Battered by the 1984 election results, the Democratic Party is running on the thin edge of solvency, forced to borrow $100,000 in June, the most recent reporting period.
"We are doing fine," said Terry Michael, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, but its financial reports during the first six months of this year paint a different picture.
In January and February, the traditionally debt-ridden DNC was, by Democratic standards, exceptionally healthy, taking in more than it spent. By Feb. 28, the DNC had achieved a positive cash balance of $493,515.
In the next four months, however, DNC finances steadily deteriorated. The cash balance fell month by month, reaching $119,344 on June 30, and would have fallen to $19,344 had the committee not negotiated a $100,000 loan from the National Bank of Washington.
From a January high of $840,000 in contributions, donations fell to a six-month low of $527,000 in June. Expenses, in the meantime, have been consistently above $600,000, except for February, when they fell to $529,000. Expenses were $843,000 in May and $616,000 in June.
In addition to the $100,000 loan, the DNC has been paying off a $1 million loan from the D.C. National Bank at $60,000 a month. By the end of June, that loan had been reduced to $420,000.
At the same time, the DNC has been carrying $584,000 in debts to more than 240 hotels, small airlines, car rental agencies and other vendors. Most, if not all, of these bills date back to the 1980 presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter.
While the DNC struggles to keep its head above water, the Republican National Committee has raised $22.35 million during the first six months of the year -- 6.4 times the $3.49 million raised by the DNC.
The extraordinary success of the RNC is based in large part on an intense direct mail fund-raising program that can result, however, in unexpected consequences.
Cornelia Egan Alley, of Springfield, Ill., recently complained to The Washington Post that a flood of Republican and conservative fund-raising letters persuaded her 84-year-old mother to spend all her savings.
"For 30 years, my mother has given to the Republican Party," Alley said. "After my father died in 1979, she let the party interests fill a void left by him. For the past seven years, she . . . sent the requested donations to the tune of $20,000 annually."
Now "bedridden in a nursing home," Alley's mother spends her time "in a constant scramble for money to send to those 'poor people' who supposedly need her help. She often spends hours in tears because she can no longer afford to help. Many of the letters are frightening and horrifying in their dramatic appeals for help."
Her contributions to the GOP have placed her name on solicitation mailing lists of 127 Republican and conservative organizations.
Alley said that in the spring she wrote to all 127 organizations asking that her mother's name be removed from their lists. In the letter, she told officials of the groups: "You should understand that photographs of starving children and stories of debt-ridden, improvident politicians have affected her deeply and have caused her untold personal anguish. She has spent hours weeping over these requests."
The mail continues coming in at "a pound a day," however, and only two of the 127 organizations have written back to say they are taking her name off their mailing lists, Alley said.
RNC spokesman Terry Wade said every effort is made to remove from mailing lists the name of anyone making such a request. He noted, however, that because Alley's mother is on 127 mailing lists, even if her name is purged from RNC lists she is likely to appear on lists purchased by the RNC in efforts to "prospect" for new donors.
The RNC is taking in cash at the rate of better than $3 million a month, and the money has allowed the committee to retain a host of well-connected consultants.
In one case, the firm of a principal architect of the conservative revolution in Republican politics, F. Clifton White, who engineered the GOP nomination of Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) in 1964, is being paid $5,000 a month for consulting services.
At the same time, a firm of newcomers -- Black, Manafort, Stone and Atwater -- has been getting $12,500 a month since March, with $5,000 going to Lee Atwater, $5,000 to Charles Black and $2,500 to the firm.
Another $5,000 a month goes to a consulting firm run by Michelle Laxalt, daughter of the RNC's general chairman, Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.). She had originally formed a firm with Rich Bond, former deputy director of the RNC, but they later formed separate companies. Bond's firm also gets $5,000 a month from the RNC.