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Time to Stop Reporting on Committee Fundraising Numbers

Sen. Jon Tester, left, heads the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Sen. Roger Wicker, right, is chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Updated 4:40 p.m. | Political reporters have a fever and the only prescription appears to be fundraising numbers.  

It’s a time-honored tradition: Every month, the House and Senate campaign committees release fundraising totals in a regular effort to claim momentum and financial supremacy, and political reporters can’t resist the temptation to report them.  

The dollar signs and decimal points fill morning newsletters and blog posts as if the figures are of critical importance. But the reality is that committee fundraising can be a poor predictor of which party will gain the majority in the upcoming elections.  

Last week, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee announced it raised $3.8 million in October, $1.5 million more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to a Friday afternoon email from the DSCC with a link to an article with the totals .  

But Senate Democrats raising more money than Republicans should not be a surprise. According to the Federal Election Commission, the DSCC has outraised the NRSC for the past 10 years.  

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The DSCC outraised the NRSC by $40 million in 2014 ($168 million to $128 million) and still lost nine seats and the majority. From 2006 to 2014, Democrats outraised Republicans by $187 million dollars.  

The real story would be if Republicans outraised Democrats in a cycle.  

On the House side, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Congressional Committee, $5.4 million to $5.1 million, in October.  

But that shouldn’t be a surprise, either, considering the DCCC outraised the NRCC in each of the past four elections. And that financial advantage produced a majority just one time, in 2008.  

From 2008 through 2014, the DCCC outraised the NRCC, $731 million to $561 million. That includes last cycle, when House Democrats raised $54 million more than Republicans yet managed to lose 13 seats. In 2006, the NRCC raised $36 million more than the DCCC and lost the majority.  

Of course, not all of the money raised by the committees is spent producing and airing television ads. Money is spent on staff, research, polling, candidate support, and keeping the lights on, so the Democratic financial advantage on television may not have been as pronounced.  

But the nuances of the campaign committee spending is often left on the cutting room floor in those monthly fundraising stories.  

And, of course, committee spending now makes up a smaller percentage of total spending in a race, with the increased role of outside groups, which often act like shadow committees on the other side of the campaign finance wall. But super PACs aren’t subject to the same monthly filing requirements, so it is more difficult and more rare to get relevant numbers for stories.  

Spending also is just one factor in complex races which include the national political climate and the strength and quality of the candidates.  

Clarification: An earlier version of this story contained a chart which misrepresented control of the Senate in 2006.  

Related: NRCC Posts Strong October Fundraising After Boehner Steps Down Roll Call Race Ratings Map: Ratings for Every House and Senate Race in 2016 Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.