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NRSC Readies Spoils

GOP Primary Victors Benefit from New Funds

The National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee has opened fundraising organizations to raise money that will be earmarked for the eventual nominees in nine targeted states that are playing host to competitive GOP primaries.

In doing so, the NRSC is taking advantage of an October Federal Election Commission opinion that allows donations to be collected through the party committees with the express purpose of transferring the money to the winning candidate’s bank account following the primary process.

“This helps prepare the eventual nominee to get off the ground and running,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Communications Director Dan Allen.

The NRSC conducted early tests of the efficacy of the program in both California and Illinois, which held their primaries earlier this month.

In California, the NRSC raised $60,000 through the “California Challenger Fund” that was immediately transferred to former Secretary of State Bill Jones (R) when he won the state’s March 2 primary.

Former investment banker Jack Ryan received a more modest $10,000 from the “Illinois Challenger Fund” when he won the March 16 primary.

Allen said that fundraising for both committees had been done through direct mail and phone banks; he predicted that “the more time we have running up to primaries to build this account, the more it will benefit the nominee the day after the primary is decided.”

Additional committees have been set up in Nevada, Wisconsin, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Colorado, all of which feature competitive Republican Senate primaries.

While none of the committees had done any active fundraising in year-end reports filed with the FEC, Allen said that in addition to direct mail and phone solicitation, the NRSC is weighing the possibility of staging D.C. fundraising events to benefit these committees.

In several states, a single politician is likely to lead the fundraising efforts for the newly-formed committees.

Rep. Katherine Harris (R-Fla.), who gained national renown during the 2000 Florida presidential recount, will play a lead role in raising money for the eventual Sunshine State nominee. Harris contemplated joining the Senate race herself before deciding to seek a second term in the House.

Ten Republicans are competing for the Senate nomination in Florida, with former Rep. Bill McCollum, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel Martinez and state House Speaker Johnnie Byrd comprising the top tier.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) is likely to be intimately involved with collecting funds for the “South Carolina Challenger Fund.”

Former Gov. David Beasley leads the Republican field in the Palmetto State, with Rep. Jim DeMint, former state Attorney General Charlie Condon and wealthy real estate developer Thomas Ravenel also in the mix.

Democrats are in the process of setting up a committee to direct campaign funds to their nominee in Florida but do not anticipate establishing similar organizations in other states.

“Unlike the Republicans we don’t have a lot of divisive or competitive primaries so this will not be a focus of [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] fundraising,” said DSCC spokeswoman Cara Morris.

In recent weeks Senate Democrats have grown increasingly confident that they are now an even-money bet to take back control of the Senate.

While Democrats have clearly bested Republicans in clearing out primaries for their preferred candidates in several targeted states, they must still cope with the retirements of five Democratic Senators in the South and a likely funding deficit in comparison to their GOP counterparts.

Republicans hope the newly minted fundraising committees will solve the problem of their candidates emerging from expensive primaries with little time or money remaining before the general election. This was the stated intention of the FEC commissioners when they approved the measure allowing these fundraising committees.

The opinion was handed down Oct. 9, 2003, in response to a new political action committee, called WE LEAD, which was started by a group of Democratic women with the aim of collecting earmarked hard-dollar contributions that would be transferred to the party’s eventual presidential nominee.

The FEC approved the venture, establishing a precedent for national party committees and other interested groups to create similar PACs to direct money to Congressional candidates.

Under the ruling, any contribution given to these committees will count against a donor’s overall limit to an individual candidate.

Therefore, if a donor gave $2,000 to “Florida Unity 2004” he or she would be banned from giving again to the eventual Republican nominee in the Florida Senate race.

The National Republican Congressional Committee used the ruling to create the “Kentucky-6 Republican General Election Committee” to raise money for the party’s nominee in the state’s special House election in February to replace now-Gov. Ernie Fletcher (R), who vacated the 6th district seat.

All told, the Kentucky fund generated $190,000 for state Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr (R), the vast majority of which came in the form of Member contributions. She lost that race to now-Rep. Ben Chandler (D) 55 percent to 43 percent.

Ben Pershing contributed to this report.

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