- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Equal application of the law doesn’t always mean the law gets appliedequally. Nowhere does this proposition have more validity than in today’s culture of campaign finance. While Democrats and Republicans face identical regulations, new evidence suggests major differences exist in how political money gets raised and spent and by whom in the wake of the new Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act. Left unchallenged, these trends could help the Democrats recapture Congress and the White House.

A new analysis “following the money” in the 2004 election by Washington attorney and campaign finance expert Cleta Mitchell underscores these dramatic trends. Her analysis highlights the alacrity with which Democratic allies in the labor movement and other liberal-leaning organizations fund traditional party-based organizations such as the Democratic National Committee and its congressional campaign committees. Democrats are also far more aggressive than Republicans in providing massive resources to so-called “527” organizations such as America Coming Together and the Media Fund — entities that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

Republicans are culturally more comfortable contributing to traditional, party-based groups such as the Republican National Committee — an organization that faces far more stringent BCRA-imposed limits than 527s.

Mitchell’s analysis both screams for greater commitment by conservative and pro-business groups to offset this liberal money-raising surge and provides insights into the “culture of cash” in the Democratic Party and why efforts to reign in 527 organizations won’t staunch the roaring river of resources flowing into leftist organizations.

One of the top lessons of the 2004 cycle, Mitchell told me, is that “Democrats play the political game under ‘American League’ rules … their ‘designated hitters’ are the broad web of outside groups, including the richest federal PACs and individuals.” Republicans operate more traditionally and a bit more cautiously, Mitchell said. They “play the political game under ‘NationalLeague’ rules,” by focusing their donors’ resources within the traditionalGOP party and candidate committees. Her data suggest Democrats are culturally more comfortable giving within the party system and outside it, more willing to create, fund and sustain newer entities such as 527s. Given these cultural differences, trying to pinch off money flowing to 527s will not end Democratic contributions, but just redirect them somewhere else.

Mitchell’s analysis also suggests labeling the GOP as the “party of the rich” is a misnomer. Of the top five contributors to 527 organizations in the 2004 cycle, four are identified with Democrats, while only one is a Republican. George Soros tops this list with contributions of $23,450,000 to 527s in the last cycle. Moreover, the top five Democratic “designated hitters” gave nearly $80 million combined to non-party organizations, while the top five Republicans gave about a third as much.

Not only do wealthy Democrats play outside of traditional party organizations, but so do labor unions. Mitchell’s analysis shows the two top overall donors to 527s are unions: the Service Employees International ($53,187,817) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees ($30,327,630) ? that’s above and beyond their own substantial contributions to candidates and Democratic Party organizations. Labor unions and environmental organizations aligned with Democrats swamp Republican groups in giving to non-party organizations. For example, of the top 19 donors to 527 organizations in the 2004 election, 16 were aligned with Democrats, while only six were Republican-oriented groups. But more troubling for Republicans is the magnitude of the giving. Democrat-aligned organizations contributed more than $206 million to 527s, nearly seven times the $30 million given by Republican groups.

Mixing the “culture of cash” with the BCRA has been a boon to Democrats in the political arena. Some suggest “reigning in” 527s is the solution — it’s not. Liberal donors will just find other ways to funnel money into new or existing organizations, such as Democrat-leaning PACs, qualified nonprofit corporations (among them the National Abortions Rights Action League or the League of Conservation Voters) or — when all else fails — just orchestrate “independent” expenditures.

Republicans and conservatives need to change their orientation toward the culture of cash to compete in this not-so brave new world. Failure means Democrats will always have more players on the field. Republicans need to recruit and deploy more “designated hitters” of their own, or risk striking out when it comes raising the resources necessary to win modern campaigns.

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