Although it is well-known that the RNC had lost its reputation as the gold standard of campaign committees, Priebus indicated that matters were worse than previously understood when he took over. At least since the mid-1990s, the RNC consistently outraised the DNC and both parties’ Congressional campaign committees and often outmuscled the DNC on the ground.
But as of Jan. 31, the RNC reported $2.1 million in cash on hand and a staggering $21.4 million in debt. The DNC reported a healthier cash-on-hand total of $9.1 million, with a lower though still significant debt of $16.8 million, which it incurred last year partly from its financial support of the Democratic Congressional campaign committees. The RNC could not afford to offer similar support to the GOP’s Congressional campaign committees.
To change direction, Priebus upon his election immediately tapped a national finance transition team to reinvigorate RNC fundraising, particularly among major donors, or those individual contributors who are viewed as being able to give the legal maximum of $30,800 annually to a national party committee. That team, due to complete its work by March 31, was led by longtime but recently disenchanted RNC major donors, including Al Hoffman and Mel Sembler of Florida, Sam Fox of Missouri, and Ron Weiser of Michigan.
On April 1, Priebus hopes to introduce his new national finance chairman and the beginnings of a team of national finance co-chairmen he wants filled out by midyear to represent both individual states and broader regions of the country. Priebus declined to reveal the minimum fundraising goals he planned to set but said a finance co-chairman “might” be asked to raise $3 million annually, while someone who raised $1 million might earn a spot on the RNC “executive council.”
Raising $250,000 annually might garner a donor a spot on the national finance committee. Priebus said the goal of his fundraising strategy, which also includes a push to revamp the RNC’s direct-mail, online and telemarketing fundraising, is twofold: Put the committee in a strong cash position and send a clear signal to “our donors and the entire political community” that “the RNC is back in business.”
“Our goal is to have much of, if not almost all, of the entire debt paid off by the end of the year,” Priebus explained, “but also to have millions and millions of dollars cash on hand.”
To restore trust on Capitol Hill, the RNC chairman has launched an aggressive outreach effort to Members of Congress.
Priebus said he intends to be a regular at Senate Republican policy lunches and National Republican Congressional Committee meetings. He has asked Senators and House Members to help the RNC raise money by attending fundraisers and said the response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive. Priebus said more RNC fundraisers headlined by GOP Members are in the planning stages.
Steele was constantly under fire by Members because of a perception that he was not doing the nuts-and-bolts work of raising money and preparing the RNC to help Republicans compete on the ground in the 2010 midterm elections. Despite the historic Republican gains in that election, GOP Members said the RNC deserved little, if any, credit. The initial reviews on Priebus are positive.