The Republicans kept the White House and control of Congress this year, but the Democratic National Committee can take solace in an unexpected victory: It outraised its GOP rival by millions of dollars.
Figures the DNC filed with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday showed the Democratic committee took in about $17 million more than the Republican National Committee from January 2003 to late November.
DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe said he considered the fund raising — combined with a lack of debt — all the more remarkable because the party finished the 2000 presidential race with $18 million in bills to pay.
“We now have money in the bank, we have no debt, we have millions and millions of small donors, grass-roots. And we’re very proud of what we did,” McAuliffe said in a telephone interview. “We had every player on the field in this election and we got to the 1-yard line.”
The DNC raised $402 million from January 2003 through Nov. 22, the period covered in its new campaign finance report. The RNC said it took in $385 million and wasn’t questioning the Democratic committee’s financial edge.
“I think that you had an energized and engaged electorate this election cycle on both sides of the aisle and that’s reflected in the fund-raising totals that you’re seeing,” RNC spokesman Brian Jones said.
Still, added Jones, “The bottom line at the end of the day is we won. We did what we needed to do.” Besides keeping the White House, the GOP strengthened its House and Senate majorities in the Nov. 2 election.
The Democratic total is noteworthy in part because the DNC had been operating at a multimillion-dollar disadvantage. After a financial surge during President Clinton’s years in the White House, it found itself with no sitting president or congressional majority leaders to woo donors.
Strategists in both parties had predicted that a campaign finance law imposing new contribution limits after the 2002 elections would hit the Democratic Party harder than the GOP. The Democrats historically were more reliant on the unlimited checks from unions and others that the new law banned, while the GOP was much better at collecting lots of small donations.
However, it was the RNC along with the California Democratic and Republican parties, not the DNC, that sued unsuccessfully to try to overturn the new restrictions. The Democratic National Committee redoubled its efforts to collect donations up to the new $25,000-per-year limit and in more modest amounts, using Internet “Web-a-thons” like those pioneered by presidential hopeful Howard Dean in the primaries to raise millions in a matter of days or even hours.
In the end, the DNC and the RNC raised more heading into the election than they had when they could collect corporate, union and unlimited donations. It’s too soon to say which side had more cash on hand overall; finance reports by outside groups are still coming in.
At least $23 million of the DNC’s total comes from presidential nominee John Kerry’s leftover primary money, while the RNC’s total reflects $11.3 million that President Bush transferred to it from his primary campaign fund after the election.
Kerry also transferred at least $7 million from his primary campaign fund to state party committees around the country since mid-October, including those in battleground states such as Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania. His primary account had $14 million left as of Nov. 22.
Bush and Kerry both raised record sums for their primary campaigns, then accepted $75 million each in full taxpayer financing for the general-election phase of the race.
Kerry raised a Democratic record $249 million for his primary campaign fund. As of Nov. 22, Kerry had $1.2 million of his $75 million in general-election money left, and $861,000 in bills to pay.
Bush reported $4.4 million remaining in his general-election campaign fund and $1 million in bills to pay as of Nov. 22. He had $15 million in a legal compliance fund that he could have tapped in the event of a recount fight.
Bush’s general-election campaign paid several companies from mid-October through Nov. 2 for flights on their corporate planes, including Alticor, $17,460; Barr Laboratories, $6,963; FedEx Corp., $6,252; Mozart Investments, $22,293; and Outback Steakhouse, $3,272, an analysis by the nonpartisan Political Money Line campaign finance tracking service found.
Bush ended his private fund raising with $273 million collected, far exceeding the then-record $106 million he raised for his 2000 primary campaign.