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DSCC Doubles Mandatory Contributions

Looking for a potential boost of more than $10 million to their electoral prospects, Senate Democrats have doubled the amount they expect to receive from their Caucus members and are requiring participation in a new hard-dollar fundraising program.

Seeking to close the gap with Republicans on hard-dollar donations, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Corzine (N.J.) has asked his colleagues to at least double their donations to the DSCC from the political action committees they control, according to party strategists.

Members of the Senate’s Democratic leadership team and committee ranking members are being asked to kick in $100,000 this cycle from their leadership PACs and their re-election committees, up from the $50,000 minimum they were expected to give last cycle. The remaining rank-and-file Senate Democrats have been asked to donate $50,000 to the DSCC, up from $20,000 last cycle.

In addition to those donations, however, Corzine and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) have instituted a new program that will keep track of how much money individual Senators raise from their donors for the DSCC. Leaders are expected to raise an additional $250,000 for the DSCC, meaning each leader or ranking member should account for a minimum of $350,000 of cash for the committee.

Rank-and-file Senators are expected to raise an additional $100,000 from their donors, making their participation worth a minimum of $150,000 a piece to the DSCC.

The new programs come as the DSCC has shown some surprising strength in fundraising, given the expectations that the National Republican Senatorial Committee would swamp it now that the unlimited “soft money” donations are outlawed.

In the first quarter, the DSCC eclipsed even its own initial estimates, reporting $5.1 million raised. That total puts the Democratic committee at near parity with its Republican counterpart, which raised $5.4 million in the quarter.

The DSCC had $2.5 million left to spend, while the NRSC had roughly $1.5 million. The DSCC still carried $6 million in debt, however, while the NRSC is debt-free.

Regardless of the debt, Democrats were thrilled with being so close to the Republicans for first-quarter contributions, attributing some of that success to the work of members of their Caucus.

“We have set down some markers for the Caucus,” Daschle said last week in an interview with Roll Call, declining to specify the precise goals for leaders and rank-and-file Senators. “We didn’t think we could do it [$5.1 million raised], but we did and so we feel very good. And one of the reasons we feel good is because of the tremendous participation within our Caucus. It’s been exemplary.”

Corzine, who also declined to be specific regarding the fundraising goals for individual Democrats, said the most critical aspect of raising money from within the Caucus is the signal it sends to other potential donors around the country — that the Caucus believes it can win and is putting its own money behind the effort.

Senate Democrats have always been quite hesitant at fundraising, particularly the sometimes cumbersome task of going to the DSCC and making the necessary phone calls to rake in the dollars. Now, however, the committee’s new multimillion-dollar building, bought last year with soft money, is on Maryland Avenue Northeast, directly across the street from the Senate office buildings.

“The new convenience takes away an excuse,” one strategist said.

With two or three of their top leaders facing possibly the toughest races this cycle, potentially distracting them from party-wide fundraising efforts, Democrats are hoping that a broad, Caucus-wide program could provide a serious jump in funds.

With close to 30 Senate Democrats considered leadership or ranking members, full participation in the new fundraising programs would result in more than $10 million for the DSCC. The remaining 18 or so Democrats could provide close to $3 million if they meet all of their contribution and fundraising goals for the committee.

“We face a huge task to overcome the hard-money advantage,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a member of Daschle’s leadership team. Dorgan is up for re-election in 2004 and, if former North Dakota Gov. Ed Schafer (R) enters the race, Dorgan would face his stiffest challenge in more than a decade.

Dorgan noted that the idea of “good government” prompted Democrats to support the new campaign laws, even though Republicans have been much better at raising the limited, hard-dollar donations from individuals and PACs. While raising roughly comparable amounts overall, the NRSC outraised the DSCC on hard money by a $59 million to $48 million margin.

The program to raise money from Senators’ PACs, dubbed “Stars,” began in the 2000 cycle under then-DSCC Chairman Robert Torricelli (N.J.). In the 2002 cycle, it generated about $2.1 million in hard money.

Particularly challenging for Democrats this cycle could be the amount of time leaders have to spend on their own fundraising efforts, as opposed to boosting the coffers of the DSCC and other candidates.

Dorgan and Daschle both could face very difficult races, as could Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) if Rep. Jim Gibbons

(R) challenges him.

Daschle and Reid proved to be monster donors to the DSCC last cycle. Reid gave the DSCC $493,000 for the 2002 campaign, according to records with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.

Almost $400,000 of that came in the final two months of the campaign season, and all of it in the form of soft money from his Searchlight Fund PAC. Daschle gave $700,000 to the DSCC, with $650,000 of it from the soft-money account of his DASHPAC.

Also not playing an active role in the fundraising effort for Democrats this time around will be the presidential contenders for the 2004 nomination, four of whom hail from the Senate. In an effort to boost candidates’ chances in the 2002 cycle and to possibly gain chits for their own cause in 2004, those Senators funneled large sums of money into the DSCC or the state party committees where the tightest races were.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), for example, dumped $110,000 into the DSCC’s soft-money account in the final weeks of the campaign.

Democrats say they know the challenges ahead of them, and there is a renewed spirit in the Caucus. “We have met those challenges and exceeded expectations,” said DSCC spokesman Mike Siegel, “through an aggressive fundraising strategy that will continue to play out as part of a larger strategy for the ’04 election cycle.”