NRCC Has Highest Refund Rate

Posted March 12, 2004 at 5:38pm

The National Republican Congressional Committee has returned an eye-popping 652 contributions totaling $827,623 this election cycle, a return rate far exceeding that of any other national political committee, Federal Election Commission records show.

By way of comparison the NRCC’s counterpart, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has refunded only $52,990 from 13 contributors, according to the DCCC’s FEC filings.

Likewise, the Democratic National Committee returned 29 contributions totaling about $25,000, and the Republican National Committee refunded 79 contributors to the tune of $163,643.

NRCC spokesman Carl Forti said he was unaware of why the committee had refunded so many donors’ dollars, but promised to check into it.

NRCC donors, however, provided myriad reasons for why they got their money back.

Lucy Morrelli, the owner of Ligori’s Pizza and Pasta in Ogden, Utah, said she requested that the committee return the $5,000 contribution she made in May, 2003, not because of anything the NRCC had done, but because a family emergency created a financial crisis.

“My daughter had surgery,” she said.

Morrelli said she was pleased that the NRCC promptly returned her money — “no questions asked” — and she’s enjoyed the frequent mailings and surveys she receives from the committee since she joined the NRCC’s Business Advisory Council when she made her first political donation of $500 to the party committee last April.

In fact, the NRCC has come under considerable scrutiny for using the Business Advisory Council in its fundraising calls, in which telemarketers inform individuals that they’ve won a leadership award and invite them to serve as part of the NRCC’s elite group — and of course make a $300 or $500 contribution.

As Roll Call reported last December, the wildly successful fundraising scheme hit upon a snag when the committee accidentally accepted contributions from foreigners, who by law are not allowed to make federal contributions.

But Morrelli doesn’t seem to mind. She said that being part of the organization gives a small-business owner in Utah a voice in Washington, D.C.

Morrelli ticks off the questions in one recent NRCC “chairman’s survey” sitting on her desk at work — questions about tax cuts, the stock market, consumer confidence and unemployment — and said she’s enjoyed sending correspondence to NRCC Chairman Tom Reynolds (N.Y.), including one in which she shared her displeasure about the fact that the Ten Commandments are not allowed to be displayed in public spaces.

“I got a big reply back — ‘You have been nominated businesswoman of the year!’” exclaimed Morrelli.

Wanda Smith, a GOP donor from Mississippi who is also a member of the Business Advisory Council, said she received a contribution refund from the NRCC after attending the committee’s annual President’s Dinner last May — a chaotic event that she said left many donors clamoring for refunds.

“That thing was not organized at all. It was terrible,” said Smith, who heads up a small mortgage firm in Hickory, Miss.

Smith said about 1,500 people showed up to the events surrounding the dinner, which had seating for about 100, and that people ended up standing in hallways.

“There were probably 800 or 900 people upset about the whole deal,” said Smith, who drove 24 hours from Mississippi to attend the events, but wound up standing in a hallway while notable Republicans discussed tax cuts.

“I didn’t really ask for a refund,” Smith said.

But two days after she returned to Mississippi, NRCC officials sent a letter explaining that they planned to refund the money she had paid to attend the dinner.

In fact, numerous donors listed as having received refunds confirmed that they had been initiated as first-time NRCC contributors by way of the Business Advisory Council fundraising operation.

While the NRCC touts the organization on the Web as a “small, prestigious group of conservative businessmen and women, who have joined with the NRCC to advocate a progressive, conservative, pro-business agenda,” a Google search offered up a surprising sampling of some of the thousands of Americans who have been anointed with membership in the elite-sounding group.

For instance, the San Francisco-based software company ASD Global announced on its Web site that Manu Chatterjee, chairman and founder of ASD Global, has been “honored with the 2003 Businessman of the Year Award from the [NRCC].”

The National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers’ Web site announces proudly that two of its own — Charles Wood of Georgia and John Marrazzo of New Jersey — have been selected Businessmen of the Year by the NRCC.

And Soft Path Systems, a six-year-old IT group headquartered in New York but supported by its offshore development center in India, announces in the news section of its Web site that the firm’s founder, president and CEO, Venkat Reddi, has been named “2003 Businessman of the Year” by the NRCC.

Hany Said, a California businessman who runs Advanced Environmental Systems, had never given a political dime until 2003, when like thousands of others in the small-business community, he decided to join the Business Advisory Council.

Said refused to discuss his actual contributions — FEC disclosures show he made $8,000 in contributions to the NRCC and received a $2,500 refund last December — but said he felt it was time to start participating in the political process, and money is just a part of that.

“It’s just people — we’re starting to realize that we have to support the people that we believe that this country needs to have in charge. So we can be in the right path. That’s what prompted us,” said Said, who has discovered that “some of the time that the candidates and the politicians are not as quite informed as they should be.”

“I think it keeps us involved in what’s going on,” he continued. “You get involved in the politics of things, and part of politics is you help candidates and donate to the party. By that, you feel that you become part of it. Before we were very passive. Now it’s time.”

On March 31 and April 1, the NRCC will host another Washington event for members of its Business Advisory Council — a “Congressional Tax Summit and Businessman of the Year Award Ceremony” in Washington. A tentative agenda describes a leadership breakfast with Reynolds, a discussion on “Targeted Tax Cuts” and a “2004 Market Outlook.”

Those making additional contributions to the NRCC will also be allowed to attend the committee’s 2004 Republican Gala, “Countdown to Victory in 2004,” featuring President Bush as the special guest.

Neither the bad press nor her dismal experience in Washington last year have dampened Smith’s enthusiasm for the NRCC.

“I’m going to send a donation next week,” she said, offering an explanation for why the Democrats are so far behind Republicans in the money race.

“Their problem is they’re lazy,” Smith said. “They want to talk about it, but they don’t want to do it. You got to get out there and pound the pavement.”