almost $40,000 of the campaign’s cash-on-hand can’t be used for the primary as some donors maxed out for the primary and general election.

Fundraising reports always provide a glimpse inside the inner workings of a campaign.  Ernst’s report shows that the campaign didn’t raise much money until the very end of the reporting period.  It’s hard to run much of a campaign when the money doesn’t flow in on a consistent basis.  It will be interesting to see how the Ernst campaign moves forward now that it has financial resources at its disposal.

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About the Author

Craig Robinson
Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of, a political news and commentary site he launched in March of 2009. Robinson’s political analysis is respected across party lines, which has allowed him to build a good rapport with journalist across the country. Robinson has also been featured on Iowa Public Television’s Iowa Press, ABC’s This Week, and other local television and radio programs. Campaign’s & Elections Magazine recognized Robinson as one of the top influencers of the 2012 Iowa Caucuses. A 2013 Politico article sited Robinson and as the “premier example” of Republican operatives across the country starting up their own political news sites. His website has been repeatedly praised as the best political blog in Iowa by the Washington Post, and in January of 2015, Politico included him on the list of local reporters that matter in the early presidential states. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 Iowa counties. In 2007, Robinson served as the Political Director of the Republican Party of Iowa where he was responsible for organizing the 2007 Iowa Straw Poll and the 2008 First-in-the-Nation Iowa Caucuses. Following the caucuses, he created his own political news and commentary site, Robinson is also the President of Global Intermediate, a national mail and political communications firm with offices in West Des Moines, Iowa, and Washington, D.C. Robinson utilizes his fundraising and communications background to service Global’s growing client roster with digital and print marketing. Robinson is a native of Goose Lake, Iowa, and a 1999 graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, where he earned degrees in history and political science. Robinson lives in Ankeny, Iowa, with his wife, Amanda, and son, Luke. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church of Hope.

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