PACs Reach Out to Democrats, So Vulnerable Republicans Adjust

PACs Reach Out to Democrats, Vulnerable Republicans Adjust

Posted April 27, 2007 at 5:49pm

Now in the minority, some vulnerable GOP House Members are no longer feeling the love from political action committees.

During the first quarter of the 2008 election cycle, a dozen or more House Republicans facing competitive re-election bids next year watched as the new Democratic majority nibbled away at the usually heaping corporate and special interest portions of their overall fundraising pie.

Of the 26 most vulnerable House Republicans included in Roll Call’s analysis, half saw their political action committees’ ratios decrease. Overall, the group took $1.7 million, or 36 percent, of their gifts from PACs during the first quarter of 2007. During the same period two years earlier, the group brought in $2 million, or 44 percent, of their haul from PACs.

The results suggest that early in the new cycle at least, PACs are making amends with Democrats after 12 years of GOP rule. But amid the shift, at least some House Republicans will need to strike a difficult balance between fighting for political survival and searching for new donors — a time-consuming and often uncomfortable process that will require them to spend more time dialing for dollars in their districts.

“[Members] hate raising money from people back home because these are their friends,” said Republican fundraiser Dan Morgan. “It’s easier to raise money in D.C. — these are the people that knock on their doors, people that they work with on a professional level.”

Of the 36 Republican House districts that are considered most in play this election cycle, according to a White House analysis, the ratio of PAC-to-individual gifts between the first three months of 2005 and 2007 dropped for 13 lawmakers. No longer having control of Congress, House Republican strategists say, means fewer guarantees for these Members of banquet rooms teeming with corporate and trade association lobbyists with $5,000 checks in hand.

“We are in the minority, that’s the reality,” said one source familiar with the National Republican Congressional Committee, speaking of the dip in PAC gifts during the first three months of 2007. “We are asking our candidates to look at their fundraising, take a look [where] they can prospect again and see if there are other ways to increase it.”

Because it is still early in the cycle, many Republicans say they are keeping little more than a watchful eye on the ratios, for now. As Democratic challengers come forward in the coming months, however, rank-and-file Republicans and GOP leadership say their patience will dwindle if their corporate donor base — which can account for two-thirds or more of some House Members’ war chests — continues to wither.

“It’s obvious there has been a little bit of a downturn and there are some groups that have been early supporters of vulnerable Republicans in the past that have not been there this time,” said an aide for one vulnerable House Republican. “Those Members will be speaking with [House Republican] leadership about it.”

For many vulnerable Republicans, next year will hardly be their first brush with the political pink slip. Rep. Thelma Drake (R-Va.), who beat Democrat Phil Kellam by less than 5,000 votes in November, is preparing to perhaps again do battle with the Virginia Beach revenue commissioner. Although one of several endangered GOPers who collected more PAC money during the opening months of this cycle than last, the percentage Drake took in from PACs during the first quarter of 2007 slid by more than one-third compared with two years ago.

Still, Drake said she was not worried by the result, since she has been focused on targeting contributors back in her district for an end-of-quarter fundraiser. Originally scheduled for March 30, the event was set to feature White House spokesman Tony Snow. It was postponed when, a week prior, he announced his cancer had returned.

Although endangered Republicans are readying themselves to knock on doors back in their districts, 10 lawmakers picked by the White House as vulnerable recently saw their PAC intake jump — in some cases dramatically — over two years ago. Rep. Ron Lewis (R-Ky.), who took 55 percent of the vote in November against retired Army Col. Mike Weaver, raised $1 million from PACs during the entire 2006 election cycle.

In the first three months of 2005, when Lewis wasn’t yet considered vulnerable, he raised just $12,000 from PACs. During the same period this cycle, he raised $101,000.

Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) also saw an upswing in the percentage of money PACs contributed to his overall fundraising. Hayes, with many close elections under his belt, said that not only does each cycle build on the last, but having close elections year-in and year-out allows Members to build a regional or national donor base.

“It’s the same old unpleasant — but necessary — part of being elected to Congress,” Hayes said. “Early on in the last cycle, we expanded our fundraising base. We’re in the process of setting up another strenuous schedule, talking to other Members, getting assistance putting together events in their districts.”

Republican fundraiser Tom Hammond said the first-quarter results often are lean for lawmakers coming off tough races, such as Drake and Hayes. The candidates usually want to go easy on local contributors who helped fuel the races they just ended, and PACs have not yet had a chance to restock their coffers. That difficulty is compounded for freshmen, who are preoccupied with setting up their offices.

Hammond also said that while some of his House Republican clients have seen their PAC support slip a bit, some have improved their take from the corporate accounts, and all are within close range of their performance during the same period in the previous cycle.

“The X factor is that we’re in the minority. So even if my clients fell off 5-10 percent, I’m not losing sleep right now,” he said. “I know from some of my incumbents that the [PACs] who supported them last cycle are still there. We’re going back to key supporters from the 2006 races, and there’s been very little fall off.”

Last cycle, Congressional candidates from both parties received a slight majority of their money from individual contributors, with Republicans claiming a small advantage from PACs, according to Jamie Pimlott, a research analyst for the Campaign Finance Institute. She said it’s no surprise vulnerable Republicans have lost some of their PAC backing.

“We expect PACs to adjust their giving patterns when control shifts,” she said — especially those contributing to get their foot in the door of powerful offices.