Government

Linn County political fundraising groups lend local support

Eagles and Phoenix Club provide money and campaign mentoring

Presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks April 25 during a meet-and-greet hosted by Linn Phoenix Club at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids. Warren returned Sunday to Iowa with events set this week for Indianola, Des Moines, Ames, Waterloo and Cedar Falls. The campaign did not announce any stops in the Corridor. (The Gazette)
Presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks April 25 during a meet-and-greet hosted by Linn Phoenix Club at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids. Warren returned Sunday to Iowa with events set this week for Indianola, Des Moines, Ames, Waterloo and Cedar Falls. The campaign did not announce any stops in the Corridor. (The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn Phoenix Club members were glad the group was able to donate $39,000 to county Democrats running for office in 2018, but some wonder if local contributions carry less weight as campaigns get more expensive.

“For candidates running for competitive state races, it can be a drop in the bucket,” said Nate Willems, programs chair and past president of the Phoenix Club, a Linn County Democratic political fundraising group.

For example, The Phoenix Club gave $12,500 in 2018 to Eric Gjerde, a Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School teacher who ran for Iowa House District 67 against incumbent Republican Ashley Hinson. That gift, one of six made by the Phoenix Club to candidates in 2018, was nearly 12 percent of Gjerde’s $107,127 total fundraising in 2018, according to campaign disclosure reports filed with the state.

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Hinson received $5,500 from the Linn Eagles, a Republican fundraising group. This was about 2.5 percent of the $217,000 she raised during the 2018 cycle.

Hinson won that election with 52 percent of the vote. But now that Hinson plans to run for the U.S. House, representing Iowa’s 1st District, Gjerde is running for House District 67 again in 2020.

“If you look at campaign disclosure reports, typically Republicans raise more large donations than Democrats do,” Gjerde said. “Having an organization like the Linn County Phoenix Club certainly helps us. There are a lot of candidates they are able to support and do support.”

Eagles history

The Eagles launched in 1988, the same year Bob Dole won Iowa’s Republican caucuses with 37 percent support.

“Our mission really is to further a strong Republican presence in Linn County, the Iowa House and Iowa Senate,” said Kathy Pearson, one of the original Eagles members. “We do that through monetary support and close mentoring.”

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The Eagles gave $24,000 to five Linn County candidates in 2018, with the top recipient being Louie Zumbach with $9,500. Zumbach, of Coggon, has been representing Iowa House District 95 since 2016.

Hinson, of Marion, said she learned about the Eagles soon after she announced in November 2015 she planned to run for the Iowa House.

“I heard about it (the group) within a month of announcing my candidacy,” she said. “A lot of them were excited about me running and they reached out to me as well.”

Hinson meets with the Eagles occasionally during the Legislative session to provide updates and take questions, she said. She sees a lot of overlap between the fundraising group and local business people who support her through volunteering and individual donations.

“For my state race, most of my support was from right here in Iowa,” she said. “If you see checks at all from out of state, that was from PAC organizations. But they have a solid support in Iowa.”

Hinson knows she’ll have to ratchet up fundraising to run for Congress against Democratic incumbent Anny Finkenauer of Dubuque.

“It’s going to be expensive,” she said. “You have to have a good combination of local support on the ground and support from the national level.”

She said she hopes the Eagles will continue to be on her side in 2020.

Dems visit Phoenix

The Phoenix Club started in the late 1990s to offer advice and funds to Democratic candidates based on the quality of their campaign plans, their own fundraising and their ability to win.

Both the Phoenix Club and Linn Eagles raise money through member dues and fundraising events.

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The Phoenix Club’s biggest event this year so far was hosting Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in April.

“In years like this where there is a caucus campaign ongoing, being able to attract presidential candidates makes our events more attractive to our members and other people,” Willems said.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has since left the presidential race, also have spoken to the club, Willems said.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; erin.jordan@thegazette.com

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