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DeLay Kicks Off 2004 ROMP Effort

As lawmakers retool their fundraising strategies in search of hard dollars, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) this week launched a fundraising drive for vulnerable incumbents, months earlier than in any previous election cycle.

The hard-charging Texan first initiated the multimillion-dollar effort, known as the Retain Our Majority Program, or ROMP, in early 1999 to help vulnerable GOP incumbents after the Senate impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton.

In the wake of the new campaign finance law, however, pressure to raise hard dollars early in the election cycle has never been greater, making it even more difficult for newly elected freshmen to start building the war chests they will need to win re-election.

The new law also requires all candidates for federal office to file quarterly financial disclosure reports to the Federal Election Commission, for the reporting period ending March 31. Prior to the new law, in off years financial reports were required only twice a year, for the periods ending June 30 and Dec. 31.

To political insiders, these first financial reports serve as an early indication of a candidate’s viability, and DeLay wants to ensure that GOP freshmen begin to fill their campaign coffers early in the cycle.

“It’s always important to demonstrate that you’re a serious candidate,” said Jim Ellis, the executive director of DeLay’s leadership PAC, Americans for a Republican Majority, who is also spearheading the ROMP effort. “There has never been a disclosure this early, so it’s hard to tell what we can raise.”

Still, Ellis said DeLay is confident he can rake in at least $750,000 for the effort, $75,000 for each freshman.

“We always exceed our goals, so that is just a minimum,” Ellis said.

DeLay sent a letter to all GOP lawmakers on Wednesday, asking his colleagues to donate to the program and explaining why it began so early this year.

“We are giving every Member an equal opportunity to help out,” Ellis said.

The Texas Republican also spent the past two days meeting with the 10 freshmen the program is aiming to benefit, Reps. Bob Beauprez (Colo.), Ginny Brown-Waite (Fla.), Max Burns (Ga.), Chris Chocola (Ind.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Phil Gingrey (Ga.), Steve Pearce (N.M.), Jon Porter (Nev.), Rick Renzi (Ariz.) and Mike Rogers (Ala.). Of the 10, eight received 55 percent of the vote or less. Pearce and Porter each won 56 percent.

DeLay will lead the first round of ROMP, which will culminate in a fundraising event on March 25 for the 10 freshmen. Speaker Dennis Hastert (Ill.) and Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) will lead the second and third rounds of the program.

In a separate effort, Hastert has held fundraisers aimed at helping retire campaign debts for Beauprez and Renzi.

While ROMP has always been a hard- dollar effort, the ban on soft money has set off a scramble for hard dollars, now considered a precious commodity in the new fundraising environment.

In previous election cycles, before financial reports were required quarterly, political observers believed a freshman candidate with a difficult race ahead should have $350,000 to $500,000 in the bank for the first June 30 filing. With the earlier deadline, fundraisers cannot predict what observers will consider impressive this time around.

DeLay first mentioned the early fundraising drive at the bicameral GOP retreat last week at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia. He told House Republicans gathered there that he had already begun to raise money for the effort and wanted to enlist their support.

“Everyone’s going to try to raise money early this year given that there’s no soft money, and it will be easier to raise money earlier in the cycle rather than later,” one GOP leadership aide who attended the DeLay presentation said. “We might as well start the first ROMP as soon as possible.”

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