LINCOLN, N.D. – House Speaker John Boehner's fundraising skills are in a class of their own, helping him raise more than $43 million for accounts under his direct control and helping to raise tens of millions more to help Republican allies.
The Ohio lawmaker accounts for about one-fifth of the cash collected by House Republicans' campaign arm, the National Republican Congressional Committee. Boehner has written almost $18 million in checks to the group, which has raised $101 million this campaign cycle.
And he is spending his August recess on a 14-state bus tour to help the GOP hold the majority in the House, appearing at fundraisers for candidates, including one here Friday night for first-term Rep. Kevin Cramer.
"I'm glad he's on my team. Let's get him re-elected," Boehner said of Cramer during a fundraiser in an old dairy barn that is now an events center in Lincoln, a town of about 2,400 people southeast of Bismarck.
"(This) is about saving the American dream for my kids and yours," Boehner said in a 15-minute speech to roughly 250 lobbyists, business leaders and farmers who each paid $100 for a paper plate of hamburgers, potato salad and cookies.
By the time Boehner returns to Washington, he will have traveled 6,000 miles and appeared at campaign events for 20 Republicans candidates. He'll also have met with party leaders and the rank-and-file activists who fuel on-the-ground political organizing.
Friday evening, 82-year-old Elmer Knodel drove 85 miles from his farm in Drake, North Dakota, to get a chance to see Boehner — and to write Cramer a check.
"I've been corresponding with (Boehner) for years," Knodel said. "The speaker told me he was real glad to meet me."
Boehner's draw — and his rainmaking talents — ensure that he will lead the GOP as long as he wants.
He "is probably the more important Republican in America today," North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple said as donors crowded to spend an August Friday night with the Ohio Republican.
Speculation about Boehner's retirement often quiets when operatives realize just how much of the tab his fundraising machine picks up.
The House speaker role typically brings with it tremendous fundraising potential. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for instance, sent more than $2 million from her campaign accounts to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's unsuccessful bid to keep their majority in 2010. Democrats say she helped raise more than $20 million for the committee in that year, and her fundraising ability swelled to $27 million last year for the campaign committee.
Pelosi, still the top Democrat in the House, has already paid $1 million directly to the congressional campaign committee this year and has helped it raise more than $45 million this cycle, party officials said.
But Boehner, who rose to the House's top job after 2010's tea party-driven elections removed Pelosi from the speaker's office, has been a more hands-on fundraiser. Pelosi tended to help other Democratic political machines raise money, whereas Boehner favors collecting the cash through his committees and doling it out from there.
For instance, Boehner's Ohio re-election campaign raised $15 million and his national fundraising committee raised more than $25 million. His grass-roots committee, The Freedom Project, raised an additional almost $3 million.
Boehner's fundraising footprint is significantly larger than shows up on federal campaign tallies, raising tens of millions more through fundraising letters, automated phone calls and emails that have the speaker's signature. Events like the one Friday evening near Bismarck only add to that tally.
The National Republican Congressional Committee officials declined to detail how much Boehner-backed fundraising pitches collect for them. But committee aides praise Boehner's cooperation.
"Speaker Boehner is a leader in every sense of the word," committee spokeswoman Andrea Bozek said. "When it comes to growing our majority, he sets an example for the rest of the team."
Even with Boehner's deep pockets and draw among donors, the House Republicans' campaign committee continues to lag its Democratic rival. Heading into July, the Democratic committee had raised almost $125 million this cycle and outraised the Republicans in 16 of the previous 18 months.
But as Boehner considers retirement in coming years, Republican operatives are looking around for the next prodigious fundraiser.
With Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprising primary loss and his resignation from Congress, the House Republicans are already down a major fundraiser. Cantor's ERIC PAC raised $3.8 million this cycle and his campaign raised almost $6.2 million.
Yet Cantor's political operations gave just $30,000 directly to the House campaign committee.
Boehner is just one of three elected officials who have moved more than $1 million directly to the committee. Former National Republican Congressional Committee chief Jeb Hensarling has moved $2.1 million from his campaign account. And Rep. Paul Ryan has moved almost $1.5 million from his House re-election committee to the party panel.
But none approaches the almost $18 million in direct giving from Boehner.