Do Democrats Face a Campaign Finance Conundrum?

In the Senate, they’ve elevated the issue but their own war chests are full.

WASHINGTON - MAY 03: (L-R) U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (L) and Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (R) listen during a dedication ceremony of the statue of former President Gerald Ford at the Rotunda of the Capitol May 3, 2011 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The statue will become a part of the National Statuary Hall Collection of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
National Journal
Michael Catalin
Add to Briefcase
Michael Catalin
May 1, 2014, 5:05 p.m.

Cam­paign fin­ance is tak­ing cen­ter stage in Amer­ic­an polit­ics once again. The Su­preme Court rolled back ag­greg­ate spend­ing lim­its. Sen­ate Demo­crats held a hear­ing this week fea­tur­ing former Su­preme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Harry Re­id has made spend­ing by the Koch broth­ers a cam­paign is­sue.

All of this might give the im­pres­sion that Sen­ate Demo­crats are dis­ad­vant­aged in the money game, but that is not ne­ces­sar­ily true. In fact, by some counts, they are ahead.

With the rise of so-called dark money groups — or­gan­iz­a­tions that aren’t re­quired to dis­close donors and spend­ing — the money pic­ture is murky. But when it comes to money that is dis­closed and tracked by the Fed­er­al Elec­tion Com­mis­sion, Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate can­did­ates raised about $165 mil­lion through March, while GOP can­did­ates raised roughly $149 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent num­bers.

Demo­crats also have a slight edge in in­de­pend­ent ex­pendit­ures, with $34.9 mil­lion go­ing to­ward lib­er­al causes and $34.2 mil­lion go­ing to­ward con­ser­vat­ive causes, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ter for Re­spons­ive Polit­ics.

With a Sen­ate elec­tion land­scape that fa­vors the GOP, and red-state Demo­crats already play­ing de­fense, Re­pub­lic­ans hope to stretch the field. One way they’re do­ing that is by spend­ing money from their lead­er­ship PACs on can­did­ates that could be vi­able.

“It has to do with nom­in­at­ing enough really good can­did­ates in states like New Hamp­shire and Iowa and Michigan and Ore­gon that will have a chance to win,” said Re­pub­lic­an Sen. Lamar Al­ex­an­der of Ten­ness­ee.

Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell’s lead­er­ship PAC, the Bluegrass Com­mit­tee, has writ­ten $190,000 in checks to Re­pub­lic­ans in Sen­ate races, ac­cord­ing to the cen­ter, in­clud­ing to Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and Mike Mc­Fad­den in Min­nesota. In Ore­gon, Mc­Con­nell also con­trib­uted to Mon­ica We­hby, the Re­pub­lic­an doc­tor vy­ing for the party’s nom­in­a­tion and the chance to take on Demo­crat­ic Sen. Jeff Merkley in Novem­ber.

But stretch­ing the field comes at a price. Bet­ting on a can­did­ate in a state like Ore­gon, where Pres­id­ent Obama won by 12 points, could mean less money in a state like Louisi­ana, where Mitt Rom­ney won hand­ily. “It might have the ef­fect of cost­ing the Demo­crats more money, but it will cost the Re­pub­lic­ans as well,” Al­ex­an­der said.

For their part, Demo­crats are try­ing to stem the ex­pan­sion of the elect­or­al map in­to blue states like Col­or­ado, Min­nesota, and New Hamp­shire. Re­id’s Search­light Lead­er­ship PAC has spent $235,000 back­ing Demo­crats, for in­stance, and the Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity PAC, a group run by former Re­id aides, has spent $7.7 mil­lion in in­de­pend­ent ex­pendit­ures against Re­pub­lic­ans, in­clud­ing Scott Brown in New Hamp­shire.

In some cases, lead­er­ship money will be fol­lowed by spend­ing from out­side groups. “If you think that they’re just kind of do­ing it be­cause they’re on their own? No,” said Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Be­gich of Alaska, who is in one of the toughest reelec­tion fights this year. “I guar­an­tee you if they’re put­ting money in there now, the Koch broth­ers and Karl Rove and com­pany will be next.”

Demo­crats have made out­side spend­ing in states like Alaska, Louisi­ana, and North Car­o­lina a key cam­paign is­sue. Re­id reg­u­larly ham­mers the Koch broth­ers from the Sen­ate floor, al­lud­ing to the group’s “tentacles,” and even coin­ing terms like “Kochtopus.”

The is­sue of cam­paign fin­ance has be­come such a part of the Demo­crats’ elec­tion-year rhet­or­ic that Re­id has prom­ised a vote on Sen. Tom Ud­all’s con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment, which would al­low for reg­u­la­tion of cam­paign cash. Re­pub­lic­ans counter that Demo­crats are be­ing hy­po­crit­ic­al.

