- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 2, 2003

Less than two weeks before the Supreme Court hears arguments on Sept. 8 regarding the constitutionality of the provisions of last year’s campaign-finance-reform legislation, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) issued its summary of January-June hard-money contributions to federally registered political-party committees. That six-month period represents the first official fundraising tally since national political parties were banned from raising soft money by the McCain-Feingold bill.

For the Democratic Party, it is a classic case of “be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.” Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe and congressional Democrats, 95 percent of whom voted for McCain-Feingold last year, now find themselves in the position of hoping — and probably even praying, which makes it all the more ironic — that the Supreme Court declares unconstitutional the law’s ban on soft-money donations to national parties.

As this paper repeatedly predicted throughout our principle-based opposition to McCain-Feingold, one virtually certain consequence of the bill would be to widen the hard-money advantages already enjoyed by the Republican Party. Yet, not even we imagined how quickly the size of the hard-money disparity between the party committees would balloon. FEC data reveal that federally registered Republican Party committees raised $139.1 million in hard money during the first six months of 2003. Democratic committees raised $56.4 million. The difference was an astonishing $82.7 million. During the first six-month period of the last two-year presidential-election cycle (1999-2000), Republicans raised $66.4 million, compared to $38.1 million for the Democrats. In other words, the Republicans’ already-substantial hard-money fundraising advantage nearly tripled, rising from $28.3 million to $82.7 million. (Republicans enjoyed a $54.3 million advantage during the first six-month period of the 2001-02 cycle.)

Unlike soft-money donations (which were essentially unregulated and unlimited contributions to parties from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals), hard-money contributions have been both limited and strictly regulated. While banning soft money, a fundraising category in which Democrats had achieved parity with Republicans, McCain-Feingold actually increased the hard-money limits. McCain-Feingold nearly doubled the cumulative hard-money limits that individuals may contribute to federal candidates and national party committees, raising the two-year cycle limit from $50,000 to $95,000. At the same time, reinforcing a long-standing trend, Republican national party committees raised more than $60 million in the January-June period from individuals contributing less than $200, while Democrats were able to raise only $18.1 million in under-$200 donations.

The Republicans are cultivating hard-money contributions from an apparently bottomless pit, but are spending their hard-money riches almost as fast. Compared to $57 million spent over the first six months of 1999 and $69 million expended during the first half of 2001, federally registered Republican party committees spent $107 million during the first half of this year. Thus, in the first six months of 2003, GOP party committees actually spent $50 million more than Democratic committees raised. After deducting debts from “cash on hand” on June 30, the Republican advantage was a mere $25 million, or roughly one-half of the GOP’s $49 million advantage at this stage two years ago.

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