Months of post-election malaise hamstrung the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) fundraising over the first six months of 2017, creating a serious money gap with Republicans and raising questions about Democrats’ ability to take advantage of opportunities in the 2018 midterm elections.
The DNC raised $38.2 million in the first half of the year, compared with the Republican National Committee's (RNC) $75.4 million haul during that period — a $37.2 million difference. As of June 30, the RNC has almost $45 million in the bank, while the DNC has just under $7.5 million, along with $3 million in debt.
Many Democrats are frustrated by the sluggish fundraising pace, which comes even as President TrumpDonald TrumpMedia giants side with Bannon on request to release Jan. 6 documents Cheney warns of consequences for Trump in dealings with Jan. 6 committee Jan. 6 panel recommends contempt charges for Trump DOJ official MORE's sagging approval rating drives Democratic outrage across the country.
They're also concerned about the implications of being financially outgunned ahead of a pivotal midterm election cycle, where Democrats will attempt to take the House while defending a number of Senate seats.
"We really should be kicking their asses," one longtime Democratic donor said. "It shouldn't even be close, considering all hell is breaking loose on their side."
The donor, like many top Democratic donors and fundraisers who requested anonymity to share their candid assessments with The Hill, conceded that it’s “still early” in the cycle. The group still thinks there's time for new DNC Chairman Tom Perez to right the ship following a bruising 2016 run for Democrats.
“We all know that the last six months has been a complete rebuild of the party structure with Tom Perez and it seems like they are trying to be very methodical on how they rebuild. So it’s not surprising that their fundraising isn’t as aggressive or advanced right now,” one top Democratic fundraiser said.
“What happens six months, nine months, 12 months from now will be a much clearer signal on whether the Democrats are truly in trouble.”
The lagging fundraising has frustrated some Democrats, who see Trump’s sinking favorability and stalled agenda and the ongoing Russia probes and wonder why the national party can’t translate that grassroots energy into donations.
"It's deeply problematic, and it's because our party leadership has to be dragged kicking and screaming by the base to lead an opposition," Democratic strategist Christy Setzer said, urging Democrats to ramp up the pressure on Trump.
"Maybe the only thing more depressing to the Democratic base than Trump's actions and inactions on North Korea, Charlottesville and Russia is how few members on both sides — on 'many sides' — have stood up to him.
“Attention Democratic electeds: The time is long past to call on President Trump to adopt a better tone. That ship has sailed. And stop calling on GOP leadership to do the right thing. They won't. Take action now.”
The disastrous 2016 election cycle left its mark on Democrats in ways that likely contributed to their fundraising stumbles.
Staffing problems are contributing to the fundraising crisis.
The DNC slashed its workforce after Election Day and is still working through a full-scale rebuild as Perez reshapes the party. One source familiar with the party’s staffing told The Hill that the DNC only had three fundraising staffers when Perez took over, compared with a goal of staffing the fundraising department with 30 people. It took the party until June to announce its new fundraising director.
Perez noted that the party is still in the process of staffing up in a statement to The Hill.
“At the DNC, we are still building up our team, including hiring fundraising staff, and making sure every aspect of our organization is moving in lockstep,” he said.
“We’re confident that our team will raise the resources needed as we head into 2018 and beyond.”
That’s why one longtime Democratic fundraiser told The Hill that he was “shocked” the party managed to raise even as much as it has — more than it had at this point in each of the past two cycles — with such a shoestring staff.
The concerns extend beyond staffing and affect both high-dollar and low-dollar donors.
After a full-court press meant to raise hundreds of millions for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBudowsky: Why GOP donors flock to Manchin and Sinema Countering the ongoing Republican delusion Republicans seem set to win the midterms — unless they defeat themselves MORE’s campaign and allied groups — an effort most Democrats expected would end with her in the White House — major donors admit that they are tired.
And those donors who are used to being wooed by fundraisers featuring the president of the United States and other party luminaries in former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThose on the front lines of climate change should be empowered to be central to its solution The Memo: Trump's justices look set to restrict abortion Minorities and women are leading the red wave MORE’s administration have to get used to the party’s new, diminished position, where many of the party’s old standbys are sitting on the sidelines.
On the other end of the spectrum, many progressive supporters of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSymone Sanders to leave the White House at the end of the year Briahna Joy Gray says Chris Cuomo will return to CNN following scandal Postal Service expansion into banking services misguided MORE's (I-Vt.) presidential bid are still smarting from the revelation that top DNC figures were biased against Sanders throughout the primary.
Then there’s the question of a unified message, a battle still being waged in Democratic circles even after a number of party leaders backed the “Better Deal” economic plan last month.
"You've gotta give people something to be for," Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said.
"Democratic voters are all united in believing Donald Trump should not be in office and be contained. What they're waiting on is a direct and positive agenda that they can believe in to deal with the problems the country faces."
" 'A Better Deal' was a good start, but everyone needs to start singing from the same song book," Simmons said. "We're getting there, but it's now eight months so time for us to be there."
The DNC’s fundraising woes have not extended to party committees and candidates. On the House side, both the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee each raised about $60 million in the first six months of 2017. The Republican group has a $12 million advantage in cash on hand.
Republican House candidates have narrowly outraised Democratic House candidates, $145.4 million to $142 million.
Comparing Senate candidates is more difficult, since many more Democratic incumbents than Republicans find themselves in difficult reelection fights. But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised the National Republican Senatorial Campaign by a slim $700,000 margin.
While the DNC struggles to catch up, the RNC’s fundraising operation is steaming ahead. The $75.4 million haul in the first six months of 2017 represents the most the party has ever raised in the first six months of a non-presidential election year and is far more than Democrats raised in the first six months of 2009 after Obama took office.
Trump has also been a boon for RNC fundraising. A June fundraiser at his D.C. hotel raised $10 million for his reelection and the party, according to The Associated Press.
With Trump’s help, the RNC continues to pull big money from small donors, raising $33 million in donations under $200. Through the first six months of 2017, the RNC has raised more online than it has in an entire year, with the exception of 2008.
While the DNC raised from small donors in 2017 more than it did in the first six months of any year since 2014, it still fell $11 million behind the RNC’s total.
Democratic fundraisers and donors agree that they aren’t ready to sound the alarm just yet. But they say they’ll be looking to the DNC to evaluate its path forward and make sure it has a sound strategy to move in the right direction and make sure the party has every resource it needs.
“There’s less concern about whether we have the donor base that has the resources and the checkbook to support the effort we need. It’s more about how do we come up with the strategies and the tools to really inspire our donors to give consistently,” a top Democratic fundraiser said.
"The goal should be: How do we have a fundraising strategy and infrastructure that doesn’t have to rebuild and reinvent themselves after every cycle and every loss?”