Calls Fuel NRCC

Posted April 1, 2003 at 6:32pm

Flexing its financial muscles and fueled in part by an innovative fundraising firm, the National Republican Congressional Committee raised better than $22 million in hard money during the first three months of 2003, a record take for the first quarter of an election cycle.

The NRCC brought in $8 million in March, including $5.1 million from its annual spring dinner held on March 18.

At the end of March 2002, the NRCC had raised $21.5 million for the year; it brought in a combined $13 million in the first quarter of 2001.

The committee continued its heavy spending, laying out more than $20 million between Jan. 1 and March 31 and ending the period with $1.8 million in the bank.

Much of its total spending went to a little-known Akron-based phone-banking company called InfoCision Management Corp., which received almost $8 million from the NRCC in the first two months of the year alone.

Between Jan. 1 and March 31, InfoCision made roughly 2 million fundraising calls on behalf of the NRCC.

The committee also paid off $2.5 million of the $6 million debt it carried over from the 2002 cycle.

Rep. Mike Rogers (Mich.), finance chairman of the NRCC, attributed the fundraising success to a “leave-no-stone-unturned approach.”

“We are doing a lot more outreach to individual donors,” said Rogers. “People from all walks of life and all demographics want to participate.”

All of the new donor prospecting is being handled by InfoCision, and the NRCC’s financial outlay to the company reveals the depth of its commitment to expanding its donor network in the face of new campaign finance reform laws.

“Prospecting is a commitment I made the day I came in this year,” said NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.). “I believe that prospecting is an investment in our future and allows us to revitalize our lists and find new donors.”

NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti noted that the committee added 100,000 new donors between Jan. 1 and March 31. The average donation culled from those individuals was $100, according to Forti.

The committee doled out $3.3 million to InfoCision in January and an additional $4.4 million in February, making it far and away the largest recipient of the $13 million the NRCC spent in those two months.

The firm has been doing business with the NRCC since 1993 and has been described by informed Republican sources as “state of the art” and a “very sophisticated operation” with more than 2,600 employees — 1,600 of whom are telemarketers — and more than 20 call centers in California, Delaware and Texas, among other locales.

The ideologically conservative firm would not release its corporate client list, but it also works with the National Rifle Association and several socially conservative organizations, according to GOP sources.

“It may sound like we are spending a lot of money now, but this pays enormous dividends,” said Forti, adding that the committee has a “break even” agreement with InfoCision ensuring that if the NRCC does not raise at least the amount they invest in prospecting, InfoCision refunds any difference.

On Feb. 28, InfoCision refunded the NRCC $103,000.

Reynolds called the relationship a “win-win situation,” while Dan Mattoon, former executive director of the NRCC, said that InfoCision “puts the NRCC in a position to be a major player under the rigors of the new [campaign finance] law.”

With the party committees banned from raising and spending soft money, the importance of expanding the number of hard-dollar donors is heightened considerably.

Rogers noted that “you don’t make $100,000 phone calls anymore. Those days are done.”

“We have been doing prospecting for years but at this point we have to make a bigger push for hard money,” Forti said.

“We have had a tremendous advantage over the other committees in the past two cycles in hard money raised,” said Forti. “It is paying off now in the post” campaign finance reform world.

Over the course of the 2002 cycle, the three Republican campaign committees brought in $442 million in hard money, compared to $217 million for Democrats. The NRCC raised $141 million in hard dollars, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee collected $46 million.

One Republican strategist familiar with the company’s work said that “as long as you accept the fact that it costs money to make money, you are going to have a net dollars advantage over [Democrats].”

Expanding on an already large donor base is a “capability that Democrats don’t have and it will hurt them,” boasted another Republican strategist.

Democrats scoffed at the Republican rationale for their heavy spending.

“When you look at their reports, it shows they are not keeping a lot of their money,” said DCCC Communications Director Kori Bernards. “In the end you have to have money to run campaigns.”

Although the DCCC has not released its fundraising figures through March, they brought in $3.2 million in the cycle’s first two months but spent only $1.9 million. Of those disbursements, roughly $1.2 million was spent on donor prospecting, according to a source familiar with the committee’s budget.

The aide also called the GOP’s heavy spending on InfoCision “risky” because of the possibility that the donors it harvests may only give once and not provide a lasting resource for the NRCC.

InfoCision was founded by current president and CEO Gary Taylor in 1982. He refused comment for this story.

The company has five divisions: political, non-profit, Christian, commercial and volunteer recruitment.

In 1993, just one year after InfoCision opened up its political wing, it began handling telemarketing for the NRCC at the request of then-NRCC Chairman Bill Paxon (N.Y.) and Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.).

Paxon and Gingrich were made aware of the firm by Rod Smith, who has served as finance director of the NRCC and is currently a consultant to the committee. Smith also serves as an adviser to InfoCision.

“The committee had stopped prospecting,” explained Forti. “Unless you are constantly bringing in new names the list gets cannibalized and doesn’t bring in money anymore.”

“We had to bring in new people to revamp everything,” Forti continued, adding that when a list falters in its production for InfoCision, they immediately cease using it.

“All along [the NRCC] knew that the financial base of the committee had to be in the area of $500 to $5,000 donors,” said one Republican strategist. “The margins are too small to run it on $20 and $25 contributions.”

“You had to have a company that understood what it’s like to get on the phone and ask someone for a $1,000 and be conversant with a variety of issues,” the source added.

InfoCision is recognized as one of the most tightly specialized phone banks in the country, dispatching only registered Republicans to make calls for the NRCC and only NRA members to make calls for that organization.

“The key thing was the fact that they were familiar with the work of the [NRCC] and were willing to make a long-term commitment to have quality people and quality programs,” said a GOP source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

InfoCision boasts that their “communicators” are significantly more experienced in the field than the average telemarketer.

The company reports on its Web site that its average telemarketer has more than four years of experience and 75 percent of its employees are full-time.

“InfoCision offers our communicators a career opportunity, not just a job,” reads the Web site. “As a result many have over a decade of tenure, calling for the very same clients year after year.”

Despite this careful attitude, some of the NRCC’s phone-banking tactics — as employed by InfoCision — have not produced the desired results.

Most of the controversy has centered around the NRCC’s Business Advisory Council, which involves telemarketers playing an automated phone call recorded by Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

In the message DeLay tells the recipient of the call that he or she has been named to the Business Advisory Council. A plea for funds to pay for newspaper advertisements or banquets to honor all of the council members follows.

Unfortunately for the NRCC, among those chosen for the council are a publicist for the adult film industry, a Utah woman who ran a topless maid service and a Sarasota man convicted of possessing drug paraphernalia.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.