Are Democrats Repeating Their Post-Citizens United Mistake?

Three weeks after the McCutcheon ruling, Republicans are taking advantage of the new rules much quicker than Democrats.

National Journal
Shane Goldmacher
Add to Briefcase
Shane Goldmacher
April 22, 2014, 4:11 p.m.

It’s been three weeks since the Su­preme Court stripped away the over­all lim­its on how much money top polit­ic­al donors can give, and this much is clear: Re­pub­lic­ans are mov­ing more swiftly than Demo­crats to take ad­vant­age of the new rules.

Re­pub­lic­ans have already rolled out two new su­per­sized vehicles to col­lect big­ger-than-ever checks from their top con­trib­ut­ors since the Court al­lowed donors to make con­tri­bu­tions to an un­lim­ited num­ber of politi­cians and party com­mit­tees.

The most not­able of these, the Re­pub­lic­an Vic­tory Fund, al­lows a wealthy Re­pub­lic­an to write a single $97,200 check every year that can then be di­vided between the Re­pub­lic­an Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee, the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Sen­at­ori­al Com­mit­tee, and the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee. Re­pub­lic­ans filed the pa­per­work for their jumbo joint fun­drais­ing ac­count ex­actly one week after the Su­preme Court’s 5-4 de­cision in Mc­Cutcheon v. FEC.

Un­der the old rules, those three arms of the Re­pub­lic­an Party were in al­most dir­ect com­pet­i­tion for the biggest donors, who could only give $74,600 every two years to the party com­mit­tees. Now they are work­ing hand-in-hand.

“We are mov­ing for­ward on a joint fun­drais­ing agree­ment with the NR­SC and NR­CC so we can max­im­ize our dona­tions to help can­did­ates win in Novem­ber,” said Kirsten Kukowski, a spokes­wo­man for the RNC.

Demo­crats have cre­ated no such vehicle to co­ordin­ate between the party’s three key com­mit­tees yet, and there are no im­min­ent plans to do so.

Last week, a group of Sen­ate Re­pub­lic­ans and Sen­ate GOP can­did­ates cre­ated an­oth­er jumbo joint fun­drais­ing ac­count, called the 2014 Sen­at­ors Clas­sic Com­mit­tee. This al­lows a top donor to write a check for nearly $100,000, which is then dis­trib­uted to as many as 19 Re­pub­lic­ans.

Un­der the old rules, one donor could give no more than $48,600 every two years to fed­er­al can­did­ates. With that lim­it gone, Re­pub­lic­ans are so­li­cit­ing more than twice that much money for al­most twice as many can­did­ates as they did us­ing the 2012 Sen­at­ors Clas­sic Com­mit­tee.

Demo­crats have cre­ated only one siz­able joint fun­drais­ing com­mit­tee since Mc­Cutcheon, the Se­cure our Sen­ate 2014 ac­count, which fea­tures five Demo­crat­ic Sen­ate can­did­ates: in­cum­bent Cory Book­er, Rep. Bruce Bra­ley, Al­is­on Lun­der­gan Grimes, Michelle Nunn, and Nat­alie Ten­nant. But a joint com­mit­tee of that size could have ex­is­ted pre-Mc­Cutcheon, as well.

The day after Mc­Cutcheon, House Minor­ity Lead­er Nancy Pelosi de­clared that Demo­crats were “not go­ing to uni­lat­er­ally dis­arm,” even as they ob­jec­ted to the de­cision. But the party gen­er­ally has been far more reti­cent about em­bra­cing the loosened cam­paign fin­ance rules im­posed by the Su­preme Court un­der Chief Justice John Roberts.

When the Court loosened the rules for out­side groups’ spend­ing through Cit­izens United and oth­er de­cisions, Re­pub­lic­ans quickly mo­bil­ized to take ad­vant­age, spend­ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars through out­side groups on the 2010 midterm elec­tions.

It wasn’t un­til Feb­ru­ary 2012 that Pres­id­ent Obama signaled to top Demo­crat­ic donors that he would want them to give to Demo­crat­ic su­per PACs. “We’re not go­ing to fight this fight with one hand tied be­hind our back,” Jim Mess­ina, Obama’s cam­paign man­ager, told The New York Times. “With so much at stake, we can’t al­low for two sets of rules. Demo­crats can’t be uni­lat­er­ally dis­armed.”

Not­ably, that tac­tic­al de­cision came two years after Cit­izens United.

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