The Corner

Follow the Money

While Democrats struggle to sell Americans on Obamacare, the GOP looks more and more like a party that deserves another chance. Good news, it seems, is on the horizon. On Tuesday, Rasmussen reported that Republican candidates have now matched their biggest lead over Democrats of the past several years on the poll’s generic congressional ballot. With all of this newfound goodwill, the GOP’s pockets must be swelling, right? Surely the party is at least raking in contributions from town-hall activists looking to topple the Obama-Pelosi-Reid axis.

Yes and no. New Federal Election Commission reports show that the Republican National Committee took in $6 million in July — a tidy sum. The Democratic National Committee raised $9.3 million. What gives? When I spoke to many Republican leaders, most made the obvious point that since the Democrats currently control the White House and Congress; it’s easier for them to find big donors willing to shell out money. As CQ Politics observes, the DNC was able to reel in some heavies in July, securing maxed-out donations of $30,400 from David Stern, commissioner of the National Basketball Association, fashion designer Calvin Klein, and Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue magazine. Still, bullion from an editrix and a sports exec is no excuse for letting the Democrats clobber you by $3 million in a month that seemingly was your political best since Obama won the keys to the White House.

Though the RNC’s July total may be disappointing to some Republicans, it doesn’t tell the whole story. The GOP still ended July with $21.8 million on hand, and no debt, while the DNC had just $16.3 million in the bank, with over $5 million in debt.

Gail Gitcho, the RNC’s press secretary, tells NRO that the July numbers are an aberration. “The only time we’ve lagged behind the DNC this year is July,” she says, noting that, for the year, the RNC has raised over $50 million. The Democrats, for their part, have raised over $46 million in 2009. “June was an incredible month for us, but the health-care debate just started to heat up in August,” Gitcho adds. And heat up it did. After raising $9 million in June compared to the DNC’s $7 million, the RNC says that during the first two weeks of August they have averaged 2,000 new donors per day. The RNC also notes that July saw a major increase in small-dollar donors to the GOP — over 700,000 — with an average contribution of $40.

“The Democrats are still paying down their debt from last year and it’s August,” says Gitcho. “We have a very aggressive fundraising strategy this year, and zero debt.” For now, the RNC is putting its funds towards the hotly-contested gubernatorial contests this fall in New Jersey and Virginia. Tucker Martin, a senior adviser to Virginia gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell, says the RNC has been “tremendously helpful to our campaign. We have no complaints.”

The RNC is also trying to build a strong financial base for the 2010 midterm elections. “In May and June, we gave away $4 million,” Gitcho says, “$2 million to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and $2 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee.”

The NRCC says it has been able to put the money to good use, especially since the health-care debate inspired more conservatives and independents to enter the fray. “It’s awakening Republicans,” says Joanna Burgos, an NRCC spokesperson. “They’re more compelled to donate, even when summer is usually a low-time for fundraising.” Part of the NRCC’s strategy in preparing for 2010 is to effectively use social networking tools to reach out to more small-dollar donors interested in its message. “We’re working a lot with conservative blogs, looking at spaces for donations and links to certain candidates. Online fundraising is completely different than what it used to be,” Burgos says.

Jan Baran, a senior partner at Wiley Rein LLP, is a former general counsel at the RNC. He attributes the RNC’s low July numbers to a variety of factors, from the GOP’s lag behind in technology and web smarts to McCain-Feingold’s banishment of soft money, which he says has shifted many potential RNC donations over to the Republican Governors Association. “One can say the same thing happened to the DNC, they were robbed of soft money as well,” notes Baran. “We have probably reached a bottom for Republicans and they are already starting to regroup and energize. The battle over health care has been helpful for the GOP. Republicans are sorting their way through potential future leadership — though there are no obvious strong candidates yet, they’re coming. I think that they are in the process of recapturing Republican support. There was a lot of disillusionment in 2008. These folks are starting to come back at least in the polls and eventually they will financially, too.”

Over at the RGA, Mike Schrimpf, communications director, says that the GOP’s two races in N.J. and Va. are its priorities. Next year, the RGA will have 37 races to support. “Heading into 2010, we’ll have the resources that are going to be required to impact those races in a major way,” he says. On June 30, the RGA reported more than $20 million in the bank, though it has been limited at times in just how much it could support the campaigns of McDonnell and New Jersey Republican Chris Christie. “In New Jersey, the campaign-finance laws are such that we have to run an independent expenditure campaign,” says Schrimpf. “We cannot coordinate, at all, paid media with Christie’s campaign. In Virginia, we can contribute directly to Bob McDonnell’s campaign. We gave him $2 million early on in the race, and helped him get on TV during May sweeps while the Democrats were still in their primary. I think it’s paid off in the polls.” Christie, says Schrimpf, also participates in public financing, which limits how much money he can spend — most likely around $11 million.

Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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