There are perks that are supposed to come with winning the House majority. One of them is access to cash.
But since John Boehner took the speaker’s gavel in January, House Democrats have raised nearly $1 million more than their GOP counterparts. In August alone, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee by $500,000, according to newly released financial reports.
Less than a year after suffering a midterm blowout that left them 25 seats in the minority, Democrats aren’t just going toe-to-toe with their Republican foes on the fundraising front — they’re beating them.
The problem isn’t necessarily with the NRCC or its chairman, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions — whom GOP fundraisers credit with turning around the cash-strapped party campaign arm that suffered painful defeats in 2006 and 2008 before he took the reins in 2009. The NRCC has raised $17 million more this year than it did at this point two years ago and still beats the DCCC in cash on hand by more than $3 million.
Instead, Republicans acknowledge, it’s the DCCC and its chairman, New York Rep. Steve Israel, who — at least when it comes to raising money — have exceeded expectations.
“They’ve had a good year raising money online, as have we,” said former New York Rep. Bill Paxon, who used to chair the NRCC and is now one of the party’s top fundraisers.
Paul Lindsay, an NRCC spokesman, said the Democratic performance meant Republicans will need to maintain an accelerated fundraising pace.
“By staying competitive despite their considerable political setbacks, they’re motivating us to keep up our fundraising success and [to] ensure that Nancy Pelosi is never speaker again,” Lindsay said in an email.
To some extent, the DCCC is benefiting from previous successes. During the 2006 and 2008 election seasons, Democrats captured a large amount of information from donors who were flooding the party’s coffers. The DCCC has tapped into those donors this year, helping the party raise more in online donations than it had at this point in any other election.
“Democrats had four years to put resources into online donor prospecting. It’s going to take a while to catch up,” said Rob Collins, a former American Action Network president who was a top staffer to House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). “Those investments take time. You don’t build a million followers overnight unless you’re Charlie Sheen.”
Helping matters, Israel told POLITICO, is a newly empowered GOP House majority that energized Democratic donors and provided the party with an enemy on which to focus its fire.
“When you’re in the minority, you shouldn’t be doing as well as we’re doing,” he said.
The Democratic cash push has been driven by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who since the beginning of the year, has headlined 249 fundraising events in 35 cities, raising just shy of $20 million, according to party officials.
Pelosi, Israel said, has been focused “completely, unequivocally on reclaiming the majority.”
But Israel has emerged as an energetic fundraiser for his party in his own right. Unlike his predecessor, Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Israel hails from New York — giving him easy access to Wall Street.
“It doesn’t hurt to have a face in the financial capital of the world,” said Paxon, who noted that Israel is just the latest in a line of New York House and Senate campaign committee heads, a list that includes former Rep. Tom Reynolds and Sen. Chuck Schumer. “There’s no doubt it helps to be from New York.”
House Republicans, for their part, are competing for cash in a new fundraising world in which outside groups — led by the Karl Rove-founded American Crossroads — can solicit unlimited donations from well-heeled donors who wish to remain anonymous. The NRCC, for which contributions are capped at $30,800 per individual, must disclose its donors.
“You have to realize that outside groups can raise unlimited amounts of campaign cash. That’s a big difference,” said a well-connected Washington-based GOP fundraiser, who requested anonymity to speak candidly. “Right now, Crossroads is a little sexier than the NRCC.”
NRCC officials insist that American Crossroads’s rise isn’t impeding their efforts. Anyone willing to contribute a large amount to the group, they say, would likely also be willing to cut a check to the NRCC. Jonathan Collegio, an American Crossroads spokesman, said the organization asks its donors to first contribute to candidates and committees “and then over and above to Crossroads.”
The NRCC must also contend with the broader 2012 political landscape. With President Barack Obama vulnerable and Democratic control of the Senate in jeopardy, GOP donors are being asked to open their wallets for a multitude of candidates and party organizations.
“Some of these guys probably are sick of having their pockets picked over,” said the GOP fundraiser. “It’s donor fatigue is what it is.”
Despite their early success, Democrats say they understand they are likely to face a cash deficit — much as they did in 2010, when their candidates faced a barrage of negative TV advertising — when it comes to money from outside groups. While several Democratic outside groups are expected to invest in House races, none are as prominent as American Crossroads or American Action Network, which played a significant role in 2010.
The NRCC, meanwhile, says it’s expecting an infusion of cash just before the election — when party leaders will launch a member-giving program that GOP officials say will substantially boost the committee’s coffers.
Republicans will “even up the score,” said Michael Fraioli, a Washington-based Democratic fundraiser. “At the end of the day, they’ll have an advantage. It’s just a question of how much.”
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