Christmas Giving: Don’t Forget Pols

Posted December 14, 2007 at 6:35pm

Christmas is fast approaching, but for many politicians, it’s Dec. 31, not Dec. 25, that’s circled on their calendars. That’s the day the fourth-quarter fundraising period closes — and with it the end of what is a traditionally difficult season to raise campaign cash.

But the end of 2007 may be a little different.

Professional fundraisers are warning that although an unusually brisk off-year national political scene has many Members of Congress all but printing campaign money, others are standing out in the cold, tempering fourth-quarter fundraising expectations and likely compounding an already steep Democratic cash advantage heading into 2008.

The season could be a chilly one for Republicans.

“In my lifetime … I’ve never heard this from a [political action committee] before, but this year I’m hearing it: ‘Look, you guys are in the minority now and I’m not going to give you any money,’” longtime Republican fundraiser Dan Morgan said. “I’m like, pardon me?”

House and Senate political committees all declined to provide December fundraising details ahead of the Jan. 31 reporting deadline. In the previous quarter, House Democrats built on their sizable advantage, with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee closing out the period ending Oct. 31 with more than $29 million in the bank. The National Republican Congressional Committee ended the third quarter with $2.5 million on hand and more than $3.5 million in arrears.

Senate Republicans fared better than their House counterparts, ending the third quarter debt-free and with $9.5 million in cash. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had roughly $23 million on hand as of Sept. 30.

Morgan, as well as other Republican and Democratic fundraisers, said that while the end-of-the-year fundraising blitz is in full tilt, a malaise continues to hang over many party activists, likely driving down some fourth-quarter fundraising returns for some campaign committees and Members.

“Whenever you get close to an [Federal Election Commission] report people want to put as much money in the bank as they can … so they’re arm-twisting, doing everything they can,” Morgan said. “[But] it’s an interesting year for Republicans … the perception is that Republicans have lost their way.”

Julie Shutley, an NRCC spokeswoman, declined to indicate whether the fourth quarter will show an uptick, but she said Congress’ poor marks in public opinion polls, along with recent GOP special election victories in Ohio and Virginia, “could make for an early Christmas at the NRCC.”

“As our base becomes more energized around their frustration with the liberal agenda of the Nancy Pelosi Congress, the more successful our fundraising will be,” Shutley said.

National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher said fundraising typically tails off this time of year, as political donors attend to their Christmas shopping and charitable giving. But she suggested that the committee’s year-end filing may show some surprises.

“Most donors understand that candidates and committees are coming to the end of the fourth quarter and usually help out in the last push — so it may not be as slow as one may think,” Fisher wrote in an e-mail.

Morgan said some individual Republican Members, as well as outside conservative issue-based groups, are seeing healthy returns late this year. But it takes some doing — and a heaping slice of humble pie.

“It’s a war out there,” Morgan said. “You go in with one guy and rifle and you don’t do much. If you have tanks and air support then you’ll have a better chance at achieving victory. The Members that have a complete fundraising strategy are doing great. If you’re relying solely on PACs, you’re probably having a tough time.”

“We did a lot better when we were in the minority before. Complacency has taken place,” Morgan continued. “It’s going to be good to be in the minority for a while to say OK, let’s get our act together, let’s start focusing, building the coalitions that we’ve lost over the years because we’ve lost our way.”

While perhaps counterintuitive, House and Senate fundraisers said the humming presidential campaign season actually helps their candidates. Morgan said the notion that political fundraising is zero-sum was debunked nearly a decade ago, particularly when it comes to passing the hat around the end of the year “when people are in the giving spirit.

“When George W. Bush was running for president as the governor of Texas, a lot of the Republicans in Texas thought it was going to hurt their fundraising big time,” he said. “Actually it increased their fundraising because when you’re supporting the guy at the top of ticket you want to make the bottom of the ticket strong, too, to attract votes.”

He added: “Hillary Rodham Clinton is a fundraising letter in and of herself” for Republicans.

Democrats agree that the jam-packed presidential nominating process for both parties is helping some last-minute fundraising appeals for Congressional candidates. In late November, the DSCC sent out a fundraising letter from none other than possible future first gentleman Bill Clinton that bashes Republican tax cuts and deficit spending.

The letter begins: “Watching what’s happened to America over these past seven years has been heartbreaking for me, as I know it has been for you.”

A Democratic source said the front-loaded presidential calendar has more voters and donors thinking about politics than they usually do this early in the political cycle.

“The attention in Washington has been heightened a bit by what’s going on out on the trail,” the source said. “You potentially could see more attention being paid to them by donors because we’re so close to the [presidential] primaries.”