The Democrats’ well-oiled money machine
By: Byron Tau and Tarini Parti
February 1, 2014 07:01 AM EST
The Democratic Party has created a well-oiled fundraising machine.
While unlikely to recapture the House of Representatives and playing defense in key Senate battlegrounds, party leaders and their allies have created an efficient and well-run cash operation consisting of a small network of outside groups and party committees with distinct, concrete responsibilities.
The party’s House and Senate fundraising arms closed out 2013 with big cash hauls bolstered by extensive fundraising commitments by President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
On the outside group front, Senate Majority PAC and House Majority PAC have emerged as legitimate and well-funded rivals to conservative outside groups like Karl Rove’s Crossroads network and the House-focused Congressional Leadership Fund. Both groups on their own beat the entirety of Rove’s Crossroads network in 2013, according to fundraising numbers released Friday.
And unlike their GOP counterparts, Democratic Senate and House candidates are facing few serious, intraparty primary battles — allowing party organizations and Democratic outside groups to conserve cash stockpiles for the general election.
“In 2012, Democratic groups began working in concert with an unprecedented level of synchronicity,” said Bill Burton, a former White House aide who co-helmed the super PAC Priorities USA Action in 2012. “That harmony has given the donor community a real sense of confidence that the state of the Democratic infrastructure is strong.”
On the Republican side, things are messier.
The GOP and their allies are unlikely to face a cash crunch any time soon. The party still maintains deep ties to business interests and has an entrenched network of megadonors accustomed to high-dollar political giving. That network has been supplemented by surging grassroots interest in conservative candidates and causes — accounting for the success of insurgent groups.
In addition, Republicans are more eager than Democrats to use anonymous money nonprofit groups which are not required to disclose their donors and don’t report their spending until well after election day. In short: the true scope of the GOP outside money operation is harder to discern until months after the ballots are counted.
But the party is in the midst of a big fight over its future and direction — and that’s reflected in the proliferation and splintering of outside groups.
Many tea party and grassroots conservative groups posted strong numbers at the Friday year-end filing deadline — in some cases rivaling their establishment counterparts.
The anti-establishment groups Senate Conservative Fund, Tea Party Patriots, Club For Growth, and Freedomworks and their affiliates together raised nearly $20 million dollars in 2013 — dwarfing what establishment groups raised through committees that disclose their donors.
The Tea Party Patriots raised $6.4 million all year — more than what Karl Rove and his three outside groups took in combined. Rove’s Crossroads groups — consisting of two super PACs and a nonprofit — raised $6.1 million. That’s a modest sum for a network that spent more than $300 million in 2012 to defeat Obama and Senate Democrats.
The Club For Growth alone tied Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC in the second half of 2013 — with each group raising $1.6 million. The Senate Conservatives Funds — a thorn in the side of the GOP establishment — raised $7.7 million in 2013. An affiliated super PAC took in another $1.6 million.
“Our PAC’s record of success in supporting champions of economic freedom like Marco Rubio, Pat Toomey and Ted Cruz speaks for itself. We’re proud of the support and trust we’ve built with Club members, and we look forward to adding to the ranks of fiscal conservatives serving in Congress in 2014,” said Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller.
Other conservative establishment groups posted modest or lackuster fundraising totals. The pro-immigration reform super PAC Republicans for Immigration reform raised just over $300,000 for the year, while the Congressional Leadership Fund — a super PAC that supports House Republicans — raised just shy of $1.1 million.
Charlie Spies, an election attorney and GOP fundraiser involved in both efforts said that there was some Republican donor apathy — especially on the House side.
“The most striking disparity so far in numbers is between Democrat and Republican groups focused on the House. The main challenge with donors on the Republicans side is that donors simply don’t believe our House majority is in jeopardy. If this trend continues, however, and Democrats continue to raise significantly more than Republicans, that alone could make November competitive,” Spies said.
In addition, Republican outside groups are much more splintered. Democrats have consolidated most their outside spending through just two groups: House Majority PAC and Senate Majority PAC. Both are led by veteran party operatives with deep ties to the party establishment. House Majority PAC raised $7.5 million on the year, while Senate Majority PAC raised $8.6 million in 2013.
Meanwhile, on the GOP side, dozens of independent super PACs have sprouted in key battleground states — increasing the overheard costs and decreasing the conservative movement’s ability to coordinate and stay on message. Many of those super PACs have emerged as a result of the nasty intraparty primary fights facing establishment figures like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky or Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi.
On the party committee front, Senate Democrats outraised their GOP counterparts by nearly $16 million. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee raised $52.6 million and the National Republican Senatorial Committee raised $36.7 million.
The House arm of the Democratic Party did just as well against their rivals. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee took in a record-breaking $75.8 million — more than $15 million better than the National Republican Congressional Committee fundraising in 2013.
The Democrats fundraising success in 2013 might be attributed at least in part to some of the groups renting the Obama campaign’s massive email list. The DSCC, House Majority PAC and Battleground Texas — which raised nearly $3 million last year — all paid for the list, according to the Obama campaign’s latest filing.
The list — which reportedly contained as many as 30 million email addresses at the conclusion of the 2012 campaign — can be used to for grassroots fundraising. Obama’s email and digital platforms raised him $525 million during the 2012 campaign.
The Democrats’ weak point is the Democratic National Committee. With $15.6 million in debt left from 2012, the party’s flagship committee is unlikely to be much help to downballot candidates during the 2014 cycle.
Saddled with the debt burden from Obama’s successful reelection campaign, the DNC managed to shrink their liabilities only by $5.4 million during the entirety of 2013.
“The DNC is working to retire our debt while we continue to make strategic investments in state parties and programs that will help Democrats win up and down the ballot in 2014, like voter protection, our data and technological infrastructure and communications,” a DNC official said.