Ensign: Colleagues Didn’t Step Up to Plate

Posted August 22, 2008 at 9:08am

Updated: 12:34 p.m.

In a stunning admission, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Ensign (Nev.) on Friday morning blasted his GOP colleagues for not doing enough to help the committee financially, and he said he would have to scale back the NRSC’s independent expenditure budget as a result.

“I recently challenged my colleagues to step up to the plate and help me provide the resources our candidates need to compete in races across the country — to match the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] expenditures in targeted races,” Ensign said in a statement. “It has become clear that my call has gone largely unanswered. I have no control over the timing or content of IE ads, but I have had no choice but to decrease the total budget of our IE Unit. It is still my hope that my Republican colleagues will engage in this election and help match what the Democrats are doing. If they do, I will adjust our budget accordingly.”

For months Ensign has pushed his colleagues to cough up more funding to help eat away at Democrats’ money advantage, and has repeatedly complained that Republicans in the Senate have taken a dangerously nonchalant approach to the 2008 cycle.

The NRSC has raised and banked far less money than the DSCC for the entire 2008 cycle, but Ensign has frequently exhorted his colleagues to do more to help the GOP regain the majority in the Senate. Last month, he said that if his Republican colleagues ponied up a sufficient amount of cash, he would pledge to match the DSCC’s substantial IE budget.

A handful of members have been aggressive in giving to the NRSC and helping in their fundraising, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Senate Republican Conference Vice Chairman Sen. John Cornyn (Texas).

But by and large, Republicans complain that most of the Conference, including many lawmakers who are not up for re-election and are sitting on fat campaign accounts, have given little or no money to the NRSC and have taken little interest in their colleagues’ electoral plights.

For instance, several aides noted that there are a number of Members such as Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs ranking member Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) who have significant war chests and are not in cycle — but have done little to help Ensign fill his coffers.

“If you look at folks who aren’t up for re-election and haven’t given to the NRSC, it leaves Ensign in a pretty tough spot,” one veteran GOP operative said. “The thing is is that this isn’t one of those deals where you can wink and nod and say, ‘Oh, I’ve done everything I need to do.’ Its all on paper.”

A senior GOP aide agreed, noting that “you have a handful of folks like Shelby and Hutchison who are sitting on enormous war chests and still haven’t stepped up for the team. And yet they keep getting rewarded with ranking member and leadership slots.”

Hutchison serves as the chairwoman of the Republican Policy Committee.

Through July 31, the DSCC had almost $43 million in the bank; the NRSC had $25.4 million in cash on hand.

But despite their fundraising advantage, Democrats were in no mood to gloat Friday and said they will continue to aggressively push their money apparatus to help counter what they expect to be significant third-party attacks.

“It’s amusing watching the NRSC, but with secretive Republican third-party groups coming out of the woodwork attacking Democrats, the financial advantage we have is being quickly eroded,” DSCC spokesman Matthew Miller said. “But we are on pace to meet our goals, and we will continue working hard towards them.”