In polite company, the idea of putting the country through a presidential impeachment is “somber,” “heartbreaking” and, in the words of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a time to be “prayerful.” But for campaigns across the political spectrum, most especially President Donald Trump’s, impeachment has been a once-in-a-generation money bomb.
As a formal impeachment approaches, members and the White House should suspend campaign fundraising until the process is resolved. Because the same cash fire hose that turns on after an appearance on “Fox & Friends” or “The Rachel Maddow Show” also threatens the integrity of the most important constitutional question the country will ever ask itself — should this president be removed from office?
No campaign has focused more intently, nor benefited more financially, from impeachment than the president’s own. On the day that Pelosi announced that the House would pursue a formal impeachment inquiry into his interactions with the president of Ukraine, an urgent e-mail over Trump’s signature from the joint fundraising committee of the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee told supporters, “Nancy Pelosi just formally called for the first step towards my IMPEACHMENT!”
A second e-mail from the president announced the creation of “the official Impeachment Defense Task Force” for supporters who donated $5 before 3:30 p.m. For a few dollars more, you could even get a wallet-size card certifying your membership in the Official Impeachment Defense.
More time brought more impeachment-related calls for cash under subject lines like, “TOTAL SMEAR JOB,” “WITCH HUNT,” and “This is un-American.” An analysis by the Center for Public Integrity showed that, if nothing else, impeachment has been great for campaign business. On the day before Pelosi’s announcement, the Trump campaign raised $57,000 in donations above $200. On the day Pelosi formalized the inquiry, donations jumped to $355,000. The day after that was the campaign’s best single-day total all year, $405,000.
The president may be the most brazen impeachment fundraiser in Washington, but he certainly hasn’t been the only one. Along with congressional leaders, whose party-building roles have always included raising cash, many of the very top rainmakers in the House in 2019 have also had the highest profiles in the Mueller and impeachment investigations.
Rep. Devin Nunes ranks as the second-highest fundraiser in the entire House, raking in $5.7 million in the first nine months of the year. The California Republican has been both the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee investigating the president, as well as one of Trump’s most aggressive defenders anywhere on Capitol Hill.
Two slots down from Nunes is Rep. Adam Schiff, the fourth-most successful fundraiser in the House at $4.4 million. The California Democrat is both the chairman of the Intelligence Committee and a Trump antagonist who has been as relentless in pursuing the president’s dealings as Nunes has been in shielding him.
Along with Nunes and Schiff in the top dozen, you’ll also find relatively junior Intelligence Committee members, Democrats Raja Krishnamoorthi (No. 10) and Eric Swalwell (No. 12). It’s a sea change for the panel, which used to be considered a dud for fundraising, since it policed no specific industry and conducted most of its work behind closed doors. But the investigations into the president have changed all of that.
The same holds true for the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican and top Trump attack dog, ranks at No. 16 among House fundraisers this cycle, while two fellow Oversight members, New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Alabama Republican Bradley Byrne, outrank even him at No. 6 and No. 7 respectively. In September, AOC called out Democratic leaders for not pushing to impeach Trump sooner. “At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior — it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it,” she tweeted. And it was Byrne last Thursday leading Republicans to storm a closed-door hearing for the impeachment inquiry and telling Fox News the entire Ukraine inquiry was “just a hatchet job against the president.”
The RNC, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise have all joined in, too, flooding potential donors with appeals to help fight against — or for — impeachment.
The Center for Responsive Politics found even swing-district members like freshmen Democrats Max Rose, Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger all reaching out to donors with impeachment messages. “Washington Republicans are attacking Max for taking his oath to defend the Constitution seriously,” the Rose campaign wrote in a Facebook ad. “Make a contribution so we have the resources to respond.”
It has to be said that more and more campaign fundraising is truly organic, thanks to technology that now lets small-dollar donors see or read about a member of Congress they like and simply go online and send a donation.
But even the visibility a member needs to get that donor’s attention incentivizes the loudest voices and worst behaviors. It literally will not pay a member of Congress to wait for more information to make a decision on impeachment. It’s the same reason why most states prohibit giving and receiving campaign contributions while legislatures are in session and why members of Congress should suspend fundraising until the impeachment is over.
Because the money will still be there when the dust settles. The integrity won’t.
Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter: @1PatriciaMurphy.