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Republican Senators Aid NRSC

In a bid to keep pace with their Democratic counterparts, Senate Republicans have begun to move six-figure donations from their re-election accounts into the coffers of the GOP’s campaign committee.

Majority Whip Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week donated $250,000 in excess cash from his campaign account to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, a move that prompted NRSC Chairman George Allen (Va.) to give the Whip a gold-plated trophy at Tuesday’s party luncheon.

McConnell’s donation, the largest to date to the NRSC, was matched at the luncheon when Republican Conference Chairman Rick Santorum (Pa.) pledged to donate $250,000 to the committee. GOP sources said Allen himself planned to match the $250,000 donation next week.

Adding in donations from a couple other Senators who recently gave more than $100,000, Senate Republicans will have pumped more than $1 million into the NRSC’s coffers over a two-week period.

“A lot of other people are stepping up to the plate now, as well,” said McConnell, the largest donor to the NRSC from his Conference. “Everyone wants to stay in the majority.”

President Bush’s campaign team earlier this month pledged the NRSC $1 million in leftover primary campaign funds if the Senators matched that total. NRSC officials are now hopeful that the $1 million from Bush Cheney ’04 Inc. will be delivered to the committee in time to meet the Sept. 30 filing deadline.

Republicans said the big push to get Senators to unload money from some of their bulging re-election accounts was an overt effort to try to keep pace with Senate Democrats, who have been far more generous to date to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Earlier this month, Minority Whip Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — who is facing a relatively easy re-election challenge this fall — gave $1 million from his campaign account to the DSCC.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who was sitting on almost $22 million as of June 30 despite nominal opposition, has given at least $500,000 to the DSCC and is giving roughly another $500,000 to state party committees where key Senate races are taking place.

In addition, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), whose nearly $250 million presidential primary campaign closed with more than $50 million in leftover cash, transferred $3 million to the DSCC. And former Vice President Al Gore gave the committee $1 million in left-over funds from a legal account from his 2000 campaign.

Those donations alone total nearly $6 million — money the DSCC can use in what will likely be 10 key races down the stretch. The donations from Democratic Senators has helped make up for a large cash-on-hand advantage for the NRSC. At the end of August, the NRSC held a more than 2-to-1 advantage over the DSCC, $22.5 million to $10.5 million.

Allen, whose trophy to McConnell was labeled a “Hall of Fame” effort, said the Democrats were trailing in every area of fund-raising except for from within their respective caucuses.

“We need our Senators, if they can, to also pitch in,” he said Tuesday. “Some need to do more and hopefully after today they will be inspired.”

Several other Senators were singled out for praise at Tuesday’s luncheon, including Sens. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Judd Gregg (R-N.H.). Both Cochran and Gregg stand to be chairmen in the 109th Congress if the Republicans maintain their majority, with Cochran taking over the plum assignment of the Appropriations Committee and Gregg having a choice between Budget or Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Cochran gave $100,000 to the NRSC on Tuesday, while Gregg dished out $100,000 to the committee in the past week. Retiring Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) also gave $100,000 to the committee Tuesday.

The new campaign finance laws did away with large, unregulated donations to the party campaign committees. But Members of Congress — who have raised money for their campaign accounts in regulated limits of $2,000 from individuals and $5,000 from political action committees — can declare any amount of their war chest to be excess funds, which makes them ripe for transfer to party committees.

With the demise of soft money, the party committees have increasingly turned to Members and their campaign accounts as the last bastion of six- and seven-figure checks. Members can also give up to $15,000 per year to the party committees from their leadership PACs.

McConnell, who is running to be Senate GOP leader once Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.) resigns after 2006, has now given a total of $380,000 to the NRSC this election cycle. (See related story, page 1.)

Last week’s $250,000 check from McConnell came on top of $100,000 he had already given from his campaign account. Separately, his leadership PAC has given $30,000 to the committee.

As soon as the $250,000 checks from Santorum and Allen have cleared, they will be next in line in terms of donations to the committee, totalling close to $280,000 each from their campaigns and PACs.

Frist is also one of the largest donors to the NRSC, which he chaired last cycle, having given $145,000 from his campaign account and his PAC.

Allen, who declined to talk about his own large check, said he hopes to be able to announce more big donations from his colleagues in the weeks ahead.

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