Self-funding prominent in campaign contributions for congressional candidates

By: and - February 2, 2024 6:15 am

Candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House reported millions in contributions for 2023, according to FEC reports. (Getty Images)

The millions are adding up in the race for Indiana’s open U.S. Senate seat, some from supportive citizens and some from electoral hopefuls’ own pockets.

Dozens more congressional candidates filed their latest quarterly reports with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) ahead of a Wednesday deadline, detailing contributions to their campaigns and how they spent the money. Some had millions left on hand at the end of 2023 and others thousands. 

In the Senate, incumbent GOP Sen. Mike Braun is ceding his position while he competes to replace term-limited Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb.

U.S. Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana leads the race to succeed Braun, with about $3.8 million raised in 2023, according to the FEC. About $2.6 million came from individual donors and $782,000 was from political action committees.

He spent $2.1 million, ending the year with $3 million on hand and $138,000 in old debts.

Banks, Rust spar over residency as primary battle for Indiana’s U.S. Senate seat continues

That’s a far cry from rival John Rust, whose campaign is almost entirely self-funded. He is seeking to be on the Republican primary ballot via a lawsuit. 

Egg farmer Rust reported raising just over $2.5 million – but 99% of it was a contribution from himself. The nearly $7,000 he received in individual donations came from brother Anthony Rust, according to the FEC.

Rust spent $1.5 million, leaving him with $1 million on hand and no debts.

The opponents are at odds over a price-fixing scheme involving Rust’s family farm — he stepped down as chair of the board last year — and Rust’s eligibility for the GOP primary.

“Indiana is a conservative state, and Hoosiers deserve a conservative fighter in the United States Senate,” Banks said in a news release Wednesday about his fourth-quarter financial filing. “My opponent is a longtime Democrat self-funder who only received one donation outside of what he contributed this past quarter.”

“Rust is attempting to fund his race with money he stole from working Hoosier families through a price-fixing scheme but Indiana’s Senate seat is not for sale,” Banks added. “We desperately need to take back the Senate to secure our border, reverse Biden’s destructive economic policies and fight back against liberal indoctrination in our schools and military.”

Rust hit back, defending his self-funding in an interview with the Capital Chronicle that framed his campaign as anti-establishment.

“I’ll fund whatever it takes to win because I’m in this to win and I’m in this to win for Indiana. My family has been so blessed with my family’s business and I just feel that it is my time to step up to the plate,” Rust said. “And to work hard for the Hoosiers that have made the success of my family possible. I want to make that success possible for other generations in the future.”

He said that he wasn’t interested in “pay for play” or giving special access to donors as a U.S. Senator. The lack of outside donations also meant he wasn’t “beholden” to any special interests.

“My door will always be open to any Indiana business or organization. You don’t have to buy access to me,” Rust said. 

Candidates of other parties remain far behind in fundraising.

Democrat Marc Carmichael, a longtime politico, didn’t have updated financial reports available in the FEC records. But from July through September, he raised about $74,000 and spent $22,000, ending that period with $52,000 on hand and no debts.

Psychologist Valerie McCray, also running as a Democrat, has raised only $4,800 this year.

Expensive competition in the 5th District

The fifth district featured another clear frontrunner willing to self-fund to get ahead.

Departing U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz, a Republican from Noblesville, has left an open seat and a lengthy, GOP-only list of hopefuls vying to succeed her.

State lawmaker and business owner Chuck Goodrich out raised his closest competitor by a whopping eight times – thanks to a massive self-loan.

Goodrich, R-Noblesville, reported raising about $1.7 million across 2023. That’s including the $1 million he loaned to his campaign.

Spartz won’t take on Senate run — or any campaign — in 2024

The Gaylor Electric president and CEO also reported about $667,000 in individual contributions and nearly $33,000 from political action committees.

He spent about $1 million, leaving him with $680,000 on hand and $1 million in debts, according to FEC data.

Goodrich’s closest competitor is speech language pathologist and politico Raju Chinthala. Chinthala, a native of Indiana who became a U.S. citizen after immigrating in 1994, leads the Indiana Indiana Business Council, according to his personal website.

He reported raising about $206,000 in 2023, with a trio of $3,000 contributions from himself, wife Prasanna and an Aparna Chinthala. He reported no political action committee contributions and didn’t take out any loans.

