- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

Somebody should have told Democratic National Committee (DNC) Chairman Terry McAuliffe to be careful what he wished for, because he just might get it. For years, Mr. McAuliffe, a world-class soft-money fund-raiser, publicly pursued the passage of the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform bill, one of whose primary features was a ban on soft money. Well, last year Mr. McAuliffe's public wish came true: Congress passed the latest version of McCain-Feingold, and President Bush, unlike his father in 1992, declined to veto the reform package and, instead, signed it into law.
The ban on soft money went into effect the day after last year's congressional elections, which returned the Senate to Republican control and expanded the Republicans' hold on the House. After ostensibly recovering from the shell shock that the electoral disaster on his watch had induced, Mr. McAuliffe recently admitted to The Washington Post that he and his party "never saw it coming."
In the wake of the 2002 debacle and with the implementation of campaign-finance reform, Mr. McAuliffe's 2004 political problems have already begun to steamroll. On the all-important fund-raising front, those problems for the Democrats promise to be even more severe than in the past.
Not only did the reform bill ban Mr. McAuliffe's specialty soft money which represented the unlimited, essentially unregulated donations to party committees from wealthy individuals, labor unions and corporations. McCain-Feingold also doubled the regulated hard-money contribution limits (from $1,000 per election to $2,000) that individuals can make to federal candidates. It also nearly doubled the two-year hard-money aggregate total (from $50,000 to $95,000) that individuals may cumulatively contribute to federal candidates, political action committees and party committees.
For years Mr. McAuliffe earned his reputation for his unmatched ability to convince Big Labor bosses to dip deeper and deeper into their dues-financed treasuries and write multiple checks totaling millions of dollars to Democratic Party committees. He also tapped Hollywood moguls big-time. While much of that lucre will eventually find its way into politics, its indirect, circuitous route will make it far less effective for Democrats than the direct soft-money contributions of the past.
Largely due to Mr. McAuliffe's peerless prowess on the soft-money circuit, the Democratic Party became increasingly addicted to soft money. During the 1993-94 cycle, when Democrats lost control of both houses of Congress, soft money represented less than 30 percent of the funds raised by Democratic Party committees. By 2001-02, the soft-money portion totaled 53 percent. Meanwhile, the soft-money share of Republican Party committees increased from 19 percent in 1993-94 to 38 percent in 2001-02.
During the last four years, Democrats and Republicans raised equal amounts of soft money. But the advantage in hard money enjoyed by GOP party committees has increased dramatically, especially hard money contributed by individuals. According to recent Federal Election Commission figures:
m Hard-money contributions from individuals to Democratic Party campaign committees for the 2001-02 election cycle totaled $138 million, representing a mere $29 million increase over the 1997-98 cycle. Hard-money contributions from individuals to Republican Party campaign committees totaled $344 million in 2001-02, reflecting an increase of $112 million over 1997-98.
Individual hard-money contributions to Mr. McAuliffe's DNC increased only marginally between 1997-98 and 2001-02, inching upward from $47 million to $55 million. For the Republican National Committee, on the other hand, hard-money contributions from individuals doubled, soaring from $76 million to $152 million.
As Texas governor running in the GOP primaries, Mr. Bush obliterated all fund-raising records. He raised a phenomenal $100 million in hard money in 1999 and 2000, when the individual limit was $1,000. As president, and with Mr. McAuliffe's cherished McCain-Feingold bill doubling the individual hard-money limit to $2,000, all bets are off. Fair guestimates would begin at $300 million, which would be nearly seven times the $44 million limit Democratic presidential candidates could spend during the primaries and before the convention if they accepted public subsidies, as most, if not all, are expected to do.
His wish having been granted, Mr. McAuliffe has now gone from shell shock to cold turkey. The bad news for him is that the shivers are unlikely to cease any time soon unless the Supreme Court gives him comfort by declaring the ill-considered McCain-Feingold bill to be the unconstitutional attack on free speech that this page has long argued it represents.


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