A few days ago, the 2013 fourth quarter fund raising totals were released for the MI-3 congressional district by Rep. Justin Amash and his challenger, former East Grand Rapids school board member, Brian Ellis. For those following the campaign, Ellis is also personally wealthy and has said he is committed to self-financing up to $1 million of his own money in order to defeat the two term incumbent. However, I imagine after seeing the fund raising numbers from last quarter he may be having second thoughts.
The fourth quarter numbers show a stark contrast (much as many expected including me) on the breadth and depth of the support for the candidates. I reporter earlier here and here that I expected Amash to raise about $300,000 based on his money bomb and that Ellis needed a minimum of $200,000 from donors other than himself in order to keep pace and have a chance at attracting national and PAC money and into the race for a chance to knock off a liberty candidate and chalk up a win for the establishment.
Fortunately, for Ellis, he managed to raise nearly $308,000 from individual donors which would ordinarily give him a great cushion in fund raising against an incumbent who struggles to gather PAC money. However, Amash shattered my expectation that he would pull in about $300,000 or so and managed to raise $518,000! More stunning perhaps is that $497,000 of that raised was from individuals with an average donation of $156. Meanwhile, Ellis' average donation during the same time was nearly $2000.
Deeper examination of the fund raising totals tells an even more disturbing tale for the Ellis campaign as well. Not only have most of the donors butted up against the campaign contribution limit ($2600 per election cycle - both primary and then general) but many are close family members or family members of those previously announced "prominent" businessmen who sent letters to all of their friends around Michigan and the country soliciting donations. Aside from the Endico family from New York, the Martin couple from Duke University, a few donors from Gross Pointe Farms, and a few others - all the money donated to the campaign are from locals.
Ellis' base is small. The prospect of Amash who (assuming he couldn't get any new donors) could tap all his donors (nearly 3200 with 2400 of which he reported as new donors) for up to $2450 each would yield nearly $8 million. Ellis' donors on average can give only $600 each leaving him with a paltry $120,000. He may be self-funding his campaign and he could very well sink another $800,000 into his campaign. However, I suspect that his commitment to putting one or two million dollars into his election might hinge in large part on a win and his ability to pay off the debt afterwards with a national outpouring and K street buying influence.
To make matters worse for Ellis, the Club for Growth made a modest media buy of $100,000 to attack his record on the East Grand Rapids school board (really, can you actually have a record at a school board?). Although the attack probably won't be terribly effective against Ellis, it sends a message that Club for Growth is not messing around and is willing to spend its millions freely to defend one its most prominent fighters in the House of Representatives.
Finally, Ellis' campaign has had a very disjointed message as it tries to simultaneously portray Amash as a liberal who sides with Obama and an ultra conservative. Couple this with Ellis' rather strange statement that it is not the role of the members of Congress to worry about the constitutionality of legislation because that is the role of the courts. Obviously, this contradicts Ellis' claims that he opposes abortion (Roe v. Wade made this the 'law of the land') or his opposition to Obamacare which the Supreme Court mostly upheld in 2012.
To my knowledge, there haven't been any polls conducted on the primary race but I suspect that Ellis is in serious trouble. Both in finding a message that he can consistently use to win in a Republican primary without alienating large swaths of the primary electorate (on either the center or right) and that he faces potentially a disastrous fund raising deficit that he will be unable to compensate for with his own personal fortune.