The Republican National Committee's inability to reach its own fundraising goals for this year's elections was more serious than its budget makers expected and the malaise has even spread to small-money donors, The Washington Times has learned.
As a result of poor fundraising compounded by controversial spending practices, the RNC will enter the 2012 presidential election cycle between $20 million and $25 million in debt — not the $15 million reported over the weekend.
"It's the biggest debt the national committee ever had going into a presidential election cycle — at least in my memory," said former RNC General Counsel David Norcross.
The only apparent bright side is that Republicans' money-starved national governing body at least may not have to go even deeper in debt to keep the doors open and the lights on through the election of a new national chairman, scheduled for Jan. 14 in Washington, as some veteran RNC members had feared.
"I don't think we will borrow more money," Treasurer Randy Pullen told The Times. "However, that would be up to the Budget and Executive committees. At some point, key vendors need to be paid."
In a weekend memo to other committee officials and members, Mr. Pullen said that, "going into 2011, the RNC should have about $20.5 million of debt carried over."
The official Pullen debt estimate, however, may be on the low side.
"I believe it will be closer to $25 million than $20 million," Mr. Norcross said. "I just got off the phone with Randy, and that's the impression I get. It costs them a couple of million to keep the building open till January."
Mr. Pullen said his report shows the RNC's finance division "has performed poorly" as measured against the target fundraising in the budget, itself a downward revision of earlier fundraising goals.
From January to November, the RNC's direct marketing programs - mail and telephone solicitations aimed at small donors - hit only about 77 percent of their targeted monthly budget goals.
"Major donor programs were even worse," Mr. Pullen said. He reported that the RNC raised only 53 percent of its budgeted goals from donors who give $1,000 or more.
The overall amount raised from small and large donors combined was 75 percent of budgeted expectations, 25 percent short and "well below the acceptable 10 percent variance that is usually considered reasonable."
Mr. Pullen noted that the largest share — $76.3 million — of the total fundraising came from direct marketing, while big-donor contributions made up only $7.5 million.
Requests for comment from RNC Budget Director Louis Pope and spokesman Doug Heye were not returned.
RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele and his supporters have argued that comparatively poor fundraising totals — $179 million this year compared with $405 million in the 2007-08 cycle by the RNC under Chairman Mike Duncan — are the expected result of the Democrats having the presidency, which attracts more donors, especially major donors seeking access.
"With or without a Republican president in the White House, major-donor giving has never been as low a percentage of the overall funds raised as we experienced this year," Mr. Pullen said.
But the worst news may be, Mr. Pullen suggested, "the extraordinarily high cost of fundraising" during the Steele administration. He said between January through September, the RNC got $82 million in contributions but only $31 million of that was left over after costs of fundraising were deducted.
"To put this into perspective, in 2006 — the last comparable cycle through September — the RNC spent $32.3 million on political operations alone," Mr. Pullen said, a greater figure than the entire 2010 cash available for all operations.
"Through September of this year, the RNC spent only $12.1 million on political operations," he said. "An additional $20 million would have gone a long ways in winning more races in 2010."
By comparison, according to financial data Mr. Pullen sent with his letter, the RNC raised $44 million from January through September 2006, compared with $38 million in the same period for this year. In 2006, direct mail raised $44.3 million through September, compared with $37.8 million through September in 2010.
"So whether we are discussing major-donor programs or direct marketing, in my opinion, 2010 does not compare favorably to any election in the past two decades," Mr. Pullen concluded.
News accounts over the weekend quoted the latest Federal Election Commission disclosures to report that both the Democratic and Republican national committees ended the midterm elections more than $15 million in debt.
But the two parties' reports to the FEC also showed the Democrats' committee outraised Republicans by $40 million for the year, while Democrats were able to spend $29 million more than the RNC on the elections in November.
In the 2002 and 2006 midterm elections, the RNC had raised $284 million and $243 million, respectively, compared with the $179 million under Mr. Steele for 2010.
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