Saturday, October 30, 2004

If Democrats capture the White House or more seats in the Senate, then the reason will likely be money. While President Bush and the three major Republican campaign committees — the Republican National Committee (RNC), National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) — dominated hard-money fund-raising (i.e., limited, regulated contributions) throughout 2003, John Kerry and the Democrats’ three major campaign committees have easily outdistanced the GOP in the hard-money race in 2004.

Then there is the overwhelming advantage Democratic partisans on raising unregulated soft-money contributions, which the campaign-finance law effectively re-directed from party committees toward quasi-independent issue- and candidate-advocating 527 organizations. The result is that the Democrats’ fund-raising lead over the GOP this year has become gargantuan.

The reversal in differences between 2003 and 2004 can be gleaned from a review of several financial summary reports and historical data. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) recently detailed the presidential candidates’ and the parties’ hard-money contributions through Oct. 13. The nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics summarized the available data for the 527s’ soft-money donations, the vast majority of which were made this year.

• In 2003, the RNC, NRSC and NRCC cumulatively raised $207 million in hard money. Their Democratic counterparts — the Democratic National Committee , Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — cumulatively raised $95 million. In particular, the RNC raised $108 million last year, nearly two-and-a-half times the DNC’s $44 million. Meanwhile, Mr. Bush’s campaign committee raised $133, while Mr. Kerry managed only $25 million.

• During the first six months of 2004, the three major Republican committees collected $178 million in hard money, which was only 30 percent more than the Democrats’ $136 million take. On the other hand, Mr. Kerry raised a phenomenal $161 million during the first half of this year (including $145 million during the four months after he clinched his party’s nomination on March 2). Mr. Bush pocketed $95 million during the first half of 2004, $66 million less than Mr. Kerry’s six-month total. All told, Democrats outraised Republicans by $23 million during the first six months of this year.

• The Democrats’ 2004 advantage soared between July 1 and Oct. 13. During that period, the DNC raised $174 million, $63 million more than the RNC’s $111 million. On the Senate battlefront, the Democrats’ outraised the NRSC by a $9 million margin ($27 million to $18 million). Of each party’s three campaign committees, only the NRCC (the GOP’s House campaign committee) achieved a fund-raising advantage ($24 million) over its Democratic counterpart. Meanwhile, Mr. Kerry raised another $63 million, $18 million more than Mr. Bush. Thus, the Democratic hard-money advantage between July 1 and Oct. 13 was $66 million. Both presidential candidates are prevented from spending more than the $75 million their campaigns received from the U.S. Treasury after their formal nominations, but the DNC and RNC can each spend $16 million in coordinated expenditures and an unlimited amount in “independent” expenditures financed by hard money.

• Even the Democrats’ $66 million hard-money advantage since July 1, as impressive and counter-intuitive as it is, pales in magnitude compared to the soft-money advantage that the Democratic Party and Mr. Kerry enjoy, thanks to the liberal 527s. The Center for Responsive Politics has categorized 527 receipts in two principal ways. Allocating contributions according to industries, labor unions and easily identifiable issue or party orientation and limiting the analysis to those groups that have raised at least $1 million, the center’s latest data reveal that “Democratic/Liberal” 527s have raised $231 million, while “Republican/Conservative” groups have raised $84 million. Labor unions, which direct well over 95 percent of their campaign funds to Democratic causes, have raised another $80 million. Other Democratic-leaning 527 organizations (“Lawyers/Law Firms,” and “Human Rights,” “Women’s Issues” and “Environment[al]” groups) have cumulatively raised an additional $33 million. Such Democratic 527s have outraised Republican 527s by $345 million to $84 million.

The center also publishes the total receipts for each 527. Among the top 50, Democratic groups have outraised Republican groups by $263 million to $79 million. More than 75 percent of the 527 money from the top 50 groups goes to Democratic causes. There is good reason to believe that even this advantage is grossly understated. According to the center’s data, America Coming Together (ACT), to which Democrats have outsourced their get-out-the-vote efforts, has raised $61 million. But ACT — an ostensibly independent organization formed by DNC executive committee member Harold Ickes, who also was a superdelegate at the Democratic National Convention, where he did much fund-raising for ACT — has budgeted $125 million for its efforts. In all likelihood, tens of millions of dollars will be showered upon ACT between its last reporting date and Nov. 2.

It is clear that Democrats have won a major fund-raising victory on the 527 soft-money front, which, buttressing its hard-money surge in 2004, could well make the difference on Tuesday.

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