GOP Money Woes Could Get Worse

Posted January 23, 2009 at 6:04pm

Fundraising prospects for House and Senate Republicans probably could not get any worse than they were in the 2008 election cycle. Or could they?

Without a Congressional majority or a member of their party in the Oval Office, the National Republican Congressional Committee and National Republican Senatorial Committee could be looking at an even more challenging financial landscape in 2010. The GOP’s main money-making event of the year — the annual summertime president’s dinner that brought in almost $24 million in 2008 — will be lacking its obvious headliner.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but there’s a lot of talented people at both committees and they’ve got a lot of experience in fundraising,” said Nathan Wurtzel, a Republican fundraising consultant. “There are a growing number of Republican stars who are sort of out of the Beltway now who would make very good dinner guests.”

Wurtzel acknowledged, however, that the NRCC and the NRSC will still have their work cut out for them this cycle without control of Congress or the White House.

“We’re in the minority in Washington, and we’ve got a Republican base nationwide that is dispirited at the moment,” he said. “It’s a challenge, but it’s doable. Everybody was predicting the death of the Democratic Party 10, 15 years ago, and look what happened.”

The NRCC announced Friday that Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) has been tapped to headline its March dinner, which raised $8.6 million for the committee in 2008. In an e-mail to donors, NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) called Jindal “part of a new generation of leadership in our Party.”

Jindal and Sessions also happen to share the same team of political consultants through the firm On Message Inc.

In the 2002 and 2004 cycles, the first two elections of former President George W. Bush’s term, Congressional Republicans held a wide fundraising advantage over Democrats, in part because Bush was such a prodigious fundraiser on behalf of downticket candidates. It wasn’t until 2006, as Bush’s popularity waned, that Democrats began to catch up to their counterparts. Even as Bush was a lame duck and had extremely poor approval ratings heading into the 2008 elections, he was still useful for the GOP as a high-dollar fundraising tool for the party faithful.

But with Bush now back in Texas, the GOP is set to turn to a new generation of headliners. Republican sources said names such as Jindal, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani will likely be tapped to headline committee events or sign off on fundraising mail solicitations. One Republican operative said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), in particular, was helpful to House candidates in 2008 and could be helpful again in 2010.

But Republican fundraisers also said the most expensive ticket in town could be to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s (R) first major event in Washington, D.C. The controversial 2008 vice presidential pick has only been to the capital city a couple of times since she was elected governor.

“Sarah Palin is beloved by the masses,” said Andrew Theodore, a Republican fundraising consultant. “My guess is that a Sarah Palin direct-mail piece would be a phenomenal direct-mail piece put out by the committees.”

In fact, the NRCC’s most productive fundraising week of the entire 2008 cycle occurred after McCain picked Palin for the ticket.

GOP consultant Carl Forti argued that fundraising in general might be easier for the party now and that Republicans’ biggest fundraising tool could be the Democratic Party. A former veteran staffer at the NRCC, Forti worked at the committee for four cycles while his party was in the majority.

“When you look at the fact that you have a Democrat president, a Democrat House, they are now the bogeymen. It tends to make fundraising a little easier,” Forti said.

To make up the difference, the NRSC is looking to change a part of its fundraising focus away from soliciting donations from sitting Senators to a national finance committee model instead. In other words, the committee will raise money more like a campaign — and less like a national party.

“In the past there’s been an over-reliance on individual Senators coming to events or supporting us or giving money from their own accounts,” NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. “We’re also going to spend more time out of Washington having a structure outside of just individual Senators.”

Meanwhile, as soon as Democrats assumed control of the White House last week, the resulting monetary advantages for the party became apparent. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was quick to capitalize on President Barack Obama’s inauguration in a fundraising solicitation penned by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). In the e-mail, Pelosi offers a DCCC commemorative 8-by-10 glossy photo of Obama’s first dance with his wife to donors who give $25 or more by a deadline.

DCCC spokesman Ryan Rudominer declined to say how many of the “exclusive commemorative photos” have been picked up so far. Rudominer would also not comment on whether the DCCC would have Obama for an annual fundraising dinner or other events.

“President Obama has already been helpful this cycle, giving the DCCC $3.5 million to help retire our debt, and we hope to look to Obama’s team more as we go on,” Rudominer said.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller would not say whether the committee had received funds from Obama’s campaign, instead deferring to the fundraising report that will be released at the end of January.

Miller also said it was too early in the cycle to know whether Obama would headline anything similar to the Republicans’ president’s dinner.