Monday, June 4, 2007

President Bush’s immigration bill is hurting fundraising by the Republican National Committee, but fierce grass-roots opposition to the legislation is helping several state Republican parties.

Tina Benkiser, chairwoman of the Republican Party in the president’s home state of Texas, says raising money has been successful “in large part to our principled stance against illegal immigration.” Since the beginning of 2006, when substantial immigration debate began, she says, “the Republican Party of Texas has experienced an exponential increase in direct-mail donations from supporters statewide.”

Both phone and direct-mail fundraising remain strong for the party in Michigan, says state Chairman Saul Anuzis.

“In Michigan, seven out of nine congressional Republicans oppose the bill, our activists are publicly opposing amnesty, and we are also re-establishing our brand image by fighting a Democrat attempt to increase taxes,” Mr. Anuzis says. “These issues are keeping our people engaged, where otherwise we could feel a [donations] drop-off.”

Similar reports from other state Republican officials in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa and Delaware suggest that opposition to any form of amnesty for illegal aliens is a fundraising winner.

This goes against the trend of declining national party contributions from rank-and-file donors who say they are angry about the attempt by Mr. Bush and some Republican senators to legalize the status of millions of illegal aliens.

The pain is particularly felt at the Republican National Committee. First-quarter fundraising by the national committee this year was the most difficult in four years, according to records of the Federal Election Commission. In the first three months of this year, the committee collected $24.6 million, down from $35 million in the comparable period last year, $32.3 million in the first quarter of 2005 and $46 million in the first quarter of 2004.

Citing outdated phone-bank equipment as too expensive to replace, the national committee fired all 65 of its in-house telephone solicitors. Several former employees say they had seen sharply declining contributions from past donors who refused to give now, telling solicitors that they are deeply angered by what they call the “pro-amnesty” stand of Mr. Bush and other Republicans.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee reports similar distress. The Senate committee raised $9.1 million through April — less than half the $18.3 million raised by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the same period.

“We have gotten several notes from people who said they weren’t going to give the state party any more money until the party took the position against the immigration bill,” says Mr. Anuzis, the Michigan party chairman. “We have received checks from people who weren’t solicited by phone or direct mail and who thanked us for opposing the bill.”

In Arizona, where both Republican senators, Jon Kyl and John McCain, support the immigration bill, state Chairman Randy Pullen has strongly opposed the measure, as have most of the other state party officials. Mr. Pullen says his telemarketing team has reported a recent jump in contributions, although he isn’t sure why.

“I can’t really say for sure it’s a real trend, but since coming out against the immigration bill in the Senate, I have gotten a lot of support from our base [constituency], which no longer attacks the state party.”

Iowa Chairman Ray Hoffman says his party opposes what he calls the Bush-Kennedy bill and “we are doing just fine in fundraising.”

Colorado party Chairman Dick Wadhams says grass-roots Republicans in his state understand that neither the state party nor any Republican member of Colorado’s Senate and House delegations support the immigration bill, and that the state party has seen no decline in contributions.

A surge of contributions in Texas followed strongly expressed opposition to the immigration bill. “Every direct-marketing and telemarketing project has exceed our goals.” Mrs. Benkiser says. “Direct mail as a whole has already exceeded our goal for the entire year.”

Texas Republicans are “renewing inactive members at an astounding rate — getting back donors who haven’t given to the party since the early 1990s,” she says. The “prospecting” efforts — soliciting registered Republicans who have not previously donated to the party — are “blowing the doors off.”

Even in liberal-leaning Delaware, officials say Republican grass-roots opposition to the immigration bill is overwhelming. “At our state party convention two weeks ago, we passed unanimously a resolution adamantly opposing the amnesty bill,” says Delaware Chairman Terry Strine, who says not one of the 350 delegates and 150 alternates to the convention voiced opposition to the resolution.

Although fundraising contributions to the Delaware party had lagged since last year’s the midterm congressional elections, Mr. Strine says “in the last two weeks since our convention, we have been getting phone calls and e-mails — every single one of them strongly opposed to the amnesty bill.”

The Ohio Republican Party hasn’t taken a stand on the immigration bill, but “there is no question people in the party are upset about it,” says state Chairman Robert T. Bennett. “They don’t understand it, particularly the amnesty portion.”

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