Cole: Conference Needs to Close Cash Gap

Posted October 17, 2007 at 7:00pm

National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole (Okla.) painted a volatile and uncertain 2008 political landscape on Wednesday and intimated that members of his own Conference need to do more financially to help the party win seats next year.

At a briefing with reporters, Cole noted that Democratic Members have transferred money from their individual re-election funds to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee at roughly double the level that GOP Members have donated to the NRCC. After paying down a large debt from the 2006 elections, the NRCC currently has a more than 10-to-1 cash-on-hand disadvantage compared with the DCCC — which announced Wednesday it had more than $28 million in the bank at the end of September.

That disparity can level out over time, Cole said, if GOP Members are willing to do what it takes to compete with the tenacious Democratic effort.

The NRCC has just kicked off its fall dues campaign, in which it will be soliciting transfers in excess campaign funds from Members.

“We have the ability, if our members make the decision, to eliminate the debt,” Cole said, estimating that the members of the Republican Conference are sitting on roughly $94 million in re-election funds.

He added that it is an ongoing challenge for House GOP leaders, himself included, to work to remind Members why they need to give and to convince them that Republicans can reclaim the majority.

“Our guys have to believe they can win again,” he said.

Cole said that while he expected the committee’s financial situation to improve by next year, the circumstances of the cycle would force the committee to be “pretty ruthless” when it comes to making spending decisions.

“I don’t have enough money to be generous,” Cole said.

Rep. Tom Davis (Va.), a former two-term NRCC chairman, said the Member donations would come in time and noted that the 2006 election results have made Members more skittish than usual about giving early.

“Everyone’s worried about their own race,” Davis said.

He explained that one Member he had recently spoken to noted his apprehension about transferring a sum as large as $100,000 from his campaign fund to the NRCC because it might make him look like a more attractive target to Democrats.

“They’ll get it when they need it,” Davis said, referring to the NRCC.

Davis also praised the job Cole is doing as chairman, especially when it comes to recruiting. He said the poor political environment for Republicans and the heavy strain it has put on the party’s fundraising ability isn’t Cole’s fault.

“K Street’s quit the party. Wall Street’s quit the party. The small donors have quit the party,” Davis said, adding that Members weren’t going to follow suit.

Rep. Steven LaTourette (Ohio) said he, too, has been slower to give to the NRCC this cycle because of concerns about his own re-election prospects. But he said he still plans to do his part.

“I got a sheet that tells me what’s expected of me and I’m going to do what I have to do,” LaTourette said.

At the briefing on Wednesday, Cole did not specifically address the early September dust-up he had with Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) in which the two men had a heated discussion about fundraising and a disagreement over the staff and operations at the NRCC. Cole said the entire GOP leadership team has been helpful to him and is aiding the committee’s efforts.

GOP insiders maintain that Boehner and Cole continue to meet on a regular basis — in fact they met twice this week — and that they have moved on from the incident in which Boehner demanded staff changes be made. However, other sources say the relationship between the two men is still frosty and that the discord has helped foster some reluctance among Members about giving to the committee.

Meanwhile, Cole defended the committee’s overall fundraising, saying that the NRCC was continuing to raise money despite the worst political environment Republicans have faced in a decade.

“We’re raising a lot of money here,” Cole said.

Cole likened the debt to running a “race with ankle weights on” and said it had been a continuing challenge.

In an indication that the DCCC’s financial advantage remains strong three quarters into the year, the NRCC declined to reveal its fundraising numbers on Wednesday. The DCCC, meanwhile, revealed that it raised $16 million from July 1 to Sept. 30, to close the period with $28.3 million in cash on hand and a debt of $2.9 million.

Democrats contend that Cole will have trouble holding Republican-held open seats — never mind attacking any of the 60 Democrats representing districts that voted for President Bush in 2004 — without sufficient funds.

Democrats also dismissed Cole’s theory that Democratic control of Congress means voters’ anti-Washington, anti-incumbent mood will cause Democratic House candidates more problems in 2008 than it will for Republicans.

“The notion national Republicans are anti-Washington is laughable. They have symbolized everything that is wrong with Washington for years,” DCCC spokesman Doug Thornell said. “Our candidates are going to aggressively challenge veteran Republican Members who were part of the problem under [former Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [R-Texas] and now obediently stand by George Bush as loyal foot soldiers blocking change.”