- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Howard Dean somewhat revolutionized political fund-raising in the run for the White House by exploiting the Internet, which generated about $20 million of the $50 million he raised before his presidential campaign imploded in Iowa. Expecting Mr. Dean to duplicate his Internet magic among small donors, Democrats selected him early this year to become party chairman. So far, according to the conventional wisdom, he has failed to meet those expectations.

For the first nine months of 2005, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has raised $42.4 million, barely half of the $81.5 million raised by the Republican National Committee (RNC). At the end of the third quarter, the DNC had $6.8 million in cash on hand. That was 20 percent of the $34.1 million in RNC coffers at the end of September.

A front-page article in The Washington Post on Saturday highlighted these disparities and quoted a House leadership aide as saying “the red flashing sirens should be going off” at DNC headquarters. Unfortunately, all is not bleak for Mr. Dean or the Democrats.

At this stage in 2003, the DNC had raised $31.2 million, a figure Mr. Dean has already exceeded. RNC fund-raising over the first nine months of 2005 ($81.5 million) exceeds 2003’s January-September take ($78 million). Factor in inflation, and RNC fund-raising has fallen. Moreover, a major reason why the RNC’s $34.1 million in cash on hand is so much larger than the DNC’s $6.8 million is due to the fact that the RNC began 2005 with $14.7 million in the bank, compared to the DNC’s $6 million.

Remember: The conventional wisdom about party fund-raising was repudiated during the 2003-04 election cycle. When the McCain-Feingold campaign-finance law prohibited national party committees from raising unlimited soft-money donations from wealthy individuals, corporations and labor unions following the 2002 election, most experts believed the Democrats, who relied far more on soft money than Republicans did, would be more seriously hampered. After all, during the 1999-2000 and 2001-02 cycles, RNC hard-money contributions exceeded the DNC’s by $89 million and $103 million, respectively. Thus, who would have believed that DNC hard-money donations in 2003-04 ($394 million) would have exceeded the RNC’s ($392 million)?

It is still very early in the game. Notwithstanding the current advantage the RNC enjoys in its bank account, Republicans must understand that Mr. Dean’s small-donor, hard-money potential will be unlimited two years from now if a large American military force continues to engage the Iraqi insurgency at the current level of intensity.

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