- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Just months before critical midterm elections, the Republican National Committee is hurting for cash more than at any similar period in memory, according to figures reported this week to the Federal Election Commission.

Next month’s shortfall is shaping up to be as bad or even worse, a senior official with knowledge of committee’s financial status told The Washington Times.

The RNC is typically the big engine driving donations to the party. But with a reported $12.6 million in May available to help candidates and their campaigns, the Republican Party’s national governing body badly trails its sister organization, the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which had $18.2 million in cash on hand for the same period.

RNC spokesman Doug Heye said in interview that the numbers understate the group’s financial clout. The RNC has transferred some $2 million each to the party’s Senate and House campaign committees, cutting into its own cash-on-hand totals.

In addition, the RNC under Chairman Michael S. Steele spent some $12 million to help win the off-year gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia last fall, and spent an additional $500,000 on the unsuccessful bid to win a special congressional election in Pennsylvania.

“All that could have boosted our cash on hand to $29 million,” Mr. Heye said.

Nonetheless, the RNC’s total for May of this year is well below the average cash on hand of $35,434,123.45 that the RNC reported each May between 2002 and 2009.

The RNC also slightly trails even the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the party’s House-oriented campaign arm, which is traditionally the smallest of the party’s campaign organs.

The NRCC reports having $12 million in cash for May - on paper $600,000 less than the RNC. But the RNC is carrying over from April unpaid bills to the tune of $760,141, which should be subtracted from its $12.6 million cash on hand for May. That leaves the RNC with slightly less cash than even the NRCC.

The RNC debt is the first reported to the FEC for any one-month period since then-RNC Chairman Haley Barbour - now governor of Mississippi and head of the Republican Governors Association (RGA) - borrowed funds to help finance what was to be the 1994 GOP electoral sweep of both houses of Congress.

The RNC’s initially tarnished image under Mr. Steele seems to have turned a corner, with Mr. Steele and new communications director Mr. Heye getting good reviews from campaign operatives and the press for their recent TV news and talk-show appearances and the committee’s often clever, quick and effective pushbacks against Democratic attacks.

But the turnaround may have come too late, at least on the financial side.

Other committees, such as the RGA, which also can legally accept “soft money” donations not targeted to a particular campaign, are raking in money. And four new so-called 527 nonprofit groups formed by former George W. Bush political strategist Karl Rove and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie are sucking up dollars in the form of $40 million in pledged donations from GOP big donors whose money used to go to the RNC, a former top RNC official said privately.

The pledges are scheduled to turn into cash over the next three months, the source said.

The skepticism toward Mr. Steele’s management shown by big donors is thought to explain why, for the first time in 12 years or more, the GOP’s Senate and House campaign fundraising committees have more cash on hand than the RNC - and, unlike the RNC, no debt.

The RNC cash-on-hand total of $12,881,226 as reported for May runs behind that of the rival Democratic National Committee, which reported $14,491,048 in cash on hand for the same period - on paper at least. But the DNC is laboring under the weight of a $3 million debt burden, four times as much red ink as the RNC’s debt.

Unlike the RNC, other Republican campaign committees have shown a gradual but significant cash buildup. In January 2009, the NRSC had $1 million in its coffers. By May of this year, that had grown to $18.2 million. Similarly, the NRCC in January 2009 had only $1.1 million available in cash on hand; as of this May it has $12 million.

The RNC began January 2009 with $22.8 million cash in its coffers and now has $12.6 million - not counting the debt it carried over from April.

Compared with historic levels of donations, there has been a comparatively poor fundraising record for the RNC since Mr. Steele was elected chairman in 2009.

The poor showing wasn’t helped by a letter that a group of former big-money contributors to the RNC sent to other former big donors in June urging them to give their money to the NRSC because its chairman, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, is a “wise steward of the committee’s funds [who] has listened to our input and sought our counsel multiple times.”

There is no mention of Mr. Steele, who has been hit with claims of overspending and adopting an aloofness from the party’s top donors.

Republicans overall appear to be in pretty good shape financially for the November elections, with the RGA having reported $31.2 million cash on hand for the first quarter of this year and the three campaign committees having a combined $42 million.

Nonetheless for May, the opposition’s numbers looked better.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which targets House races, boasted $28.6 million cash on hand and no debt, while the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reported $17.1 million cash on hand and no debt, according to FEC filings.

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