Chinthala spent about $16,000, leaving him with $190,000 on hand and no debts, according to the FEC.

Two other candidates, both Republicans, also raised thousands last year.

Max Engling, who previously worked a dozen years in various roles at the U.S. House of Representatives, reported raising $128,000. About $63,000 of the total came from individual contributions and $56,000 came from political action committees.

“In under three months, our campaign raised over $125,000 because our message of family-first values is resonating,” Engling said in a news release Tuesday. “Joe Biden has his agenda, but it’s not what’s best for central Indiana families and it’s not what’s best for America. We need to put parents first, protect the unborn, and secure the border, and only a fresh vision can get that done – the career politicians had their chance, and failed!” 

He spent about $27,000 and ended the year with $100,000 on hand.

Lonnie Dale Powell came in fourth on fundraising, with about $16,000. That total featured a $15,000 loan from himself and about $1,000 in individual contributions – including $25 from himself.

He spent about $14,000, ending the period with nearly $2,000 on hand and $15,000 in debts.

No Democrats or candidates of other parties were listed on the FEC’s database.

3rd District and beyond

Over a dozen candidates have indicated their interest in Banks’ seat following his decision to pursue the Senate post, the vast majority of whom are Republicans in safely red northeast Indiana.

Four GOP candidates have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in the third district, with one breaking the $1 million mark, by dipping into their own wallets to fund their campaigns. 

Nonprofit executive Tim Smith reported over $1 million in contributions, but the vast majority of that funding comes from a $900,000 loan from himself. He has spent over $227,000 on the race and ends the year with the most cash on hand: $832,380.

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Other big spenders included former Allen County Circuit Court Judge Wendy Davis, former U.S. Rep. Marlin Stutzman and State Sen. Andy Zay. 

Davis raised $676,000 — including $83,200 from herself — and spent $338,885, leaving her with $337,885 at the end of the year. 

A $100,000 loan from himself made up roughly one-sixth of Zay’s contributions, which totaled less than $547,000. He spent $318,000 in 2023 and still has more than $228,000 in the bank.

Over half of former congressman Marlin Stutzman’s $482,000 raised comes from a $250,000 loan to himself. After spending just under $308,000 — which included a $100,000 loan repayment to himself — he is left with $174,367 cash on hand.

Four other Republican candidates reported raising less than $50,000 and another two have no reports filed with the FEC. 

On the Democrat side, Phil Goss outraised his primary opponent Kiley Adolph by giving his campaign a $154,000 boost, totaling nearly $162,000 in contributions. However, Adolph’s $17,000 in outside contributions is more than double Goss’ $8,000. 

Goss spent $127,000 and has less than $35,000 on hand, though he still owes money to himself. Adolph has just under $4,000 left after spending nearly $13,000.

Though Indiana has two other open seats in the sixth and eighth districts, those Republican officeholders only announced their intention to step down in January. Though a handful of candidates have filed either with the FEC of the SOS office, few had reports for 2023 spending. 

The only candidate to yet make headway is Siddharth Mahant in the sixth district. He was previously running for the fifth district but pivoted to the sixth following the announced departure of U.S. Rep. Greg Pence.  

This leg-up on his competitors meant he already had a fundraising mechanism underway, fueled by a $2 million loan to himself and another $116,000 in outside contributions. He reported spending $192,000 and has just under $2 million left.

Congressional candidates, unlike other state offices, do not have residency requirements.

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Whitney Downard
Whitney Downard

A native of upstate New York, Whitney previously covered statehouse politics for CNHI’s nine Indiana papers, focusing on long-term healthcare facilities and local government. Prior to her foray into Indiana politics, she worked as a general assignment reporter for The Meridian Star in Meridian, Mississippi. Whitney is a graduate of St. Bonaventure University (#GoBonnies!), a community theater enthusiast and cat mom.

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Leslie Bonilla Muñiz
Leslie Bonilla Muñiz

Leslie covers state government for the Indiana Capital Chronicle with emphases on elections, infrastructure and transportation. She previously covered city-county government for the Indianapolis Business Journal. She has also reported on local, national and international news for the Chicago Tribune, Voice of America and more. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University.

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