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Cornyn Wants Senators’ Cash

Sen. John Cornyn has begun urging his colleagues to step up their giving to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, saying he needs an influx of high-dollar campaign donations to compete with Democrats and capitalize on the most favorable political environment in years.

Upon assuming the NRSC chairmanship in 2008, the Texas Republican made a strategic decision to avoid asking GOP Senators to make major transfers from their personal campaign accounts, something they have historically declined to do.

Instead, he asked them to help the NRSC raise money, including donating the maximum allowed from their leadership political action committees and transferring the individual donor limit of $30,400 annually from their campaign accounts.

Cornyn emphasized that Republicans have responded enthusiastically and provided the NRSC with crucial support. But with three months to go until Election Day and an outside chance at winning the majority, Cornyn is warning his colleagues that they might look back on Nov. 2 as a missed opportunity if Democrats continue to significantly outpace them in Member giving to campaign committees.

“How badly we want it is going to be reflected by how hard we all work to raise the money — from whatever source — to make sure that these races have the fuel that they need,” Cornyn said in an interview Tuesday. “This is our potential comeback, and I just think we need to make the most of it. I think the last thing any of us want to do is wake up on Nov. 3 and think [that] if we’d just done a little bit more, the outcome would have been different.”

For the election cycle through June 30, Democratic Senators had transferred $5.3 million in campaign and leadership PAC funds to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Republicans transferred just $642,000 to the NRSC during the same period. Nevertheless, the NRSC has kept pace in overall fundraising, ending June with $19.7 million in cash on hand compared with the DSCC’s $21.6 million.

Republicans need to flip 10 of the 11 Democratic-held Senate seats that they are targeting to regain the majority — a tall order, although no longer considered impossible. To do so, the GOP would need to hold open Republican seats in the swing states of Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire and Ohio, while also winning Democratic seats in a handful of solid blue states.

Senate Republican Policy Committee Chairman John Thune conceded that Member transfers are among the most effective ways for the NRSC to raise money and suggested Republican Senators might be willing to open their checkbooks if they are convinced that it can make a difference. The South Dakotan is up for re-election and closed the second quarter with
about $7 million in cash on hand, but he faces no Democratic or independent opposition.

“I think that most Senators are going to do everything they can to help us and our candidates, particularly if it looks like it’s going to make a difference in close races,” Thune said. “I think you’ll see a lot of people who are going to step up, and as these races get into the fall, get into the home stretch, and it looks like they’re competitive in a lot of places around the country, it’s going to take a lot of resources, and we’re going to have to find it wherever we can, and obviously Member contributions is one of them.”

Unlike Senate Democrats, Republicans in good years and bad have generally balked at funneling personal campaign funds to their campaign committee in any significant measure.

The prime example of this reticence is Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the ranking member on Banking Committee who has accumulated a whopping $17.2 million in campaign cash, plus an additional
$2.5 million in his leadership PAC account, but has given very little to the NRSC over the years.

But sensing an opportunity to significantly increase their numbers in the fall, some Republicans appear ready to reverse this trend. Even Shelby, who is up for re-election this year, has been active in headlining fundraisers for the NRSC in New York, where he has relationships from his years on the Banking panel.

In fact, while Republican Senators spent their weekly Tuesday lunch at NRSC headquarters receiving a political briefing on the upcoming elections, Shelby was in one of the committee’s basement suites making fundraising calls. Other Republicans say this level of participation from Shelby is unprecedented.

Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), who also is up for re-election against nominal opposition, said he “would hope” that his fellow Republicans loosen their purse strings this fall.

Sen. Jim DeMint said he plans to transfer campaign funds to the NRSC this fall if his re-election race doesn’t turn competitive and hopes his GOP colleagues follow suit if they’re able. The South Carolinian has been active this cycle through his leadership PAC in supporting Republican Senate candidates, sometimes clashing with the NRSC.

“I think there’s a growing excitement of the possibilities this fall, and I think we see so many races moving our way, I would like to think all of us will do everything we can from our campaigns. And, I certainly plan to if nothing changes in my race,” DeMint said.

Sen. Bob Corker said the flow of donations depends on where Republicans stand financially as they prepare not just for this year’s election, but for 2012 as well. The Tennessee Republican said he spent much of his first term paying down debt from his maiden 2006 campaign and is now focused on raising money for his 2012 re-election bid.

But Cornyn made clear that transfers would probably be necessary if the GOP is to realize major electoral gains this year. He noted that Democrats typically transfer campaign funds at the last minute and indicated he is worried such a move this year could erase any financial advantage the NRSC has over the DSCC as Nov. 2 approaches.

Cornyn specifically mentioned as a concern that Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) closed the second quarter with
$23.8 million on hand, faces minimal GOP opposition and could provide a key boost to the DSCC and Democratic candidates down the stretch.

“Where the Democrats tend to kill us is by last-minute transfers from their campaign accounts,” Cornyn said. “I’ve let all of my colleagues know what’s happened to us in the past and what we’re up against. And I hope some of them will step forward, and if they don’t need the resources themselves, consider doing more than we’ve already asked.”

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