GOP bringing in the bucks for House midterms

By T.W. Farnam and Dan Eggen
Thursday, August 26, 2010; A11

This week, the top Republican in the House, Minority Leader John A. Boehner (Ohio), pledged that the party would spend $50 million assisting House candidates in the midterm elections. The National Republican Congressional Committee has been outraising its Democratic counterpart for the past four months and raising far more than in the last election cycle. Last month, it brought in $8.6 million, compared with $6.2 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

But the DCCC still has more money on hand for the campaign: $35.8 million, compared with the NRCC's current total of $22.1 million.

The NRCC typically takes out about $8 million in loans ahead of an election, meaning it would need to raise or borrow an additional $20 million before Election Day to meet Boehner's goal. In 2008, it reported raising $14.2 million in the last 21/2 months before the election. When Republicans held the majority in 2006, they were able to raise $34.7 million in that time period - but they had many more lawmakers transferring money into party coffers.

The announcement of the ambitious goal follows a turnaround in Republicans' fundraising. Back in December, the DCCC had six times as much cash for the elections as the NRCC. Today it has 1.6 times as much.

In the last election cycle, Democrats spent $81.6 million helping House candidates; Republicans could muster only $30 million. The figures are not likely to be so lopsided this year.

At the same time, the picture is not all rosy for the GOP. The Republican National Committee reported only $5 million in the bank at the end of July, compared with $10.8 million for the Democratic National Committee. And the RNC has been dogged by scandal this year, with its expenditures questioned and its treasurer accusing the management of hiding financial obligations.

Corporate caution

As top executives at retailers Target and Best Buy can attest, political spending can cause a lot of trouble. The Minnesota retailers have come under fire from activist groups and some shareholders in recent weeks after a $150,000 donation ended up helping a GOP gubernatorial candidate who opposes same-sex marriage.

The lesson, according to the Conference Board: Tread carefully. The New York-based business group is set to release a first-of-its-kind guidebook this fall offering advice on the kind of donations that got Target and Best Buy in political hot water. The manual will advise companies on policies and procedures that might help them avoid such problems.

Bruce Freed, one of the guide's co-authors and president of the Center for Political Accountability, said one lesson of the Target imbroglio is that it is often hard to separate one issue from another when supporting a particular candidate or group. "You can't just look at a candidate's position on one issue and say, 'We'll give to that,' because it's a whole package you're associating yourself with."

Paul DeNicola, director of the Conference Board's Governance Center, said that "corporate reputation risk" is one of the most important factors for corporations to consider when they start writing checks to candidates. "It is a very healthy thing for corporations to be involved as players in the political process," he said. "But publicly traded companies also need to be cognizant of the risks to the corporation."

GM giving again

General Motors reported making $47,000 in contributions to lawmakers and congressional candidates in July, the first it has made since November 2008. The company stopped giving through its political action committee just as it began to seek government assistance to stay in business.

The U.S. government provided support but also steered the company through bankruptcy. Today, the Treasury owns a 60 percent stake in the company, which recently announced plans to go public with a stock sale.

GM earlier gave $41,000 to groups and causes associated with lawmakers. The latest contributions were made directly to lawmakers' campaigns.

GM gave a total of $26,000 to seven Republican lawmakers, including $2,000 to Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, and a total of $21,000 to nine Democrats, including $1,000 to Rep. James E. Clyburn of South Carolina. A GM spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.

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