Money Matters: Murtha Shakes Tin Cup as His Race Heats Up

Posted October 29, 2008 at 6:10pm

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Chairman John Murtha (D-Pa.) has raised more than $80,000 in the past three days from House Members and political action committees, according to Federal Election Commission records.

[IMGCAP(1)]Murtha, who was sitting on only $500,000 in cash as of Oct. 15, is facing an unexpectedly close race with retired Army officer William Russell, who had about $190,000 in the bank two weeks ago. The long-shot GOP candidate has surged in recent days after the famously cantankerous lawmaker called his southwestern Keystone State constituents “racists” and “rednecks.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was one of dozens who gave to Murtha this week, writing her longtime ally $7,000 worth of checks out of her PAC and campaign account.

Two recently released polls showed Murtha leading Russell by only a handful of points. And after Murtha’s inflammatory comments, the National Republican Congressional Committee bought $84,000 in ads in the Pittsburgh media market for the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s independent expenditure arm followed with an even larger buy in the Johnstown media market. Most recently, the Vets for Freedom PAC bought $100,000 in airtime for an ad in that features soldiers who have served in Iraq who blast Murtha for not standing by them.

On Wednesday, Murtha solicited the liberal group MoveOn.org’s e-mail list for contributions to his campaign.

“This year I’ve spent most of my time campaigning and raising money for other Democrats, including Barack Obama, instead of myself,” Murtha writes. “It worked in 2006, and we threw the Bush Republicans out. But now my own race is tight, so I am asking supporters for help. Can you chip in?”

Check, Please. The six national party committees have spent more than $850 million during the 2008 election cycle, according to a Federal Election Commission fundraising analysis released late Wednesday.

Through Oct. 15, the Republican National Committee outraised the Democratic National Committee — and all four Congressional committees — by bringing in more than $336 million this cycle. Most of that was raised from individuals, who gave the flagship GOP committee nearly $250 million.

Lawmakers and other political committees gave the RNC about $2 million during the cycle. The RNC had about $60 million in the bank as of 20 days before Election Day.

In contrast, the DNC raised about 40 percent less than its GOP counterpart, having raised $206 million for the cycle and showing $11 million in the bank as of 20 days out. The DNC, led by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, raised about 60 percent of its total — $117 million — from individuals and $2 million from political committees.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had brought in about $135 million and had about $23 million as of mid-October, while the National Republican Congressional Committee had raised about $104 million for the cycle at that point.

The NRCC, which raised 50 percent more in the previous cycle under then-Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), had $13 million in cash with three weeks to go until Election Day. Reynolds is retiring this year.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had raised $122 million, about 55 percent more than the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s $78 million.

Busted. Election regulators have fined Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.) $99,000 for taking excessive campaign contributions and violating other election laws during his 2004 campaign.

According to a deal reached between the lawmaker and the Federal Election Commission earlier this month, Martinez’s campaign acknowledged that it took $313,000 in excessive campaign contributions, $95,000 of which was returned to contributors.

The first-term Senator said in a statement to Money Matters that he is “delighted this matter is closed.”

“On learning of the issue shortly after the campaign, I immediately took steps to correct the situation and the campaign committee has been in full compliance with FEC regulations,” said Martinez, whose 2004 Senate campaign spent nearly $13 million against former state Education Commissioner Betty Castor (D).

The agency’s enforcement division also found that Martinez’s campaign did not disclose $160,000 worth of last-minute donations and $320,000 raised from joint fundraising committees.

In a statement, Martinez’s campaign lawyer, Ben Ginsberg, admitted that “accounting mistakes were made” in the runup to the 2004 election but said that “the committee worked closely and amicably with the FEC to conduct a full audit of the 2004 finances and remedy any problems that might have occurred.”

What’s a Few Zeros Among Friends? A political action committee run by the American Resort Development Association understated its income by more than $1.2 million in 2004, the Federal Election Commission recently found when it audited the group.

The trade association also was fingered by the agency for failing to inform its members that campaign contributions are voluntary, potentially an “improper solicitation of contributions,” the FEC’s audit concluded.

The group denied any wrongdoing.

“The audit was initiated more than two years ago and helped us identify areas we needed to improve for more accurate reporting,” spokeswoman Lou Ann Burney wrote in an e-mail. “Since that time, we have used the feedback from the FEC to put into place more diligent reporting practices.”

At the beginning of 2003, the FEC found the group had $970,000 in cash, about $100,000 more than its disclosure records actually stated. And during 2004, auditors found the group brought in nearly $1.8 million, not $520,000, as the PAC originally disclosed on its financial forms. The errors resulted in the group understating its cash position on Jan. 1, 2005, by roughly $755,000.

Shira Toeplitz contributed to this report.

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