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
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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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