Senate Democrats, who voted overwhelmingly to ban unregulated cash donations to political parties, nevertheless continue to set records in raising the so-called “soft money” for next year’s campaign.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has raised more than $20 million in the first six months of this year, with more than $13 million of that in soft money, which Democrats want to outlaw.
“It shows that the money race is more intense than ever,” said Steven Weiss, a spokesman for the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics. “Both parties are raising soft money hand over fist in an attempt to sock away as much as possible before a reform bill passes.”
The House will vote next week on legislation to impose new regulations on campaign fund raising; the Senate approved a ban on soft money in March.
The fund-raising committee for Senate Republicans has yet to release its totals for the first six months of this year. But the GOP has had its own high-profile fund-raising successes lately, raking in about $20 million in one dinner alone last week that featured President Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney.
“The president’s policies and the Senate Republicans’ policies have motivated our donors,” said Ginny Wolfe, spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
The parties have until the end of July to file their reports with the Federal Election Commission, but DSCC Chairman Patty Murray was eager to trumpet the Democrats’ success.
The $20 million total for the DSCC is about $8 million more than the committee raised in the first six months of 1999, the last non-election year. Democrats say they have raised one-third of their record-breaking total since taking control of the Senate on June 6 and contend that Mr. Bush’s conservative policies are motivating Democratic donors.
All but three of the Senate’s 50 Democrats voted for a bill sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, that would ban large, unregulated donations to political parties and restrict political advertising by advocacy groups. The legislation also would increase the limits for “hard money” donations to individual candidates from $2,000 to $4,000 per election cycle.
Five Senate Democrats up for re-election next year have set up joint fund-raising committees with their party, allowing them to raise unlimited amounts of soft money to benefit their campaigns. All five Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana and Max Cleland of Georgia voted for McCain-Feingold.
Six Republican senators running for re-election Ted Stevens of Alaska, Phil Gramm of Texas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Gordon H. Smith of Oregon, Wayne Allard of Colorado and Tim Hutchinson of Arkansas also have established joint fund-raising committees.
During the 1999-2000 election cycle, 14 Senate Democrats raised more than $15 million in soft money for their individual races through such committees, exceeding seven Republican candidates by about $2.6 million.
“It says this is a problem we need to deal with legislatively rather than rely on one party to act unilaterally,” said Jeff Cronin, a spokesman for the liberal watchdog group Common Cause. “If left unchecked, both parties will continue to take advantage” of current fund-raising laws.
Twenty Senate seats held by Republicans and 13 Democratic seats are up for election next year, and 10 of the Republican incumbents have lost committee chairmanships that can lead to substantial fund-raising success.
Five Democratic senators up for re-election have gained committee chairmanships.