Republicans have the edge in fundraising leading up to the November midterm elections, bolstered by small donors enthusiastic about President Trump and a stable of billionaires including the Koch Brothers, who just pledged $400 million to help Republicans retain power in Washington and across the country.
The disparity in funding is not unique to this cycle. The Republicans typically have more money. The bigger problem for Democrats is the extraordinary top-to-bottom organization that Republicans have built over time in 30 states while Democrats can point to a similar effort in just three: Colorado, Minnesota, and North Carolina.
“They have built a juggernaut,” says Rob Stein, founder of Democracy Alliance, a progressive group that last year compiled a report on “The Republican-Right’s Iron Curtain of Political Influence” (PDF). It shows how the political advocacy group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and Freedom Partners operate like a parallel political party—one that’s often superior to and more effective than the Republican National Committee.
After the Citizens United decision in 2010 allowed donors like the Kochs to give unlimited amounts of money to party building, AFP became the GOP’s outside hub for everything from data analytics to candidate recruitment to get out-the-vote drives. Essentially everything the party once did is now privatized through AFP.
“What the Kochs did is nothing short of historic and the most extraordinary takeover of a party ever in a democracy,” says Stein.
It’s not the wall of money that has Democrats most worried, it’s the organizational skills that AFP has honed. “Democrats can endure having less money if they have strategic management within the states,” says Stein. Key groups for Democrats—Planned Parenthood, labor unions, and environmental groups mostly do their own thing while the right’s nonprofit, nonparty political machine, according to the Democracy Alliance report, “has become the most successful, and most powerful, political machine in American history.”
The major players on the right—the National Rifle Association, the National Association of Independent Business Owners, and the Club for Growth—work closely with AFP, as does the Christian Right and the, American Legislative Exchange Council, which churns out right-leaning legislative policy in almost 40 states.