Update August 22, 1:07 p.m.: The Center for Responsive Politics says that a data error led Open Secrets to mistakenly classify nearly 98 percent of Randy Bryce's contributions as "large individual contributions." The site's system assumes that all donations included in disclosure forms are above the $200 threshold, but has diagnostics in place to catch small dollar donations. Those diagnostics "had not yet been run for the 2018 election cycle, resulting in the misclassification," according to CRP Executive Director Sheila Krumholz.
"We’ve determined that this candidate has reported itemized contributions of all sizes to the Federal Election Commission instead of just those over $200, as is provided for in the FEC reporting requirements. This has the effect of erroneously including small donations ($200 or less) in the ‘Large Individual Contributions' category on our site," Krumholz said in an email (emphasis in the original). "At CRP, we strive to maintain the highest levels of accuracy and transparency. In this case, we did not meet that standard, for which I truly apologize."
CRP reviewed the data following the publication of the Washington Free Beacon story. An update on the site shows that 82 percent of Bryce's donations came from "small individual contributions," while just 15 percent came from donations of $200 or more. He has received about $353,000 in small contributions, attracting support from many out of state donors.
CRP says it is continuing to review the data for all candidates in the race.
Speaker of the House Paul Ryan's Democratic challenger, union official Randy Bryce, is campaigning as a populist to unseat the Wisconsin Republican, but nearly 98 percent of his campaign contributions have come in the form of "large individual contributions," according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Bryce, a veteran and political director of the Ironworkers Local 8 union, collected more than $430,000 in under three weeks after his June campaign announcement and Twitter account—@IronStache—went viral. The impressive haul was enough to force David Yankovich, an Ohio political activist who moved to Wisconsin solely to challenge Ryan, to drop out of the race and endorse Bryce, a lifelong resident, in July. Democratic and liberal activist groups have since rallied around Bryce's candidacy, with many praising his populist mentality and blue-collar roots.
The Service Employees International Union called Bryce "a champion for the hard working people of Wisconsin" who has battled against the Republicans' "corporate agenda" in Wisconsin. Bryce pledged to bring that same mentality to Washington, D.C. to fight "on behalf of working Americans."
Bryce was also among the first three congressional candidates to receive endorsements from End Citizens United in August, a group dedicated to campaign finance reform that seeks the reversal the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision. Bryce accepted the endorsement, calling the decision—which invalidated some restrictions on campaign spending as undue limits on the First Amendment rights of corporations, unions, and other entities—"toxic."
"The corrosive impact of unlimited, undisclosed donations from the special interests, powerful elite and the ultra-rich casts aside the voice of the common people, and makes government the playground of the insiders and the wealthy — instead of serving the many," Bryce said in a statement accompanying the endorsement. "I am proud that my people-powered campaign is averaging just $25 per donation, because we are fueled by grassroots movement for change that puts working people and everyday Wisconsinites first."
Bryce's first campaign finance report, documenting his donations from his June 12—when he initially filed for his candidacy—to the end of the quarter on June 30, showed the ironworker collecting more than $422,000 in individual contributions. The Center for Responsive Politics classified nearly the entire campaign haul—97.69 percent—as coming in the form of "large individual contributions," defined as donations of more than $200. The remaining 2.31 percent came from PACs with the Ironworkers Political Action League and Vote Vets each contributing $5,000 to the campaign.
The Bryce campaign did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Bryce's largest donors work for the Transport Workers Union, which contributed $5,000 to the campaign, as well as his own Local 8, which chipped in $1,100, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He has also proven popular among out-of-state donors. Employees at Google parent company Alphabet, Microsoft, Apple, Johns Hopkins University, the University of California, and New York City-based private equity firm Elevation Partners were all among the campaign's top donors, contributing about $10,000.
Bryce also spent the majority of his donations outside of Wisconsin. His single largest expenditure was a $20,000 payment to Washington, D.C., firm Hilltop Public Solutions for "political consulting," according to the FEC report, while a majority of the rest of the expenditures came from processing fees to online liberal fundraiser ActBlue and a Delta Airlines flight. Of the $38,206 spent in the opening month of his candidacy, just $454.08 went to Wisconsin businesses to print campaign signs and rental equipment for his campaign ad.
Despite his fundraising aptitude, Bryce faces an uphill battle in the race to unseat Ryan, who has represented the district since a 1999 special election and has served as speaker since 2015. The Democrat has said he hopes to raise $2 million for the race, which would still fall well below Ryan's coffers. The GOP incumbent has $11.15 million cash on hand and has raised $6.3 million for the 2018 campaign.