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Democrats’ strong boxes

- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2007

November's congressional elections, which installed Democrats in control of both the House and the Senate, have caused major reverberations for the House and Senate fund-raising committees of each party. The Democratic committees have have achieved amazing hard-money fund-raising advantages during the first six months of 2007. Today we will review how things have changed on the Senate side.

This once-unthinkable development is all the more surprising in a political environment in which the unlimited, unregulated "soft-money" contributions to party committees from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals have been banned since the 2002 elections. For years, the Democratic fund-raising committees were much more dependent upon soft money than their GOP counterparts. Since the 2002 elections, however, the party committees have been permitted to receive only hard-money contributions, which are strictly regulated and limited and which Democrats previously had much more difficulty raising than Republican committees. It is true that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC), which raises money on behalf of Democratic incumbents and challengers competing in Senate elections, adapted more easily to the post-soft-money world than its sister committee in the House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. During the first six months of 2007, the DSCC clobbered its Republican counterpart, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), in the battle to raise hard money.

During the 1999-2000 and 2001-02 cycles, the NRSC raised $111 million in hard money, $22 million (25 percent) more than the DSCC's $89 million. Over the same four-year period, the DSCC raised $159 million in soft money, $48 million (43 percent) more than the NRSC's four-year soft-money total of $111 million. During the first six months of 2003, after soft money had been banned, the NRSC raised $14.6 million in hard money compared to the DSCC's $10.8 million. On June 30, 2003, the NRSC had $5.3 million in cash on hand and zero debt. The DSCC had $2.5 million in cash and $3.9 million in debt, generating a "free-cash" position of negative $1.4 million. During the first six months of 2005, the NRSC and DSCC had raised $20.9 million and $22.7 million, respectively, and each committee had between $8 and $9 million in free cash on June 30, 2005.

On Dec. 31, 2006, after Democrats had defeated six incumbent Republican senators and captured control of the Senate, the victorious DSCC had $63,369 in cash and $6.6 million in debt. The debt the DSCC so wisely incurred had clearly generated extraordinary political dividends. At the end of last year, the vanquished NRSC had $110,000 in cash and $1.3 million in debt. One wonders if another $5 million in debt would have saved the Senate for the Republicans. It is arguable that $5 million divided equally between the narrowly decided Senate races in Virginia (49.6-49.2) and Montana (49.2-48.3) would have saved one of the Republican seats, thus preventing Democrats from achieving their majority.

Here's how Democrats have brilliantly exploited their narrow Senate majority. During the first six months of 2007, the DSCC raised a stunning $31.2 million, which was nearly three times the amount it had raised during the first six months of 2003 and 40 percent more than it had raised during the first six months of 2005. Both earlier periods coincided with Democratic minority status in the Senate. On June 30, 2007, the DSCC had $20.4 million in cash and $4.5 million in debt, generating a free-cash position of $15.9 million. The minority-party NRSC, which must defend 22 of the 34 Senate seats in play in 2008, raised only $15.8 million (half of the DSCC total) during the first six months of this year. On June 30, the NRSC had $5.8 million in cash and zero debt. Thus, the DSCC had a $10.1 million free-cash advantage on June 30.

It's fair to say that the DSCC, which eventually outraised the NRSC by $32.6 million (37 percent) during the 2005-06 cycle while Democrats were in the minority, has barely revved up its engines.