- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

As the late Jesse Unruh, the former speaker of the California State Assembly, once famously remarked, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.” That was clearly true in the 1960s, when Mr. Unruh issued his dictum. And political money plays an even larger role today.

The Federal Election Commission recently issued two summary reports confirming that fact. The reports detail the financial status of the political parties, their Senate and House campaign committees and the individual and collective campaigns of the candidates running for the House and Senate.

For the first 15 months of the 2005-06 election cycle, candidates contesting the 435 seats in the House and the 33 Senate seats in play this year have raised $657 million. Over the comparable 15-month period during the 1995-96 cycle, House and Senate candidates raised $297 million. Thus, during the past 10 years, when the price level increased by less than 30 percent, fund-raising by congressional candidates for the periods in question has soared by more than 120 percent.

If “money is the mother’s milk of politics,” then a politician’s best friend is “ready cash,” as former Texas Sen. Phil Gramm observed. At the end of March, House and Senate candidates had $522 million in their campaign accounts. That was more than three times the amount of candidates’ cash on hand 10 years ago ($170 million) at this stage of the cycle. (A later editorial will examine the Senate.)

House candidates alone raised $392 million over the 15-month period and had $320 million in the bank at the end of March. The 195 Democratic incumbents had $108 million in the bank, and the 214 incumbent Republicans were sitting on $155.2 million.

In an election where Democrats can seize the House majority by gaining 15 seats, Democratic challengers appear to be better financed than Republican candidates seeking to oust Democratic incumbents. Through March, Democratic challengers raised $36.8 million, compared to the $19.5 million Republicans have raised. And Democrats accounted for 21 of the top 25 House challenger campaigns ranked according to cash on hand (and 39 of the top 50). At the 15-month stage in the 2003-2004 cycle, moreover, 63 Republican challengers and 47 Democratic challengers had raised at least $100,000. Those numbers have flipped in the current cycle, in which 86 Democratic challengers raised at least $100,000 compared to 37 GOP challengers.

While Republican House candidates contesting open seats have raised more money than Democratic candidates ($34.9 million vs. $27 million), by the end of March GOP open-seat seekers had $13.5 million in the bank, while Democratic candidates for open seats had $13.1 million in cash.

With the exception of Howard Dean’s DNC, which has been spending its money as fast as it arrives, the coffers seem to be sufficiently filled — at least at this stage of the campaign.

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