Last week, for ex­ample, the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee, when asked wheth­er Demo­crats are es­sen­tially co­ordin­at­ing with out­side groups — which is pro­hib­ited — poin­ted out that in New Hamp­shire, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s cam­paign seemed to be shop­ping an ad script to out­side spend­ers. Re­pub­lic­ans have also charged that Re­id’s at­tacks on the Koch broth­ers from the Sen­ate floor are polit­ic­ally mo­tiv­ated, and have fired off a com­plaint to the Sen­ate Eth­ics Com­mit­tee.

In re­turn, Demo­crats ac­cuse Re­pub­lic­ans of drop­ping polit­ic­al bread crumbs for out­side groups. But Re­pub­lic­ans say they’re only copy­ing Demo­crat­ic tac­tics. “We’re rep­lic­at­ing what Demo­crats have done the last two cycles,” said Sen. Richard Burr of North Car­o­lina. “It’s a mat­ter of of­fense and de­fense, and we’re on of­fense.”

In­deed, Re­pub­lic­ans need to net six seats to take the ma­jor­ity in the fall. It could well be with­in their grasp, with prom­ising can­did­ates in states like Col­or­ado, where Rep. Cory Gard­ner is tak­ing on in­cum­bent Demo­crat­ic Sen. Mark Ud­all, and New Hamp­shire, where Brown, the former sen­at­or from Mas­sachu­setts, is tak­ing on Shaheen. Mc­Con­nell and oth­ers have also donated to Mc­Fad­den in Min­nesota as well as We­hby in Ore­gon, a sign those races could be com­pet­it­ive, law­makers say.

Demo­crats say Re­pub­lic­ans are try­ing to wear their re­sources thin in an at­tempt to knock off vul­ner­able law­makers in states like Alaska. “I think the is­sue is they’re try­ing to do a scat­ter-gun ap­proach so they can get bil­lions from these guys as sec­ond­ary money,” Be­gich said, re­fer­ring to out­side groups. “And they know that we have lim­ited re­sources. And they’re try­ing to stretch.”

But not all Demo­crat­ic law­makers are wor­ried. Where red-state Demo­crats some­times high­light the dif­fer­ences between them­selves and their party — think Sen. Mark Pry­or of Arkan­sas and his op­pos­i­tion to the Demo­crats’ min­im­um-wage bill — blue-state Demo­crats have a some­what easi­er time tak­ing aim at Re­pub­lic­ans. Merkley, for ex­ample, says he is not sweat­ing Mc­Con­nell and oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans spend­ing in his race.

“It doesn’t con­cern me,” he said. “It shows that Mc­Con­nell is ideo­lo­gic­ally aligned with Mon­ica We­hby. I don’t think there’s any big sur­prise there.”

What We're Following See More »
TRUMP CONTINUES TO LAWYER UP
Kasowitz Out, John Dowd In
1 days ago
THE LATEST

As the Russia investigation heats up, "the role of Marc E. Kasowitz, the president’s longtime New York lawyer, will be significantly reduced. Mr. Trump liked Mr. Kasowitz’s blunt, aggressive style, but he was not a natural fit in the delicate, politically charged criminal investigation. The veteran Washington defense lawyer John Dowd will take the lead in representing Mr. Trump for the Russia inquiry."

Source:
ALSO INQUIRES ABOUT PARDON POWER
Trump Looking to Discredit Mueller
1 days ago
THE LATEST

President Trump's attorneys are "actively compiling a list of Mueller’s alleged potential conflicts of interest, which they say could serve as a way to stymie his work." They plan to argued that Mueller is going outside the scope of his investigation, in inquiring into Trump's finances. They're also playing small ball, highlighting "donations to Democrats by some of" Mueller's team, and "an allegation that Mueller and Trump National Golf Club in Northern Virginia had a dispute over membership fees when Mueller resigned as a member in 2011." Trump is said to be incensed that Mueller may see his tax returns, and has been asking about his power to pardon his family members.

Source:
INCLUDES NY PROBE INTO MANAFORT
Why Yes, Mueller Is Looking into Trump Businesses
2 days ago
THE LATEST

In addition to ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Robert Mueller's team is also "examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said. The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort."

Source:
Mueller Expands Probe to Trump Business Transactions
2 days ago
THE DETAILS

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team is "is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates", including "Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008."

Source:
ANALYSIS FROM CBO
32 Million More Uninsured by 2026 if Obamacare Repealed
2 days ago
THE LATEST

"A Senate bill to gut Obamacare would increase the number of uninsured people by 32 million and double premiums on Obamacare's exchanges by 2026, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. The analysis is of a bill that passed Congress in 2015 that would repeal Obamacare's taxes and some of the mandates. Republicans intend to leave Obamacare in place for two years while a replacement is crafted and implemented."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login