NRCC Touts Alliance With InfoCision

Posted November 24, 2004 at 2:53pm

The National Republican Congressional Committee is proclaiming its massive, two-year investment in donor prospecting a major success.

The effort, designed to expand the committee’s list of small-dollar donors, was carried out by an Akron, Ohio-based phone bank operation called InfoCision Management Corp.

InfoCision, which does both commercial and political work, was the single largest beneficiary of NRCC dollars in the 2004 cycle, taking in $55.5 million from Jan. 1, 2003, to Oct. 13, 2004.

But Republican officials say it was worth every penny: The project netted approximately 500,000 new donors to the NRCC in the 2004 cycle.

“We put over $55 million back into races, which exceeded our expectations,” said NRCC Communications Director Carl Forti.

The NRCC raised in excess of $160 million during the 2004 cycle, compared to approximately $80 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Republicans picked up a net of two House seats earlier this month, expanding their margin to 14. Those gains were due in large part to heavy spending by the NRCC in Texas, where the GOP picked up five seats.

The pickups appear to have silenced most criticism by Members of the expenditures made by the NRCC to InfoCision, though some still expressed worry.

“We picked up seats, so every decision looks like a good decision,” said a lawmaker who works closely with the NRCC. “But there are some concerns about how much money was spent and how it was spent, and those will be addressed.”

DCCC Chairman Robert Matsui (Calif.) said Reynolds “inherited” the contract with InfoCision and “wants to get it behind him as soon as possible.”

“Members know that, so they are not going to hold him and the current leadership responsible,” Matsui added.

The NRCC’s executive council is expected to convene in January to produce an after-action report on the 2004 cycle and begin preparing for the next cycle. InfoCision will likely be a prominent topic of discussion.

During the most recent cycle, defenders of the InfoCision deal within the GOP leadership pointed out that the NRCC’s contract with the firm included a provision guaranteeing the committee would get back at least one dollar for every dollar it spent.

But even if the venture is determined to have been a success, it remains unclear to GOP leaders whether the party should spend that much money again, or whether the project should be considered a massive, one-time expenditure to beef up the NRCC’s fundraising list for the future.

Forti indicated that the NRCC would continue to aggressively prospect for new donors but would not comment on whether the committee would again use InfoCision as the primary vehicle for those efforts.

“We made the mistake in the mid-1990s of stopping prospecting, and it killed our House [fundraising] file,” said Forti. “In order to be successful, we have to constantly find new donors.”

The NRCC’s relationship with InfoCision goes back more than a decade.

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

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

InfoCision is split into five divisions, which run the gamut from political to nonprofit to religious. It has 2,900 employees and projects its revenues to be $130 million in 2005.

Many Republican strategists believe the work being done by InfoCision is all the more crucial in the wake of the campaign-finance reform law that went into effect following the 2002 election.

Under the law, national party committees are banned from raising soft money in unlimited amounts.

That makes the cultivation of small-dollar donors essential to both parties — and culling small donors is InfoCision’s specialty.

Matsui said the DCCC flirted with using telemarketers to harvest donors but was dissuaded by experts who insisted that the technique tends to create a list of donors who give only once.

“Any subscriber list you build up on the first round would not be worth the money” in boosting later fundraising efforts, Matsui asserted.

The soft-money ban also meant that the NRCC had to pay its InfoCision bills entirely with hard dollars in the 2004 cycle.

In prior cycles, the NRCC had split the cost of InfoCision between its federal and nonfederal accounts, making it much more difficult for journalists, watchdogs and Democrats to track the total amount spent.

In the meantime, InfoCision is also expanding its political portfolio.

Just two weeks before the Nov. 2 balloting, the Federal Election Commission received a campaign finance report from the company showing that it had made two contributions to federal candidates.

The InfoCision Management Corporation PAC had not filed the “statement of organization” paperwork required by the commission as of press time.

The Oct. 14 report showed that the committee had contributed $1,000 to Ohio’s 17-Star PAC — Sen. Mike DeWine’s (R-Ohio) leadership committee — and another $500 to GOP candidate Robert Lucas’ bid for Congress from Akron. Lucas took leave from his job in quality control at InfoCision to make the run, but Rep. Sherrod Brown (D) beat him soundly — 67 percent to 33 percent.

Neither the PAC’s treasurer, Forrest Thompson, nor the company itself responded to numerous phone calls seeking comment over a two-week period.

The creation of the InfoCision PAC has elicited mild confusion, if only because political vendors make their money from campaigns — not the other way around.

“It is unusual,” said GOP activist Richard Viguerie, a direct-mail pioneer. “It doesn’t make it right or wrong.”

Viguerie said his business attracts “ideologues” who want their cause to prevail. He said he could recall hearing of other vendors who opened PACs at one time or another.

“If you know how to raise the money, the temptation’s always there,” Viguerie said.

Ben Pershing contributed to this report.