Members of Congress contributed a record $36 million from their personal campaign coffers to Congressional campaign committees during the 2004 election cycle — a clear consequence of the soft-money ban enforced by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.
This heavy reliance on lawmakers as donors resulted in an extra $13 million for party committees — a 35 percent increase over 2002. The four Congressional campaign committees alone registered a 40 percent increase in donations from Members.
These figures emerged from a study by Temple University political science professor Robin Kolodny that was presented last week during a Campaign Finance Institute conference on the impact of BCRA.
House Democrats gave a total of $17.8 million to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last year, while their GOP counterparts donated $18.4 million to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Two years earlier, Democratic lawmakers gave only $12.1 million to their House and Senate committees, whereas Republicans donated $13.9 million to their respective committees.
Senators also upped their contributions to the parties. Overall, Senate Democratic contributions to the Democratic party committees jumped from $1.6 million in 2002 to $6.3 million in 2004. Senate Republicans transferred $2.4 million from their coffers to the party in 2004, compared with only $1.9 million in 2002.
While the study compared a presidential cycle to a non-presidential cycle, that difference cannot account for increases of that magnitude.
Party committee lawyers who spoke at Friday’s conference acknowledged the increased reliance on Member money in the post-BCRA environment, but did not appear to be particularly surprised or worried about it.
NRCC General Counsel Don McGahn said Members were warned well in advance that they would need to ante up more cash, given the new set of campaign finance laws.
“It was not a mystery consequence,” McGahn said. “It was something that was explained to Members. … They knew it was coming.”
Democratic election lawyer Bob Bauer noted that the appearance of heavier Member-to-Member fundraising obviously pointed to a “resource deficiency” in the party, but he cautioned against blaming the problem on BCRA alone.
Gary Jacobson, a University of California at San Diego political scientist who spoke at Friday’s event, said that ultimately, BCRA appears to have had “very little” effect on the financing of House and Senate campaigns in 2004.
He acknowledged that the new law may have rechanneled campaign funds in different ways and made it easier to raise money from individuals. But Jacobson argued that there was “little evidence that BCRA had any substantive effect on the cost, conduct, extent, competitiveness or results of the 2004 Congressional campaigns.”
Nonetheless, Jacobson said he was unable to pinpoint any House or Senate race in which the expenditure of more money would have made a difference in the outcome — which led him to conclude that BCRA has had “no discernible” effect on the level of competition for office.
In fact, Jacobson’s analysis of Federal Election Commission Data showed that spending by Senate campaigns continued to increase between 2002 and 2004 when measured against the number of voting-age residents in the state.
Spending per voting-age resident by incumbents rose from $2.81 in 2002 to $3.31 in 2004, while spending by challengers increased from $1.47 to $1.82. Only spending by open-seat candidates dropped, from $2.11 in 2002 to $1.62 in 2004.
The 2004 contest in which Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) was ousted by former Rep. John Thune (R) was the most expensive contest in the nation, with the candidates together spending a total of nearly $34 million. In a lightly populated state, that worked out to $59.52 per voter.
The Alaska Senate race between Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) and former Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles was the second-most expensive, with expenditures totalling about $10.9 million, or $23.84 per voter.
By comparison, one of the cheapest Senate contests was in the Peach State. Rep. Denise Majette (D-Ga.) spent $1.7 million — or approximately 27 cents per voter — in a losing cause against her GOP opponent, Johnny Isakson, who spent almost $7.9 million, or $1.23 per voter.