Lure of taking majority hasn’t spurred Senate Republicans to out-raise Dems

Senior Senate Republicans have sat on flush campaign accounts despite prodding from National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) Chairman John Cornyn, who has pleaded with colleagues to send funds to aid GOP candidates in battleground states.

While Cornyn (Texas) has motivated some of his more junior colleagues to open up their war chests in pursuit of a Republican Senate majority, he has had less success than his counterpart, Sen. Patty Murray (Wash.), chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

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The disparity in motivation has helped Senate Democrats out-raise Republicans by $14 million this cycle. It has also strengthened the chances Democrats will hold onto the majority, despite dire prognostications by election handicappers at the start of the election cycle.

The DSCC reported $114 million in total receipts through Oct. 17, compared to the NRSC’s reported $100 million, according to data compiled by the Federal Election Commission.

Since August, Murray has collected a $1 million contribution from Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), $315,000 from Sen. Kent Conrad (N.D.), a $250,000 gift from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), $250,000 from Sen. Max Baucus (Mont.), $200,000 from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), $200,000 from Sen. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and $120,000 from Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), according to fundraising reports.

Six of the seven biggest donors to the DSCC are senior Democratic senators, according to OpenSecrets.org, a website that tracks fundraising. 

The OpenSecrets list, which does not include the most recent data and thus missed Schumer’s donation, ranked Sen. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) No. 1 with $600,000 in contributions. It showed Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.), in second place with $485,000 in giving, and Sen. Carl Levin (Mich.) in third with $400,000.

A list of the NRSC’s top 20 contributors published by OpenSecrets did not include a single Republican senator. 

The biggest congressional contributor to the NRSC has been Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who gave two $61,600 contributions to the committee in August. He gave an additional $30,000 from his Bluegrass Committee PAC, according to a review of fundraising documents by The Hill.

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) ranked a close second after transferring $150,000 from his campaign account in September. 

Sens. Richard Burr (N.C.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), John Barrasso (Wyo.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.) and John Thune (S.D.) all gave $100,000 from their campaign accounts, fundraising reports show.

Sen. Jerry Moran (Kan.), who is running to succeed Cornyn as NRSC chairman, gave $55,000 from his campaign committee in October. Sens. Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and James Inhofe (Okla.) each gave $50,000 at the end of September.

But many senior GOP senators who would be poised to take over as committee chairmen if Senate control flipped have not given major donations, despite pleading from Cornyn.

Sen. Thad Cochran (Miss.), who would become chairman of the Appropriations Committee, gave $30,000 from his leadership PAC, the Senate Victory Fund. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), who could become chairman of the Finance or Judiciary panel, gave $30,000 in contributions from his Hawkeye PAC.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), who could vie with Grassley for the Finance gavel, gave $20,000 from Orrin PAC, according to a review of fundraising reports and data compiled by OpenSecrets.org.

The relative lack of generosity from colleagues has been a persistent source of frustration for Cornyn, who sat them down at a meeting at NRSC headquarters in late July for a pep talk.

He showed them a slide illustrating how much more money Democratic senators contributed to their party committee compared to Republicans.

“The Democrats have always been more aggressive at that than we have. What I did is, I showed them what they’ve done and I showed them where the gap was and challenged them to step up,” he told The Hill at the time.

The locker-room huddle appeared to have an impact. 

Burr, DeMint, Isakson, Inhofe, Barrasso, Sessions and Thune made their large donations when they returned to Washington after the August recess.

Burr has also given $45,000 from his leadership PAC. Barrasso, Inhofe and Thune have given another $30,000 from their leadership accounts.

Retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (Maine) gave two $48,000 contributions from her campaign account in early August, fundraising records show.

Prodding fiscally conservative Republican senators to give lavishly from their personal campaign funds to the party’s cause has been a perennial chore for NRSC chairmen.

In the fall of 2005, then-NRSC Chairwoman Elizabeth Dole (N.C.) held a series of one-on-one meetings with colleagues to urge them to narrow the fundraising gap with Democrats. 

During a meeting at NRSC headquarters the following year, Dole handed out orange-and-black toolboxes to colleagues to deliver a not-so-subtle message: Get to work. The toolboxes contained hammers, slide rules and tape measures.

After the 2004 election cycle, former NRSC Chairman George Allen (Va.) groused about how difficult it was to raise money from colleagues. He thought himself to be operating at a disadvantage because Republican caucus rules did not require members to give to the party committee.

“It was very tough,” he said at the time.

Senate Republican aides note, however, that lawmakers can help the NRSC in other ways. 

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), for example, who could resume his chairmanship of the Banking Committee, has not transferred much money to the committee, but he has raised substantial amounts for Senate Republican candidates.

McConnell has raised over $3 million for Senate Republican candidates this cycle, according to a senior GOP aide. He has hosted or been the featured speaker at over 80 breakfasts, lunches, receptions and dinners for candidates.

— This story was updated at 1:25 p.m.