In September, the Democratic National Committee's fund-raisers were so hard up they had to go to Washington lawyer - lobbyists, including Thomas Hale Boggs Jr. and a handfull of big business executives at Warner Communications and General Electric to guarantee a $195,000 Washington bank loan.
One of those who signed a promisory note for the DNC said recently he was told the loan was an emergency device "needed to meet operating expenses" of the 89-member staff and pay for a direct mail fund-raising effort.
Up to that point, the Democrats had been able to collect only about $3.3 million of their optimistic 1977 budget goal of $6.5 million.
But while the Democrats were scratching for funds, the Republican National Committee, with its staff of 220. by Sept. 30 had taken in close to $10 million.
Earlier in 1977, the GOP organization distributed $5,000 to each Republican senator up for re-election in 1978 who wanted the money. ANd the RNC by September was also in the process of handing out more than $100,000 to a slew of state and even local candicates who were running in the November, 1977, elections.
Democrats, even when they control the White House, have had a harder time raising money than Republicans. But their past election-day successes undercut the notion that money was everything in politics.
Today, however, the financing gap between the two party organizations is widening at such a rate that some longtime Democratic pros believe its impact may be felt during next year's congressional races and perhaps again in 1930.
Getting political money this year has been made more difficult for the Democrats because, as one of the men closet to the problem put it, "the President does not want to get involved . . . he just doesn't like fund-raising.
Carter spoke only at two major 1977 fund-raising dinners and make only a few other appearances at such events.
Next year, according to DNC Treasurer Joel McCleary, things will be different.
"We have a commitment from the President for five fund-raisers," McCleary said. "We're going to 'lean' the (DNC) operation, get the President and Vice President out of (Washington) traveling . . . and put $1.7 million into the 1978 (House and Senate) elections."
"Leaning" the operation means cutting the DNC staff from 89 down to 62, according to outgoing DNC Chairman Kenneth Curtis.
It also means that the 1978 with the Republican money-making machine will grow even larger.
According to GOP sources, the RNC will seek to collect $14 million next year. The plan is to give the maximum allowed by law, $10,000, to call GOP Senate candidates and as much as possible to Republican House candidates.
"We're also aiming to put 60 per cent of that in local races," a RNC official said, "governors and state legislatures."
One 1977 local contribution illustrates what the GOP committee is trying to do. Some $5.850 was put into a Louisville County judicial because the position is equivalent to administrator of the county. The money with a lot of other help, turned around the campaign and the Republican candidate won.
When it comes to 1978 financing, the congressional picture is even bleaker for the Democrats. The two Capitol Hill GOP campaign committees together raised $10 million in 1977, and should do as well or better in 1978.
The House-based National Republican Congressional Committee has pioneered in direct mail solicitation and as a result already has $3 million in trust for 1978 GOP House candidates.
Jointly, the Hill Democratic committees gathered just over $1 million this year. Next year they are planning to raise money through a new House-Senate council chaired by Lee Kling, a St. Louis banker who served as DNC treasurer under Robert S. Strauss.
For the next year or so, however, new Structures won't narrow the gap with the Republicans.
For one thing, the Democratic Party still has debts remaining from both the 1968 and 1976 presidential campaigns. Under a court order, the DNC must pay $60,000 a month to wipe out nice-year-old telephone bills to AT&T and plane fares to American Airlines. Some $1.7 million of those debts remain.
In addition, there are leftover 1976 Carter campaign expenses that run $300,000 to $400,000. About half of that $225,000, must go to Gerald Rafshoon, the media man for the presidential campaign.
With those debts hanging over them, the Democrats have a hard time attracting new big money donors.
And where the Republicans have regular direct mail donors in the $25 to $100 range, the Democrats can't seem to open up that particular vein.
"Direct mail is spotty," DNC Chairman Curtis put it most charitably recently. "We must develop a more sophisticated list and till that is perfected, it is going to cost us more."
Overall, two-thirds of the Democrats' 1977 contributions came from big contributors. The ratio is almost the reverse of the Republicans.
Even in the "fat cat" field, however, the GOP system gets a better rating from Washington donors who give to both parties.
The Republican big-giver program, called the $10,000 or more. Traveling a national circuit at Eagle appearances is a coterie of top-name GOP draws - former President Ford, John B. Connally, William E. Simon. Ronald Reagan and - at least twice during this year - Henry A. Kissinger.
The Democratic equivalent was termed the Democratic National Finance Committee. Described by one participant as "a kind of pyramid game," it recruited one individual who promised to be responsible for getting nine others, each of whom would give $5,000 a year, or get five more who would give $1,000 apiece.
"It looked marvelous on paper," one donor said, "but I haven't been able to find enough other people stupid enough as me to give." According to Federal Election Commission records, some $342,000 in pledged money had yet to be collected as of Sept. 30.
"Amateurish," was another description given by a longtime Democratic donor.
Another problem facing Democratic fund-raisers is that, according to one Washington lobbyist, "it is a clean operation. There are no promises of access or hope of getting anything special done for you."
"Maybe we've reformed ourselves to a point," he added, "where fund-raising can't be done."
Another big donor put it differently. "The Democratic committee is an entitl without influence or clout. Why give money to it?"
McCleary argues that 1977 was not as bad as the critics paint it for committee finances. He says the debts have been cut by $1 million and he hopes to have them wiped out next year.
But this projected 1978 program still has the amateur ring to it for old-timers.
Take the first event - a $1,000-a-couple Salute to the President scheduled for Atlanta on Jan. 20 - anniversary of the Carter inauguration.
McCleary hopes to have a seminar program that day featuring the noted historian, C. Van Woodware, lecturing on southern political growth. White House aides hamilton Jordon and Stuart Eizenstat would also be on the program along with Patrick Caddell, the Carter pollster.
The only thing that has the old-time ring is Bert Lance, a presidential crony, as chief fund-raiser and master of ceremonies for Carter's appearance. Lance's selective role as solicitor, given his clouded departure from Washington and the federal investigations into his past activities makes that ring slightly tinny.
McCleary, however, defends the former Office of Management and Budget Director, saying "he is a hero in the Southeast."
An old Washington hand, told of that remark, said last week, "perhaps they are learning."