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Obama Event to Raise Just $3M for Hill Democrats

Thursday night’s joint Democratic fundraiser headlined by President Barack Obama is expected to bring in a total of $3 million for the two Democratic campaign committees, according to a party strategist familiar with the event.

The figure is surprisingly low considering Obama’s vaunted fundraising ability during the 2008 presidential campaign and the fact that this is the first joint fundraiser benefiting Congressional Democrats since the party regained control of the White House. It’s also about $11.5 million less than what GOP officials said they raised last week for the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee at a dinner featuring former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).

But Democratic insiders point out that the dinner is on par with a May Obama event for the Democratic National Committee in Los Angeles that brought in $3 million to $4 million.

And the Gingrich event and Obama dinner numbers may not offer an exact comparison.

The Obama dinner “is not bringing in the money that [Democratic officials] hoped, but at least they’re transparent about what they’re raising and how they are raising it,” one former Democratic leadership aide said this week.

Party operatives point out that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee are operating their dinner under Obama’s fundraising ground rules, meaning that unlike the GOP event, donations from registered lobbyists and political action committees are barred from the dinner.

Another factor that may have played into the less-than-spectacular fundraising total for the DCCC/DSCC dinner is the fact that Obama never released a personal appeal on behalf of the Congressional committees.

While the White House has consented to putting Obama’s name on some political solicitations — including an e-mail on Monday to raise money for Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee Creigh Deeds — the DSCC/DCCC dinner never earned a separate appeal from the party’s campaigner in chief.

But perhaps more importantly, Democrats and Republicans appear to be counting their totals differently when it comes to their dinners.

Democrats will report the vast majority of the money they raise off ticket sales for the Obama event in a separate joint fundraising account. Some online fundraising and other individuals contributions will appear in the Democratic committee accounts.

The NRSC and NRCC also have a joint fundraising account, but the lion’s share of the $14.45 million they attributed to the dinner will never appear in that account and will stay in the individual committees’ accounts.

That’s because the two Republican committees counted all the money they raised over an eight-week period since the committees’ spring dinners in early April toward the $14.45 million total they released last week.

As such, part of that total includes the $2.9 million the NRSC reported raising in its April monthly Federal Election Commission report. Likewise, the dinner total includes the $2.2 million the NRCC reported in its April report.

In addition, an NRCC aide said the $7.2 million the committee raised from the dinner includes pledges made by donors during the eight-week period that may not have come in yet.

An NRSC aide said the $7.25 million total did not include pledges.

The aide also said their share of the $14.45 million does not represent money brought in from sales of the roughly 600 tickets the NRSC distributed for the 2,000-person dinner. That’s because the NRSC doesn’t simply sell tickets to donors, but rather sells “membership programs” that can range from $1,000 to more than $30,000.

“The purpose of the dinners is to drive sales of memberships to various programs, and as members of programs, you get various benefits including tickets to these dinners,” the aide said.

Republicans also claimed that Democrats were only trying to lower expectations ahead of the release of the dinner’s fundraising total.

“The reality is that the Democrats have the most successful fundraiser in history as their party leader and Democratic majorities in both chambers who are mining K Street for campaign dollars while threatening lobbyists who meet with Republicans,” NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. “So this dollar amount sounds less about the real world we’re all living in and more about claiming to meet a faux pledge that they will not accept lobbyist money on Obama’s watch.”

Despite the fact that some Democrats doubt the validity of the Republican number, it didn’t stop them from using the $14.45 million figure to motivate supporters in their own fundraising solicitation.

“Don’t believe what you’ve heard about a GOP in disarray,” DSCC Executive Director J.B. Poersch said in an e-mail solicitation on Tuesday. “They’re mad, they’re organized, and they’re determined to return to what they see as their rightful place: ruling the halls of Congress. How do I know? $14.4 million. That’s how much Newt Gingrich raised during a fundraising dinner last week for Republican House and Senate committees.”

Officials at the Democratic committees declined to discuss the fundraising total for the Thursday night event at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

Meanwhile, Democratic lobbyist Larry O’Brien said he doubts that extending the White House’s ban on lobbyists — and their checks — to the committees is really at the heart of why fundraising for the dinner is seemingly low.

O’Brien said he believes lobbyists are generally inclined to give directly to Members, not to the party committees.

“The fact of the matter is very few K Street lobbying types are significant donors to either the DSCC or the DCCC,” O’Brien said. “Ironically ... I don’t think there’s a huge amount of harm done because I don’t think there was a tremendous revenue stream there anyway.”

But with a popular first-term president in the White House, another Democratic lobbyist speculated that the ban likely cut the dinner’s fundraising in half.

“Lobbyists are like anyone else,” the lobbyist said. “They’re enthusiastic about the president, and there’d be a much bigger turnout” if the ban were not in place.

Still, even with downtowners shut out, the Democratic lobbyist said the majority party should not have any problems making up any shortfall as 2009 wears on.

It just won’t be “in one fell swoop,” like in years past.

“The House and Senate raise a lot of money from lobbyists and they always will,” the lobbyist said. “They’ll collect a good portion of that over the course of the year, but it’ll just take longer and they’ll have to work harder.”

Matthew Murray contributed to this report.

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