RNC Foresees Big Cuts for Voter Drives

Tuesday, 06 Jul 2010 06:46 AM

By Ralph Z. Hallow

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With the party banking on major gains in midterm elections, the Republican National Committee is suddenly being hit with a severe cut in money originally budgeted to help state parties identify and get voters to the polls on Nov. 2, The Washington Times has learned.

The cuts, which RNC officials say still must be approved by the budget committee, would slice by a third the amount of money originally budgeted for targeted political operations, including funds to help state parties hire staff and beef up get-out-the-vote operations.

The $12.2 million downward revision means that state GOP operations will have to trim their Election Day "victory" programs, according to a new budget blueprint prepared for RNC Chairman Michael S. Steele and sent to members of the budget committee for approval.

Mr. Steele also faces fresh controversy within the party over his comments last week questioning the war in Afghanistan and dismissing it as a "war of [President] Obama's choosing." Mr. Steele has tried to soften his remarks, but GOP neoconservatives are saying he should resign.

Republicans are hoping for major gains in November in House, Senate and gubernatorial races.

Other conservative organs, including the Republican Governors Association and the Karl Rove-backed independent American Crossroads group, have reported impressive fundraising numbers in recent days. Mr. Rove was a senior adviser to President George W. Bush.

"We have a great opportunity to take the House and Senate, but now with this kind of financial kick in the pants we may not have the resources to pull it off," a senior member of the Republican Party's national governing body told The Times, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

According to RNC sources, the new budget blueprint foresees a $12.2 million drop — 34 percent in the fund for political operations, as well as lower projections for contributions from both small and major donors. The lower figures likely will mean corresponding cuts in state-level victory programs.

RNC spokesman Doug Heye denied that the party's national governing body faced a funding shortfall and said the budget committee would vote on any revisions for the second half of the year at the RNC's summer meeting. He did not address a question specifically asking about the proposed cuts to political operations.

"Adjusting budget numbers is a common practice," Mr. Heye said in an e-mail response. "For instance, in 2006, the RNC revised its budget on five separate occasions.

"There are currently no set budget numbers and we will make revisions as necessary," he added.

Mr. Steele's management skills and fundraising prowess have been under scrutiny even as the party's fortunes in the polls have been rising in recent months. Several big GOP donors have announced that they would be giving to other Republican organs and not the RNC this election cycle.

GOP sources told The Times that a major three-day fundraising event Mr. Steele organized late last month in Napa Valley, Calif., at which the price of admission was set at $60,800 per couple, proved a disappointment. RNC officials rounded up party VIPs to fill empty tables and opened the event to lower-paying donors, they said.

Mr. Heye said news reports that portrayed the Napa event as Mr. Steele's "biggest fundraiser to date" were inaccurate. He declined to say who attended or how many top party donors were at the event, but revealed that the California event raised $766,200 for the party's coffers. Mr. Heye did not say whether that was the event's gross or net take.

Mr. Steele's proposed budget amendment for 2010 projects that net money raised, including cash on hand, will decrease 26 percent, dropping to $50.3 million from the $68 million that the 168-member RNC approved at its winter meeting in January.

The previous projected RNC revenue from small donors in the January budget of $67.1 million has been revised to $51.4 million, a 23 percent drop.

In what RNC operatives consider a particularly ominous sign, the national office's political department will take a 34 percent cut in the money it has to spend on winning elections, from $35.5 million to $23.3 million.

Meanwhile, fundraising costs have risen from 50 percent of gross revenue to 60 percent.

Mr. Heye said the poor economy made it harder for all political organs to raise funds, and that the RNC has more money to spend than the rival Democratic National Committee when debt is factored into the equation.

Being the party out of power compounds the money challenge, Mr. Heye said.

"It costs more to raise money," he said. "When a party is out of power, there is no president, no speaker [of the House] or [Senate] majority leader to help raise money inexpensively."

But other Republican Party organs do not appear to have the same fundraising problems as the RNC.

Under Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the Republican Governors Association reported $18.9 million for the April-through-June period — which it says is its largest fundraising quarter ever. Even though it helped finance winning gubernatorial election campaigns in Virginia and New Jersey in November, the RGA reports $40 million in cash on hand for this November's governors' races.

The RGA noted that its former midyear fundraising record was $15.1 million and is now at $28 million this year — "almost double the earlier record. In 2006, the last comparable election year, the RGA raised $28 million for the entire year."

American Crossroads, with the major backing of Mr. Rove and former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie, reported raising $8.5 million in June as part of a pledge to generate more than $50 million for the midterm elections.

Because of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, however, the money that groups like American Crossroads raise cannot be used for state party "victory programs" in the same way as funds contributed to the RNC.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC

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