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GOP Struggles to Figure Out Voter File Future

According to the respected Campaign Finance Institute, non-party independent expenditure spending in House and Senate contests surpassed party independent expenditures for the first time in 2010. The National Republican Congressional Committee, for example, spent just more than $50 million through its IE for GOP House candidates, while combined non-party IEs for those House Republican hopefuls hit $86 million.

While the RNC has traditionally had the responsibility of building and maintaining its voter database (including the current software, Voter Vault 3), on the Democratic side that function has been absorbed by a corporate entity, Catalist.  According to its website, Catalist “provides data and related services to progressive advocacy and not-for-profit organizations, campaigns consultants and academics.”

The Catalist database was originally developed from the work of Americans Coming Together, a non-party pro-Democratic group.

True, the Democratic National Committee has its own database, referred to variously as Demzilla and VoteBuilder, built just prior to the 2004 elections. But most non-party groups rely on Catalist. Another private firm, NGP VAN (recently created by the merger of two firms, including the Voter Activation Network), provides the software interface for both Catalist and VoteBuilder data.

It’s ironic that some Republicans want to imitate the Democrats when it comes to handling the party’s voter file, since some Democrats think they must follow the GOP’s example when it comes to non-party independent expenditure advertising.

The success of “outside” groups sympathetic to the GOP, including American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS, Club for Growth, Americans for Job Security, American Action Network, American Future Fund and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has Democrats scrambling to imitate the development on the right.

A new Democratic group, American Majority, hopes to become a counter-weight to some of the non-party conservative groups. Among its driving forces are former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) chief of staff Susan McCue, former Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director J.B. Poersch, veteran political operative Monica Dixon and campaign guru Jim Jordan.

Observers see non-federal party groups taking over many responsibilities for which the parties were entirely responsible, from polling and opposition research to training and database management. That would leave the parties with only a couple of core missions. And it is why some see the GOP’s decision over its voter file as such a high-stakes struggle.

Stuart Rothenberg is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report.

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