House Democrats raised more than $33 million last year for their campaign arm, according to Democratic sources, and will head into the 2000 elections with significantly more money left to spend on this year's contests than their traditionally better-funded GOP rivals.

With only five seats separating Democrats from the House majority, the party has dramatically stepped up its fund-raising in the battle for Congress. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's receipts for 1999 outpaced all previous fund-raising efforts, and sources said they have roughly $19 million cash on hand.

Republicans declined to release their 1999 figures, but in a Dec. 14 conference call with members of his executive committee, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Thomas M. Davis III (Va.) predicted that the party would have raised $48 million by the end of the year and have just under $10 million cash on hand.

NRCC officials, however, said they are still tabulating and that Davis's projection did not reflect the full year's receipts.

The Democratic totals reflect a financial turnaround. During the previous pre-election year, the DCCC raised just $14.8 million total and entered the election year with $1.6 million on hand.

One GOP leadership aide, who asked not to be identified, noted that Davis made the decision to spend money on initiatives last year that will bolster the party's standing in the future, such as $1 million on the Virginia legislature races and more than $1 million on redistricting in California and the race to replace the late House member George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.). Now that the GOP controls both chambers in Virginia, the aide predicted, the party could pick up two congressional seats in 2002.

"Davis made a lot of investments that will pay off in the long run," the aide said, adding that Republicans will accumulate enough cash this year to make up for the current shortfall. "Money's not going to be a problem."

Though DCCC officials declined to comment on their fund-raising totals, Democrats have been aggressively courting six-figure donors and relying on the national money network of House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) during the past year. Much of their increase has been fueled by a rise in unlimited "soft money" contributions from corporations, unions and wealthy individuals--which can't be spent directly on this year's House races by the party but will indirectly boost the candidates' prospects through get-out-the-vote operations and television ads.

Indeed, Republicans have been so concerned about the Democrats' newfound fund-raising prowess that, in late fall, they hired a veteran lobbyist, Dan Mattoon of BellSouth Corp., to serve as the NRCC's top aide, and he has focused his early efforts on heading off a wave of business contributions to the DCCC.