RNC loses big donors, and NRSC finds them

The Republican National Committee has seen high-dollar donors leave in droves, an exodus sources blame on early staff turnover and an aggressive push by other GOP committees to win the moneymen over.

The RNC has raised just $663,100 from large donors, according to a review of data filed with the Federal Election Commission. In 2007, that number topped $6.7 million.

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During the first six months of the year, fundraising among those who give more than $20,000 has dropped 90 percent from the same time in 2007 and is off 93 percent from the first half of 2005.

Sources who specialize in fundraising blame the dramatic drop on the staff turnover that followed the election of a new party chairman, Michael Steele. Several top fundraisers at the RNC left for other positions in Washington after Steele took over the RNC, not an uncommon occurrence when a new chairman takes charge.

With President Barack Obama moving into the White House, the RNC has also lost a powerful tool in fundraising. Donors who have gone to previous events in Texas or Jackson Hole, Wyo., were able to hobnob with President George W. Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney, both of whom are no longer active on the fundraising circuit.

Still, the news isn’t all bad for the GOP. It has seen a surge in small-dollar donors that Republicans believe indicates a changing electoral wind.

And, according to the committee, large-dollar donations are up since late June, when a new finance director took over. Steele has held big-dollar events in New England, the Midwest and Jackson Hole in recent months.

The RNC’s loss in big donors may be the gain of other GOP committees.

National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (Texas) hired several former RNC finance officials, and large donations are up 17 percent to $4.5 million at the end of June. The NRSC has seen its contributions from individuals rise 20 percent.

Without a president, fundraisers said, big donors are content to hobnob with senators. A retreat earlier this year, also in Jackson Hole, attracted more high-dollar donors than expected, as well as about a dozen Republican senators.

The Senate is also the last bulwark for GOP opposition to a government otherwise controlled by Democrats. Though they now have a 60-seat majority in the Senate, defections by centrists have frustrated Democratic efforts to move Obama’s agenda through the Senate in the face of unified GOP opposition.

Big-dollar donations are up at the Republican Governors Association as well. The RGA has built relationships with wealthy individuals, and donations from that set neared $2.8 million in the first half of the year, twice what they were in 2007.

House members, who are less well-known nationally, are less able to draw such donors, according to fundraising experts.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has seen its receipts among individual donors drop 49 percent over the same period in 2007 and 67 percent from the first half of 2005. Gifts over $20,000 are down 48 percent and 47 percent over the last two cycles, respectively.

Republicans point out that they have not been swamped in the fundraising race.
The RNC has actually raised more from individual donors — nearly $36.5 million through the end of June — than the Democratic National Committee, which pulled in $30.6 million over the same period. The key, RNC officials say, is small donors, who gave heavily during August, when Republicans seized the initiative on healthcare.

“High-dollar donors are an important part of our fundraising strategy,” said Trevor Francis, the RNC’s communications director. “However, small-dollar donors have given, and will continue to give, in unprecedented numbers.”

Francis said the committee averaged 2,000 new donors a day in August, and that although the final numbers have yet to be tallied for September, that frenetic pace has kept up.

The average contribution to the RNC has been about $40 for the last three months, and the committee now receives a whopping 79 percent of its individual contributions from those who give less than $200. That is a big increase from both of the last two cycles, when about two-thirds of the contributions came from those smallest of donors.

The Democratic National Committee has seen a marked increase in the number of donors giving more than $20,000. Total donations of that size are up to $5.8 million, 42 percent above the same period in 2007 and a whopping 264 percent above its 2005 mark.

Contributions as a whole are up as well, and the average contributor handed over $57 in the first nine months of the year, according to DNC spokesman Hari Sevugan.

“While maintaining a robust small-dollar donor foundation, we have also been able to expand our fundraising appeal,” Sevugan crowed.

Republicans note Democrats’ small gains since Obama moved into the White House, saying they expected to be swamped by massive contributions. But Democrats are quick to point out the DNC does not accept donations from political action committees or lobbyists.

Both the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee have lost individual donors. Contributions to the Senate committee are down 42 percent, while giving to the congressional committee is off 24 percent.

Ryan Rudominer, a spokesman for the DCCC, pointed out that small-dollar donations increased by 50 percent in August, and that the grass roots are rallying against what Democrats have termed the Republican noise machine.