Chairman Allen Brings Youth Movement to NRSC
As National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman George Allen (Va.) works to expand the GOP majority in 2004, he has tapped several of the new faces responsible for putting the party in control of the chamber to play key fundraising roles this cycle.
Sens. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), all of whom were elected in 2002, are heading three of the NRSC’s member programs, a function which Allen said has taken on greater importance now that the committee is banned from taking so-called “soft money” contributions.
“We’re going to have to work much harder, much smarter and attract a larger group of … people to contribute to us,” Allen said in a recent interview.
The Republican Majority Makers, Senatorial Trust, Presidential Roundtable and Senatorial Inner Circle are each devoted to different levels of individual giving. Another program, the Republican Senate Council, focuses on outreach to PACs and interest groups.
“Some of those may not have gotten the attention in the past that they should have because you could get the big corporate contributions or you could get large individual contributions,” Allen said, referring to campaign financing before the enactment of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act last year.
In the past the NRSC has also had a program devoted to corporate giving, but it was eliminated this year in light of the new law, which has yet to clear legal challenges.
Dole is heading the NRSC’s Inner Circle, the program devoted to lower-dollar donors, “after much cajoling and pleading,” Allen said.
Annual membership is $2,000 for individuals and $3,000 for couples. Lifetime members pay $15,000 per individual or $20,000 per couple.
The Inner Circle spring meeting is planned for March 24-25 in Washington, D.C., and will culminate with a dinner saluting Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).
Chambliss, chairman of the Republican Senate Council, said he was happy to do his part to help the group that worked to elect him, although he acknowledged that it will be harder to raise funds in the post-reform environment.
A $15,000 PAC contribution covers annual membership in the Council’s Policy Board, while regular Council membership is a $5,000 PAC contribution.
Graham, meanwhile, happily volunteered to serve as Presidential Roundtable chairman.
“If you’re going to bring about reform, you have to be a part of helping the team,” Graham said of his role with the committee.
Graham, a former House Member, was a leading supporter of the BCRA, and Allen said the freshman Senator had assured him that the committee would be able to compensate for the loss of soft money.
“I said, ‘Alright Lindsey, you said it’s going to be easy,’” Allen said, recalling his conversation with Graham about taking the post.
Membership in the Roundtable, the program designed for mid-level donors, is $5,000 for one individual and $7,500 for two.
The Senatorial Trust, chaired by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), is devoted to larger donors. The group is made up of 200 business and political leaders who must be nominated for membership and must be willing to donate at least $15,000 annually.
Even higher-dollar donors comprise the Majority Makers group, which Allen personally oversees.
Like his new recruits, Allen also got involved with the NRSC as a freshman. He chaired the president’s dinner, an annual joint fundraiser with the National Republican Congressional Committee, for two years after being elected in 2000. This year the dinner is being chaired by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah).
Although the new financing law took effect last November, its reality is just now taking hold, Allen said, describing his role as part election lawyer and educator.
“In some regards I spend more time talking to people explaining to them the new laws, before you can even make the pitch for ‘Hey, we’d like you to make a contribution,’” he said.
Now that roughly 60 percent of the money the NRSC raised last cycle is no longer available, the focus for Allen and other political committees is on increasing grassroots support and soliciting small donors. In January, the average contribution to the Senatorial committee was $62.
“It’s a new field,” said Allen, who can find a football analogy to fit just about any political situation. “To get a first down you have to go 20 yards to get where you wanted to get before. It’s a 200-yard field rather than a 100-yard field.”
For advice in that endeavor, the son of a former Washington Redskins coach is looking to several of his predecessors. One of his key allies as he settled into the role of chief fundraiser has been Frist, who chaired the committee last cycle.
“Bill understands what I’m going through now,” Allen said. “That’s very helpful to have a leader who understands it.”
Allen noted he was one of Frist’s early advocates during “the unpleasantness of December,” the term he used to describe the controversy that eventually cost then-Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) his leadership post.
He is consulting other former NRSC chairmen as well, including Sens. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Don Nickles (Okla.) and Ted Stevens (Alaska), whose counsel he said surprised him the most.
“What a dynamo on political campaign issues,” he said, referring to the Appropriations chairman.
Allen also frequently compares notes with White House political operatives Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman as well as RNC Deputy Chairman Jack Oliver, even though he knows that White House efforts to help Republican candidates in 2002 are unlikely to be replicated next year.
“We cannot expect the president and vice president to spend as much time in this election because they have their own campaign to run and win,” he said.
Still, Allen said overall he is “cautiously optimistic” about the party’s ability to expand its majority in next year’s elections.
Democrats are defending 19 seats, six of which are in states President Bush won by more than 10 points in 2000. The party also has the troublesome issue of open seats to contend with.
Currently Georgia is the only state where a Democrat has announced his retirement, but the party could also be faced with trying to hold on to open seats in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and Louisiana, where incumbents are contemplating retirement or running for president.
Competitive races could also emerge in Washington, Nevada, Arkansas, California, North Dakota and South Dakota, states where Allen is focused on recruiting top challengers.
Republicans, meanwhile, are defending 15 seats and currently have only one clearly vulnerable incumbent, Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.).
“I’d rather be going into these contests in 2004 with our team than their team,” Allen said.