Ensign Pressures Colleagues to Match DSCC Spending

Posted July 30, 2008 at 12:23pm

Updated 4:29 p.m.

After months of unsuccessfully twisting arms in private, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) is now resorting to public peer pressure tactics to shame his colleagues into opening up their checkbooks to fund GOP election efforts.

Ensign put out a statement Wednesday reiterating his intent to match the Democrats’ television advertising spending across the country this cycle. But in a thinly veiled jab at his fellow GOP Senators, Ensign said he would only do so with the help of his colleagues.

“While I am aware we do not currently have the funds to match the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee], I am giving our [independent expenditure unit] this budget on faith — faith that my Republican colleagues will step up to the challenge and transfer the funds necessary to remain competitive with the Democrats,” Ensign said. “I have informed my colleagues that it is now up to them.”

Ensign’s public message mirrors a similar directive he issued to Senators personally during their Tuesday policy luncheon, which was held this week at the NRSC. Ensign told his colleagues that without their generosity, he could not compete against the DSCC’s massive, national advertising buy.

The Nevada Republican said in a telephone interview Wednesday he believes his colleagues are starting to get the message that they have to participate in the party’s fundraising efforts, especially as they watch the DSCC reserve costly television time. He said he’s following up on his public statement by holding face-to-face meetings with Senators to ask them to contribute, adding, “all will be asked.”

“So far, I’ve had some good meetings and good commitments from folks,” Ensign said. “If they come through, I will feel very good about it.”

Asked why he believes his latest appeal will be more effective than earlier efforts, Ensign said: “I laid out the reality to them. … When we are this close to the election, the reality starts hitting home. Before it was more theoretical.”

Some already may be heeding the call. Earlier this week, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) pledged to contribute $250,000 from his re-election account to the NRSC. Cornyn is up for a second term this fall, and is a potential successor to Ensign at the NRSC next year.

Ensign noted in his missive that DSCC Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) has recently placed about $45 million into “targeted Senate races” across the country. He added that he plans to give the NRSC’s independent expenditure unit a budget to match the Democrats’ advertising spending because he “will not allow our Republican candidates to be outspent by the DSCC this cycle.”

“I believe our Republican Senate candidates will ultimately be successful in November and my colleagues and I will do everything we can to give them that chance,” Ensign said.

The Republicans have consistently trailed the Democrats in fundraising by a near 2-1 margin over the past two years. While the DSCC has had huge success getting Democratic Senators to contribute to the campaign fundraising arm, the NRSC has consistently struggled to convince its Members to pony up.

The situation has been particularly difficult for Republicans since they are defending 23 seats this year, while the Democrats have just 12 to defend. What’s more, just one of the dozen Democratic seats is considered in play.

In June alone, Schumer collected almost $1.5 million from his fellow Senate Democrats. Many of those contributions came from lawmakers who are in cycle this year and are now facing little or no challenge in their re-election bids.

Overall, the NRSC is behind in fundraising. At the end of June, the committee had $24.6 million on hand, compared to the Democrats’ $45 million.