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Big Donation Aside, GOP 527s Lag

A wealthy California businessman has made the first $1 million contribution to a “527” organization dedicated to helping President Bush and Republicans in this fall’s elections.

“It’s our first million-dollar check,” confirmed Brian McCabe, the head of Progress for America, which received the donation from an individual the group declined to identify.

Despite the large contribution, Progress for America and a handful of other 527 organizations are still expected to post far-slimmer fundraising totals than their better-organized Democratic counterparts when quarterly reports are made public this week.

With just three and a half months remaining until Election Day, GOP fundraisers now concede that there is little chance that they can match the $100 million that Democratic 527s plan to raise and spend in support of Democratic candidates in November.

“With the short electoral calendar facing us and the huge advantage that the Democrats enjoy, it’s probably impossible to catch the Democrats before the election,” conceded Republican lobbyist and fundraiser Bob Rusbuldt.

“We are still in the sandlot league compared to the major leagues of the Democratic groups,” added Rusbuldt, the president of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America. “We are raising money in $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 and $25,000 increments, and they get these huge checks.”

Named for a portion of the federal tax code, 527s became a favored vehicle for big donors after Congress outlawed soft-money donations to parties.

Democrats got off to an early start organizing 527s oriented toward the presidential election. But just a few months ago, Republicans boasted that they would raise as much as $70 million to support Bush and other Republican candidates.

However, fundraising reports due this week are expected to show that Democratic 527s far outraised those controlled by Republicans in April, May and June.

Progress for America, for instance, raised just a few million dollars, though officials at the political organization say they have secured pledges for a few million more.

Another GOP 527 group, Americans for Jobs and Growth, hopes to raise just $6 million in all of 2004 to run pro-Republican television advertisements in Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin.

The Leadership Forum, a group run by former Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.) and Republican aide Susan Hirschmann, also plans to report less than a few million dollars in contributions in the past few months.

Officials at the Leadership Forum say they have $2 million in pledges, but not all of the money has come in to their accounts.

“We have a lot of pledges and we are in the process of turning those pledges into dollars,” Hirschmann said.

Last Tuesday, contributors to the Leadership Forum were treated to a private D.C. dinner with Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) at the District ChopHouse & Brewery.

About 40 Republicans attended the dinner, including former Rep. Susan Molinari (N.Y.); Gregg Hartley, a one-time aide to House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) who’s now with Cassidy & Associates; Dave Hoppe, a former aide to Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.) who’s now with Quinn Gillespie & Associates; and Tim Rupli, a close adviser to House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

Hastert briefed those in attendance about the Congressional schedule and his view on a few issues, according to individuals who were there.

On Thursday, the Leadership Forum will hold a similar dinner for top contributors with New York Gov. George Pataki (R) in Manhattan.

The organizers of the Leadership Forum have not yet specifically decided how they will spend the millions of dollars that they will raise.

Paxon, a lobbyist with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, said the money will be spent “promoting our policies and philosophies and principles.”

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