Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) wants voters to think he's a selfless patriot who risked his career and lost his committee assignments to hold former president Donald Trump accountable.
But his financial records tell a different story: that of a relatively unknown congressman who hitched himself to the "Resistance" bandwagon and milked tens of millions of dollars from donors across the country.
A Washington Free Beacon review of Schiff's financial disclosures shows that the California Democrat ramped up fundraising efforts just as he began his quest to impeach Trump. Schiff, who spent just $134,000 on fundraising in 2016, by 2018 poured nearly $2 million into ads urging supporters to "chip in" to help with his investigations into Trump's alleged dirty dealings.
But these donations didn't go toward oversight efforts, which are funded by congressional committees. Instead, they went right into Schiff's campaign coffers, which now hold $21 million. Schiff, who has represented his deep-blue Los Angeles district since 2001, won 10 of his 11 elections without such a massive war chest. But the money could soon come in handy.
Schiff is widely believed to be eyeing Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D., Calif.) Senate seat, in what will likely be a contentious Democratic primary. Schiff’s fellow California progressive Rep. Katie Porter (D.) has already announced her intention to run in 2024 to replace Feinstein, who has yet to announce her retirement. Winning the nomination will require cash, fundraising chops, and name recognition. Thanks to his tussle with Trump, Schiff now has all three.
In 2016, Schiff had little national name recognition and just $2.1 million on hand. But as the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, he was in a prime position to boost his profile as rumors began to swirl about the then-president-elect's alleged ties to Russia.
In early March 2017, Schiff started hinting to reporters that he had seen evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election. The New Yorker soon dubbed him an "unlikely liberal hero" who was "ready to investigate Trump." By the end of the month, Schiff's name was splashed across headlines, and the congressman was a fixture on cable news.
On April 6, 2017, the Los Angeles Times declared that Schiff's "aggressive role in the Trump-Russia investigation" made him the "hottest commodity" in California politics. On April 14, his campaign placed a $25,000 web ad buy, its largest to date.
Thus began a cycle in which Schiff would follow a media blitz with a massive fundraising push. At the height of Russiagate fever, Schiff spent tens of thousands of dollars on social media ads timed to press leaks.
On the day that news broke of Special Counsel Robert Mueller filing his report with the Justice Department outlining Trump's Russia ties, the Schiff campaign spent $50,000 on ads. It dropped another $250,000 in the days after the attorney general released findings from that report and another $50,000 two days before the New York Times said Schiff had a preview of Russiagate whistleblower allegations.
On March 22, 2019, the Justice Department received Mueller's report, which exonerated Trump. By that point, Schiff had already moved on. The previous month, Schiff, now chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, announced he was taking a "broader" look at Trump's finances to see if business interests were influencing his presidential decisions.
Schiff didn't find anything nefarious, but it did allow him to build his brand as Trump's nemesis. His campaign flooded social media with ads suggesting that donations would help the congressman tackle the president. "This ends now," read a September 2019 Facebook ad claiming Schiff could personally bring Trump to justice. As late as 2019, Schiff solicited donations with a Facebook ad crying persecution. "Trump is unhinged and attacking Adam," the ad reads. "Let Adam know you have his back in his fight for truth and justice."
On January 22, 2020, Schiff led the House's impeachment trial of Trump. In the days immediately after the hearings, he spent $600,000 on ad buys. One Facebook ad from the end of January urges supporters to "help Adam fight for transparency, accountability, and fairness on the House floor without having to spend time fundraising." By the time Trump left office in January 2021, Schiff had over $13 million in his campaign coffers—a nearly seven-fold increase from when Trump took office.
With Trump out of office and the Russia hoax thoroughly debunked, Schiff has sought out greener pastures. In July 2021, then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Schiff to the select congressional committee tasked with probing Trump's culpability in the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot. That month, Schiff spent $540,000 on fundraising ads tied to the appointment.
Schiff's campaign dropped more than $1.2 million in ads in the months surrounding the October release of his book Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could. The book is billed as an "inside account of American democracy in its darkest hour, from the rise of autocracy unleashed by Trump to the January 6 insurrection."
A week after its release, Schiff petitioned the Federal Election Commission to let him rent his donor email list with his publisher to boost book sales. In December 2021, the FEC ruled in his favor.
Schiff's campaign did not respond to a request for comment.