- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 24, 2007

As the crucial first-quarter fund-raising marathon rapidly draws to a close, the presidential candidates from both parties have accelerated their pace in recent days. With the political cognoscenti feverishly awaiting the individual results, now is a good time to review the surprising trends in the financial activities of national fund-raising committees for the Democratic and Republican parties.

We now have data for two election cycles since the McCain-Feingold law banned national party committees from raising “soft” money after the 2002 elections. One cycle (2003-04) included a presidential election as well as the biennial contests for all 435 seats in the House and one-third (33-34 seats) of the Senate. The second cycle (2005-06) was confined to Congress. The most important conclusion from the experience so far is that the conventional political wisdom was wrong about the impact of banning soft money. The Democratic Party — whose coffers were far more dependent upon soft money than were the Republicans’ — has done much better than expected.

In contrast to “hard”-money political donations, which are federally regulated and strictly limited, the now-banned soft-money contributions represented unlimited donations to national party committees from corporations, labor unions and wealthy individuals. During the 1999-2000 cycle, the GOP’s three national fund-raising committees — the Republican National Committee (RNC), the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) — collectively raised $620 million, 42 percent ($258 million) of which was soft money, according to the Federal Election Commission. The Democrats’ three national party committees — the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) — raised $470 million in the 1999-2000 cycle, 55 percent ($257 million) of which was soft money. Thus, while Democrats and Republicans raised virtually identical amounts of soft money in 1999-2000 (the same soft-money pattern occurred in 2001-02), Republicans raised far more hard money ($362 million vs. $213 million in 1999-00).

Over the 1999-02 period, the RNC alone raised more than twice the hard money ($383 million) than the DNC raised ($191 million). During the 2001-02 cycle, the hard-money total for the three Republican committees ($353 million) was 117 percent greater than the hard-money raised by their Democratic counterparts ($162 million). A world confined to hard dollars did not bode well for Democrats.

During the 2003-04 cycle, however, then-DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe, who is now the money maven for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, actually raised more hard money ($394 million) than the RNC raised ($392 million). Also during the 2003-04 cycle, the DSCC raised more hard money ($89 million) than the NRSC ($79 million), although Republicans were able to increase their narrow Senate majority (which they regained in 2002) by sweeping the five Democrat-held open seats in the Republican-friendly South. The GOP was able to maintain its overall hard-money advantage in 2003-04 because its House committee (the NRCC) raised twice as much ($186 million) as the DCCC ($93 million). Still, the Republicans’ overall hard-money advantage declined from 117 percent in 2001-02 to 14 percent in 2003-04.

For the 2005-06 cycle, Democrats managed to defeat six Republican incumbent senators (and capture a narrow Senate majority) in large part because the DSCC raised $121 million in hard money, nearly 40 percent more than the $89 million raised by the NRSC. Meanwhile, Republicans lost their 12-year House majority in part because the NRCC’s hard-money advantage over the DCCC plunged from 170 percent ($124 million vs. $46 million) in 2002 to 100 percent ($186 million vs. $93 million) in 2004 to 29 percent ($180 million vs. $140 million) in 2006. In four years, the DCCC has increased its hard-money total by more than 200 percent (from $46 million to $140 million) while the NRCC has been able to raise its total by only 45 percent (from $124 million to $180 million).

Republicans in Congress should be asking themselves this question: If Democratic fund-raising committees were able to make this kind of progress while in the minority, what will they be able to achieve in the money-raising arena while controlling every single committee and subcommittee chairmanship in both chambers?

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