Ousting Kevin McCarthy Was Great for Matt Gaetz’s Campaign Fundraising
It was one of his best fundraising weeks of the year.
Matt Gaetz enters the 2024 election cycle having ushered in Kevin McCarthy’s ouster, subsequent retirement and an even slimmer Republican majority — actions that garnered him plenty of detractors among his Republican colleagues. But there might be enough in Gaetz’s campaign coffers to validate those actions last fall.
In a newly released campaign finance report, Gaetz raised $259,467 in the first week of October alone — the week McCarthy was removed as Speaker — one of his highest for the year. He raised $1,808,719 in the three months following, nearly matching the contributions he received across the first nine months of the year. In total, his team raised $3.85 million for Friends of Matt Gaetz, his official campaign committee, in 2023.
Gaetz’s fundraising numbers show that his most high-profile moments of 2023 also proved to be his most lucrative. He fundraised heavily off the 15 votes it took to elect McCarthy as Speaker of the House in January of last year. That turned out to be another high point for his war chest, adding $50,000 in his two highest days of the first quarter.
His fundraising emails to supporters emphasized his standing in the party; in an email from his campaign committee obtained by the Washington Examiner, Gaetz exclaimed that he is a target for all “these RINOs” in Congress fighting to expel him. (House Republicans have said they don’t see expelling Gaetz as a priority.)
Gaetz has also been cultivating a national profile. His podcast — where he largely opines on the news of the day — is climbing the Apple Podcast charts in the politics category. He has more listeners than Breitbart’s podcast. His broader name recognition far outside Florida is largely paying off. Around 80% of his contributions come from places other than the Sunshine State.
The response to Gaetz hasn’t been all positive. During a fundraising event at a Fort Walton Beach resort back in July, a man ran into the ballroom holding up a blow-up sex doll during Gaetz’s keynote speech, shouting about the Justice Department’s now-dropped investigation into allegations that Gaetz was involved in the sex trafficking of a 17-year old girl. The Department of Justice ended its probe into Gaetz without any charges. Gaetz has denied all involvement. The allegations are now reported to be part of his House Ethics Committee investigation.
Back in Washington, many of Gaetz’s colleagues are anxious that the Florida Republicans’ stand against McCarthy will have a lasting negative impact.
“Kevin McCarthy, the best campaigner, probably in Republican history, the biggest fundraiser ever, the only reason we have the majority today, the biggest reason is Kevin McCarthy,” Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska told NOTUS in December. “We lost the White House, we went backward in the Senate, governorship, state legislatures, the only area that we picked up was the U.S. House. And that was because Kevin had a decade-and-a-half machine that he built and a fundraising apparatus that helped out the purple districts immensely.”
As Gaetz has grown his national profile, there’s been a growing rumble among Republican strategists that the Florida Republican may be angling for a governor’s race. Florida state campaign finance law would allow him to bring over all of his federal stockpiles to form the base of his local run’s fuel in a very expensive state to make a political campaign.
Gaetz himself, along with many of his surrogates, deny any interest in the Florida governor’s seat.
To hear Gaetz and his team tell that story, his fight against McCarthy was about government spending and process. Plus, Gaetz has dismissed McCarthy’s fundraising prowess as “establishment, lobbyist-drawn entities.” Gaetz stopped accepting campaign donations from federal political action committees in 2020 and has claimed that he doesn’t take any additional dollars from big businesses.
That argument isn’t enough for some. “Go get a Senate majority, a 60-vote majority, then come back, and let’s have the conversation,” Republican Rep. Garret Graves said of Gaetz’s demands. “But unless and until that happens, that is a false narrative, it is dishonest, to tell the American people that that’s actually doable.”
Even so, if Gaetz’s fundraising numbers are any indication, his tactics may become even more popular as this election year progresses.
“We hope they keep giving,” Gaetz told NOTUS.
John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.