Money Matters: Patriot Games

Posted September 16, 2008 at 6:42pm

Correction Appended

The National Republican Congressional Committee on Monday filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that a pro-Democratic 527 group is breaking campaign finance laws by not filing with the agency as a political action committee.

[IMGCAP(1)]Patriot Majority has run television ads in Sen. John Sununu’s (R-N.H.) re-election contest and in eight GOP-held House districts that the Democrats are trying to flip, including those of Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (Fla.), Joe Knollenberg (Mich.), Jean Schmidt (Ohio), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Tim Walberg (Mich.) and Steve Pearce (N.M.).

The group also has paid for television ads bashing the Republican candidates in races to replace retiring Ohio Republican Reps. Deborah Pryce and Ralph Regula.

The NRCC also alleges that Patriot Majority has spent more than $1 million on the ads and has not abided by the annual $5,000 federal contribution limits for PACs.

The source of the group’s funding is unclear, though according to published reports it is headed by Democratic operative Craig Varoga.

“Patriot Majority’s blatant attacks of Republican candidates clearly demonstrate that its major purpose is to influence federal elections,” an NRCC lawyer wrote Monday to the FEC. “In fact, Patriot Majority and its affiliated committees elected 527 tax status and, as such, have already conceded that their major purpose is to influence the election of individuals to public office.”

Crying Wolf? The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently hinted to its underwriters that a strong showing by Republicans at the GOP convention two weeks ago may mean that if donors don’t keep ponying up, Democrats could lose the House in November.

In an e-mail invitation for a Washington, D.C., fundraiser obtained by Money Matters, a DCCC fundraiser wrote to donors Tuesday that “as you can see from the recent USA Today/Gallup poll, we need your support more than ever to ensure we expand the majority in November.” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) will co-host the Sept. 23 dinner.

Up to that point in the appeal, pretty standard stuff. Short of a meltdown like the one surrounding then-Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) last cycle, few political thinkers expect House Democrats’ rosy prospects to change dramatically before Election Day, regardless of how much the St. Paul, Minn., convention energized the GOP base.

After all, House Republicans are saddled with a rash of retirements this cycle and the DCCC is sitting on $56 million in cash, roughly four times more than that of the National Republican Congressional Committee, going into the homestretch.

But further down in the e-mail, the DCCC fundraiser quotes from the Gallup release, suggesting House Democrats are getting bearish on their November prospects — or perhaps indulging in political hyperbole, so the committee can pad its cash advantage.

“The Democrats now lead the Republicans by just 3 percentage points, 48 percent to 45 percent, in voters’ ‘generic ballot’ preferences for Congress,” the DCCC’s appeal read, quoting Gallup. “This is down from consistent double-digit Democratic leads seen on this measure over the past year.”

“Republican candidates now lead Democratic candidates among likely voters by 5 percentage points, 50 percent to 45 percent,” the e-mail stated. “If these numbers are sustained through Election Day, Republicans could be expected to make major gains with the goal of taking back the House of Representatives.”

DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell declined in an e-mail to discuss the committee’s fundraising strategy but wrote “we are on offense in the home stretch and are firing up the troops since, as we have repeatedly said, we have more opportunities than we can afford.”

Texas Justice. Bexar County Commissioner Lyle Larson, the Republican challenging Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D-Texas), has been hit with an Federal Election Commission complaint alleging that he violated campaign finance law by taking liberties with the stand-by-your-ad language in his new TV spots.

“Voters in Texas’ 23rd district can’t pick and choose which laws they follow and neither should political candidates. Lyle Larson chose to break the law by failing to take full responsibility for his political ads claims,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said in statement.

The DCCC’s complaint alleges that Larson’s television ads, which were paid for by his campaign, included the written statement “Paid for Lyle Larson for Congress,” but “no written statement indicating that Larson approved the advertisement.”

“Rather than obey the law and take full responsibility for the ad — which compares Members of Congress to barnyard swine — Larson chose instead to follow his own, invented rules, and take less accountability for his ad’s claim,” DCCC lawyers wrote.

What a Difference a Cycle Makes. House Democrats’ massive cash-on-hand advantage is reflected in the fact that their independent expenditure arm has already doled out more than $3.6 million to boost their candidates through mail, field and TV advertising expenditures (see chart). House Republicans, meanwhile, have spent a little more than $100,000 through their IE — almost all of which went toward funding survey research and not actual communication with voters.

For comparison’s sake, in the 2006 cycle, the House GOP’s IE arm filed more than $1.8 million worth of expenditures on Sept. 15, 2006, alone. The House Democrats did not file any IE reports on Sept. 15 of that year but filed $215,000 in IE expenses on Sept. 16.

Lauren W. Whittington contributed to this report.

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Correction: Sept. 17, 2008

The article incorrectly reported the Member of Congress who is co-sponsoring a fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). It is Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.).