- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 19, 2010

Two outside pro-Republican groups say they will boost their total fundraising to $52 million over the next two months, as the political right begins to play serious catch-up on the left in the use of tax-exempt nonparty organizations in election campaigns.

Mike Duncan, chairman of American Crossroads, told The Washington Times that his group and American Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies plan to plow more than $49 million of it into 11 Senate races in anticipation that the Republican Party is within reach of a Senate majority.

And, in an inversion of the usual image of “coattails” descending from the top of the ticket to a party’s candidates for lower offices, he says a number of Senate seats are in play because of the strength of strong House candidates in the respective states.

“People thought it wasnt possible, but Republicans now have a good chance of winning control of the Senate - in part because we have a good chance of taking the House,” he said.

But the infusion of such an unexpectedly large amount of cash will have to be used, in part, to offset comparatively anemic fundraising by the Republican National Committee and other official party groups.

Former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie and ex-White House political strategist Karl Rove encouraged the founding of American Crossroads, a so-called “527” nonprofit campaign group in March, along with Grassroots Policy Strategies, another kind of nonprofit called a “501(c)4,” both monikers deriving from the section of the federal tax code that governs them.

The two groups are latecomers to the “independent expenditure” game that Democrats mastered right after President Bush signed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance regulations into law in 2002.

In the 2004 elections, the four top-fundraising Democratic 527 groups alone - groups founded by Americans Coming Together, Joint Victory Campaign Committee, Media Fund and the Service Employees International Union - spent more than $256 million to get Democrats elected to federal office in 2004. In contrast, the top four pro-Republican 527 groups, none of which spent more than any of the top four Democratic groups, spent only $108 million in that same election.

“The Democrats got out in front of us on these 527s and c4s,” Mr. Duncan said. “Were playing catch-up.”

Unlike Mr. Duncans svelte operation, each major party campaign committee also has a large building and staff to finance and can accept a maximum of $30,400 from individuals.

“We will spend less than $2,600,000 - or 5 percent - on overhead in our $52 million budget if we achieve our goal over the next two months,” said Mr. Duncan, who was Republican National Committee chairman from 2007 to January 2009, a period when the RNC grossed $403.5 million, for a net of $261.2 million in contributions. The RNC had more than $20 million in the bank for the incoming administration of Michael S. Steele.

In contrast, Mr. Steeles RNC has struggled this year to break even on fundraising. So, to a lesser extent, has the Democratic National Committee.

DNC Chairman Timothy M. Kaine was scheduled to announce his totals Thursday night in St. Louis. The Associated Press reported, citing a party official on the condition of anonymity, that the DNC expected to report raising $11.5 million in July and having $10.8 million in the bank, continuing its several-month streak of besting the RNC. The Republican group will release its numbers Friday.

But Mr. Duncan said American Crossroads March birth was not a reaction to continuing reports of poor management and unmet fundraising goals by the RNC under Mr. Steele. Rather, the group had been in the planning stage virtually since the end of the Bush administration.

These 527s and c4s have other advantages and disadvantages compared with their respective national party committees. On the “up” side, besides being able to accept unlimited amounts of money, they have fewer disclosure requirements and do not have to adhere to spending limits.

But to have this freedom, no one associated with a 527 group can discusses strategy, tactics, message or anything else with anyone from a particular campaign, and no more than half of a c4 donations can be used for direct political advocacy for favored candidates.

In addition, while outside groups’ unlimited but uncoordinated sums on advertising may win hearts and minds, getting voters to the polls on Election Day requires advance on-site work and putting paid campaign workers in place. Only the RNC can give money to the state parties that conduct such operations. No money raised by 527s and c4s can go for that purpose.

“The RNC contributes irreplaceable value in organizational infrastructure, massive list-development capabilities and boots on the ground,” said Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio. “There is no way to replace the boots-on-the-ground role it uniquely plays among the various independent center-right groups. But we plan to supplement their operation with other [get-out-the-vote] efforts.”

Republicans are relying on an enthusiasm gap to drive their turnout efforts. An Aug. 2-5 Public Opinion Strategies poll of 13 battleground states commissioned by American Crossroads finds Republican candidates leading by 52 percent to 46 percent over Democrats among voters who register the most intensity about the elections, and a huge 22-point advantage (47 percent to 25 percent) for Republicans over independents.

Mr. Duncan said the Bolger poll of 1,300 likely voters in 13 states also finds Republican candidates leading by an average of 8 percentage points in Republican-held Florida, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio, and ahead by 7 points in Democrat-held states of Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Washington.

American Crossroads did not release the findings for individual Senate contests. Of those 13 battleground states, American Crossroads says it also plans to put its money into key House and Senate races in all but Delaware and Indiana.

But some Republican leaders say privately that the help may come too late to help state parties identify voters and get them to the polls.

The RNC is preparing to borrow as much as $10 million for the midterms, the same amount Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour borrowed to help finance the 1994 midterms when he was RNC chairman - and when the Republicans took both houses of Congress.

September and October traditionally are the big cash months for the RNC during election years, but money for identifying, targeting and getting voters to the polls must be committed early to do mailings, make phone calls and organize volunteers. Late cash usually goes to TV ads. So even a spectacular September-October fundraising bonanza by the RNC might not be soon enough.

“An ideal RNC get-out-the-vote program for the 2010 midterms would budget at least $50 million, with planning in key states starting 18 months before Election Day,” a senior GOP campaign strategist said privately.

Asked how much the RNC had spent on “victory” programs in the battleground states and when it started investing in those states, RNC spokesman Doug Heye said, “I cant discuss what our budgets are.”

With voter annoyance at Democrats running high in virtually all polls, the RNC has decided it will have to share its wealth with more than 44 state parties, far more than usual because of so many competitive House races this year.

RNC Political Director Gentry Collins said recently that territory the RNC will have to cover is “far larger than we expected it to be when we began our planning, and candidly, that presents quite a challenge for us.”

He counted 285 staff in 224 “victory centers” in 44 states where the RNC will pay to put together voter lists and manage volunteers and voter turnout.

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