Tags: Election 2010 | fundraising | midterm | elections | campaign | republicans | democrats

Tsunami of GOP Cash Threatens to Swamp Democrats

By    |   Thursday, 30 September 2010 02:11 PM

For the first time in several election cycles, Democrats are being forced to compete with Republicans on a level playing field for fund-raising, as their donations from organized labor are being offset by independent corporate money flowing to the GOP.

The Associated Press reports that outside groups allied with Republicans "have amassed a crushing 6-1 advantage in television spending." The Chamber of Commerce alone expects to spend at least $75 million trying to help pro-business candidates win in November.

Those expenditures should be enough to offset the $20 million advantage that the traditional Democratic fundraising organizations, such as the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, have over their Republican counterparts.

Donations to the Republican National Committee, which has suffered a series of embarrassing disclosures about questionable expenses, have been running at about half the level of the DNC's in recent months. Much of those lost RNC donations have apparently flowed to other conservative organizations.

Ironically, the fundraising shift back toward the GOP has been fueled in large part by the Obama administration's own policies and rhetoric, which have been widely perceived as anti-business. Also, the Supreme Court's controversial decision in the Citizens United case allows corporations to make anonymous contributions through trade association and other groups, which means companies can support pro-business candidates without the prospect of boycotts and picketing by liberal activists.

As the midterm elections draw nearer, the enthusiasm gap that has benefited Republican candidates this cycle appears to be spilling over into fundraising, especially for conservative PACs and trade associations.

In part, that's because major Democratic donors appear to be sitting on their wallets. Citing "a huge disparity in spending between pro-Republican and pro-Democratic groups," The New York Times reported Thursday that the Democratic Party's wealthy patrons appear more interested in issue advertising than supporting specific Democrats in tight races.

Leftist billionaires George Soros and Peter B. Lewis are among the Democratic stalwarts who haven't opened their wallets yet for this election, suggesting a level of progressive disenchantment over the president's policies.

Soros adviser Michael Vachon told the Times: "Mr. Soros believes that he can be most effective by funding groups that promote progressive policy outcomes in areas such as health care, the environment, and foreign policy. So he has opted to fund those activities."

And although unions, education associations, and environmental concerns still plan to spend mountains of dollars on behalf of Democratic candidates, it appears that the combination of corporate money and tea party activism will be more than sufficient to offset the usual Democratic advantage in street-level initiatives to turn out the vote.

In 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama outspent GOP Sen. John McCain by a whopping $167 million to win the election, after backing out of a pledge to reject public-campaign financing.

According to OpenSecret.org, 88 candidates for the 2010 election cycle have collected 50 percent or more of their campaign funds from political action committees, which are typically funded by unions, corporations, and other special interests. Of those 88 candidates, 66 are Democrats.

Eight of the top 10 candidates most reliant on PAC cash are Democrats. Leading the group is Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., who relies on PACs for whopping 89.4 percent of his campaign funds.

One major organization spending heavily on electing conservative candidates this year is the GOP-oriented American Crossroads and its affiliate, Crossroads GPS. Top Republican strategists Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie are informally advising those organizations, which expect to raise $50 million this cycle.

The enemy that Democrats blame most for losing their cash advantage is the Citizens United ruling that provoked Obama to lecture the Supreme Court during his State of the Union address.

The January ruling opened the door to companies to spend unlimited amounts of soft money on political ads that support or oppose specific candidates. Much of that money is being routed through third-party groups for the purpose of anonymity.

Neither congressional Democrats nor Obama appears to have moved past that ruling. Democrats continue to push for a legislative fix requiring the disclosure of corporate donations to groups such as the Chamber that are later used for political advertising.

"Special interests hiding behind the cloak of independent nonprofits threatens the transparency that our democracy deserves and does a disservice to fair, honest, and open elections," Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said recently.

Baucus, in a last-minute effort to chill corporate donations from the very financial, insurance, and energy sectors that the president has singled out for criticism, has asked the Internal Revenue Service to launch a probe of whether the independent groups are violating the tax code.

Obama, meanwhile, continues to launch barrages that most analysts say only complicate Democratic efforts to raise money.

"We can see for ourselves how destructive to our democracy this can become," he said in a recent radio address. "We see it in the flood of deceptive attack ads sponsored by special interests using front groups with misleading names."

Brian Darling, the Senate relations director for the Heritage Foundation, says Democrats' real concern is that, for the first time in several election cycles, the GOP will be able to compete in the fund-raising game.

"You will have a balancing of the field because education groups, the labor unions have always had an advantage on the left, with the resources that they're allowed to use in elections. More corporate money coming to Republicans helps balance that field," he tells Newsmax.

In part, Darling suggests, the Obama administration is fighting a fund-raising Frankenstein of its own making.

"It's a bullying mentality on the part of this administration to pass laws that harm private enterprise, and then to ask for those same companies that get harmed to contribute to this administration," he says.

"They clearly aren't reaching out to these companies and doing things that are helpful to private enterprise in an effort to get them to contribute. They're trying to intimidate them and scare them into giving money to many candidates who have taken actions that are very harmful," he says.

As for the notion that corporations are remaining anonymous while manipulating political outcomes, Darling says that's less of a concern in the age of new media.

"I don't think people can complain that there are these secret groups using corporate money to get out messages, because those messages are combated in this free-market atmosphere we have where people can look at information and assess whether it's true or false," he says. "We live in an era with unprecedented access to information."

Bob Adams is executive director of the League of American Voters, one of the organizations Democrats are accusing of being a front group for corporate America.

"The fact is, that couldn't be further from the truth," Adams tells Newsmax. "We have upwards of 75,000 members nationwide, all of which have contributed to our organization, giving $25, $50, $10. So to say the least it's something of an insult."

Adams says Big Labor will always find a way to influence elections, but credits the Citizens United ruling with making the money race more competitive.

He adds there are plenty of other reasons for GOP fund-raising gains, however.

"Ten percent unemployment," he says. "And exploding debt. The situation in our country is so grave of course it has an impact. We are in dire straits, and the people know it.

"The American people always step forward in times of crisis," he tells Newsmax, "and this time is no different, except the enemies of the republic are within. And it's the political establishment in Washington."

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For the first time in several election cycles, Democrats are being forced to compete with Republicans on a level playing field for fund-raising, as their donations from organized labor are being offset by independent corporate money flowing to the GOP. The Associated Press...
Thursday, 30 September 2010 02:11 PM
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