It’s hard to say which should trouble Republican Party leaders the most right now: the sour mood among GOP donors, or the money suddenly swelling Democratic campaign and super PAC coffers.
Not only have the Democratic campaign committees that back House and Senate candidates outraised their GOP counterparts, but unrestricted super PACs that support Democrats have pulled in close to three times what GOP super PACs have so far, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
That’s a dramatic reversal from 2012, when conservative super PACs spent roughly 70 percent of the non-party outside money in the elections. In the first six months of this cycle, Democratic super PACs raised $23.9 million, compared with $8.9 million for GOP super PACs, according to the CRP. That’s almost a mirror image of the same point in the previous election, when Republican super PAC receipts stood at $29.5 million, swamping the $7.7 million that Democrat-friendly super PACs had raised.
As if that weren’t enough to justify Republican alarm, the latest CNN/ORC poll found that 54 percent of respondents said it was “bad for the country” that Republicans are in charge of the House. Few analysts speculate that Republicans, who as a whole represent strongly GOP districts, are in jeopardy of losing the House — yet. But while money cannot predict election outcomes, it can signal voter enthusiasm. And right now, Democratic donors are in a giving mood.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for one, raised more than $2 million from 99,000 contributors during a six-day period on the eve of the government shutdown, a DCCC aide said. Overall, the DCCC collected $8.4 million during September, compared with $5.3 million raised by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Overall, receipts at both the DCCC and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outstrip those at the GOP House and Senate party committees to date.
On the flip side, the Republican National Committee has outraised the Democratic National Committee so far, netting $53.9 million to the DNC’s $41.3 million, data from the CRP show. And Democratic super PAC organizers note that much conservative money is going to politically active tax-exempt groups that don’t report to the Federal Election Commission. Tea party super PACs and lawmakers, moreover, continue to raise money at a rapid clip.
Still, even Republican loyalists acknowledge that the GOP party committees are going through a tough time. One former Republican Party official who tried to organize a Washington, D.C.-area fundraiser for the NRCC on the eve of the government shutdown said it was like “pulling teeth” to get participants to write checks. The message he heard from guests, he said, was: “Why should I give to these guys? They’re going to shut down the government."
During the shutdown itself, many lawmakers and party officials canceled fundraising events, and they are now struggling to catch up. The NRCC canceled its annual fall fundraising dinner, one party official confirmed, rescheduling the event for mid-November. The DCCC also canceled at least two events. More ominous for Republicans, however, is the public grousing from donors.
“I know a lot of people in New York who are just not going to give again,” said Thomas Scully, who served in the George W. Bush administration and is now both a partner with the private equity firm of Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe, and a senior counsel with Alston & Bird. Donors to the NRSC were particularly frustrated after 2012, Scully said, when Republicans failed to regain the Senate after conservatives who won primaries went on to lose the general election.
“It’s frustrating to give money to people when you know they’re not going to win,” Scully said. Business leaders fed up over the shutdown have pledged to become more active in primaries, with an eye to backing candidates more in tune with their philosophy of stability and good governance. Some Republicans fret that business donors will also defect to Democrats.
“We should be worried,” said John Feehery, a former GOP leadership aide and president of the lobbying and PR shop of QGA Public Affairs. “I think the biggest worry for Republicans is the fratricide. When it’s Republican-on-Republican violence, the business community will look at Democrats and say: ‘At least these guys are sane.’”
Republican Party officials say their fundraising is on track. At the NRCC, officials said receipts exceeded expectations last month, which was the committee’s best off-year September fundraising since 1994.
“Here at the NRCC, we continue to exceed our internal goals and beat our own records, thanks to the hard work our dedicated members are putting into growing the Republican majority,” said committee spokesman Daniel Scarpinato.
But over at House Majority PAC, a super PAC that works to elect House Democrats, receipts shot up 600 percent over the past month, which encompassed the shutdown and its aftermath.
With $3.4 million in receipts through June 30, House Majority PAC is now the fourth-largest-grossing super PAC in the 2014 election cycle, Political MoneyLine data show. The PAC just unveiled a two-week, $70,000 ad buy assailing vulnerable GOP Rep. Steve Southerland II of Florida for voting against the bill that reopened the government. Said super PAC spokesman Andy Stone: “House Majority PAC donors and potential donors are energized.”