House Republicans, seeing scores of seats within their grasp, are turning up the fundraising heat on corporations and trade associations, groups they hope will push their party over the finish line on Election Day.
National Republican Congressional Committee Deputy Chairman Greg Walden (Ore.) last week called out more than 100 downtown political action committee representatives at the Capitol Hill Club for giving too much campaign cash to Democrats this cycle, according to multiple sources.
While Walden stopped short of threatening the PAC executives with political retribution, a source in attendance observed that his point was clear: “Republican leadership is watching.”
“He asked people to be very strategic and practical, to take a look at their giving patterns and just don’t mindlessly give,” said another source who was at the meeting in the GOP hangout.
Sources say Walden’s pitch to the downtown business community is simple: Democrats are bad for your bottom line and “the business agenda is more closely aligned with a Republican majority than with a Democratic majority.”
The NRCC PAC meetings also have seen their attendance spike in recent months, sources confirmed, as polls suggest possible heavy House Democratic losses in the November midterm elections.
“Last year at this time, you probably could’ve held it in a phone booth at the Capitol Hill Club,” a Republican lobbyist said. “But this meeting was an overflowing room.”
Another source confirmed that Walden showcased an internal analysis of what Republicans consider the stingiest trade groups downtown. According to an internal NRCC tally obtained by Roll Call, hovering near the top of that list is the American Health Care Association PAC, which through Feb. 1 gave just 27 percent of its overall $582,000 in contributions to Republican candidates and committees.
A lobbyist for the trade group said the organization takes a “balanced approach” to its political giving and warned against drawing conclusions before the cycle’s end.
“Two years is a long political time,” American Health Care Association lobbyist Cynthia Morton said. “We tend to end up balancing out.”
A campaign finance analysis available through CQ MoneyLine appears to confirm Morton’s claim. Although the organization last cycle gave $596,000 in political contributions — roughly 65 percent of its total — to Democratic candidates, the American Health Care Association’s PAC has given Democratic candidates 53 percent of campaign contributions since 1980.
The National Community Pharmacists Association is also under pressure from House Republicans to step up its giving to GOP candidates. After breaking more than 2-to-1 for Democrats last cycle, data show, the trade association’s apparent zeal for Democratic candidates is unchanged.
According to the internal NRCC tally, the trade group as of Feb. 1 had given $376,000 — or 35 percent of its political contributions — to Republican political committees. John Norton, a National Community Pharmacists Association spokesman, said the group “does not tilt one way or another” ideologically.
“That allows us to not create huge enemies,” he said.
In the past 30 years, the NCPA has given 67 percent of its campaign contributions to Democratic candidates, according to CQ MoneyLine.
These days, the American Physical Therapy Association is also awash in GOP ire. As of Feb. 1, the organization had given only 37 percent of its contributions to Republicans, according to the NRCC’s internal count. For the three election cycles before the current one, the PAC gave the majority of its candidate contributions to Republicans.
In an interview, Mike Matlack, director of political affairs, said that the trade group’s political giving tends to mimic the party ratios on Capitol Hill.
“There’s always probably going to be a light tilt to whoever is in power,” he said.
Another factor perhaps fueling Walden’s pleas to K Street are the ongoing woes at the Republican National Committee and what they mean for the NRCC and other GOP party committees. As of March 1, the RNC had $9.5 million in cash, while the Democratic National Committee had $10.7 million, according to CQ MoneyLine.
While Walden didn’t directly mention recent hiccups at the RNC, a Republican lobbyist present at Tuesday’s PAC meeting said that “the undercurrent in the room was that the RNC is challenged.”
“The resources that traditionally would be there from the RNC aren’t,” the lobbyist said. “The difference in the result of the election in those 100 seats we’re going to contest … is going to depend on how successful we are as a party and committee at raising money.”
NRCC Communications Director Ken Spain declined to comment on the RNC.
“Over the past few election cycles, Democrats have been on the receiving end of the overwhelming majority of PAC contributions,” Spain said in a statement. Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) “is grateful for the support the NRCC has received not only from the downtown community, but from the increased number of grass roots donors across the country.”
Another Republican lobbyist said that an uptick in GOP giving by downtown groups is already palpable. The source said many corporations and trade associations overcompensated after the 2008 election, in which Democrats won the White House and majorities in both chambers.
“There was an initial leap last year with all of these PAC budgets to get left real quick, and a lot of them did that,” the source said. “You’re starting to see a shift. … It’s a combination of the environment changing and a dissatisfaction with the government.”
Walden also won high marks from the lobbyist for how he’s not framing his pitch.
“I don’t think that shaming the PAC community ever works,” the source said. “The best argument I think we have is the one Walden is making, that we have the right philosophy, that smaller government is better and that if we only had 20, 25, 30 more seats than a lot of this bad stuff may very well go away.”