The National Republican Congressional Committee is kicking off its biennial "Battleground" fundraising effort Wednesday with a goal of getting party leaders and rank-and-file Members to pony up a total of $20 million over the next three months to fund the effort to regain seats in November.
That goal is well ahead of the $12 million mark the committee set for the program in 2008, a sure sign that Republicans are working with a much larger playing field this cycle than they were two years ago. In the 2006 midterms, when Republicans controlled both chambers in Congress and the White House, the NRCC's Battleground goal originally was set at $17.5 million but was bumped up to $22.5 million by the end of that cycle.
"This is where we decide if we really want it or not, and that's why the number is so high" this cycle, said Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.), who is co-chairing the effort along with Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio), NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) and Reps. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) and Ed Royce (Calif.). Rogers said $20 million will give the NRCC enough money to compete "in the over 70 seats that we believe we're competitive in."
The program, which mostly funds TV advertising in competitive races, allots individualized assessments to Members ranging from $100,000 to $150,000 for rank-and-file lawmakers to $200,000 to $400,000 for committee ranking members and senior party leaders. Each assessment is determined by several factors, including the Member's vulnerability.
This year's Battleground program is getting under way earlier than it has before, and unlike previous cycles, the NRCC is asking Members to fulfill their assessments well before Election Day.
One committee operative said getting money in the door sooner and setting a Sept. 15 deadline for Members will give the NRCC "more maneuverability for how we are going to effectively attack the playing field in the fall."
While the program officially kicks off Wednesday and will be on the agenda for next week's Conference meeting, the NRCC has already secured $5 million from Members who have decided to get a head start on fulfilling their assessments.
Among the more than a dozen Republicans who have already fulfilled their assessments are Boehner, Sessions, Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.) and Reps. Candice Miller (Mich.), Vern Buchanan (Fla.) and Virginia Foxx (N.C.).
Battleground is the NRCC's marquee program when it comes to tapping Members for cash, as evidenced by the fact that the committee received commitments for about $5.9 million through a dues drive that ended Tuesday.
The two Member-giving programs create a more back-loaded fundraising calendar for House Republicans than for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which puts a greater emphasis on tapping Members for money throughout the cycle.
The DCCC had raised more than $19.5 million from Members through May 26, according to a report obtained by Roll Call.
"The DCCC is a Member participation organization, and we appreciate everything our Members do for us in ensuring we have a strong Democratic majority," DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer said.
The difference in Member giving is a major reason why the DCCC led the NRCC in cash on hand at the end of April, with $27.3 million compared with the NRCC's $11.4 million.
"We have always believed that Members ought to get out and get to work and do the things they were elected to do, and then over time we can get back into the campaign mode," Rogers said of the different fundraising calendars. "Democrats took a different view. They felt they were going to be in charge for a very long time and decided to raise lots of money at our expense last year, and now it's time to turn those tables. ... We didn't need that money last year. We sure need it this year. And so I think you're going to find the spirit of giving is stronger this year than it has been in the past."
One former DCCC staffer said the NRCC's method of fundraising from Members is a "gamble" and that House Democrats prefer to get Members in the habit of giving all cycle long.
"We always focused on a year-round push simply because whether it's a [political action committee] or a leadership PAC, [Members] always have more money at the beginning of the cycle than at the end of the cycle," the former staffer said.
The operative added that there's also more pressure put on Members' campaign accounts at the end of the cycle than at the beginning.
"You don't want to be chasing down Member dollars late in the cycle when you're not even in session and when you're working less with your colleagues. ... The next thing you know, you have vulnerable Members chasing other Members on the phone when they should be calling people you don't know."