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RealClearPolitics HorseRaceBlog

By Jay Cost

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Another Average (At Best) Month for the RNC

On Friday, Chris Cillizza had the early scoop on the national committees' fundraising hauls:

The Republican National Committee raised almost $5.8 million in April and ended the month with $24.4 million on hand, a rare bright spot for a committee whose chairman -- Michael Steele -- has struggled badly in his first few months on the job. Through the first four months of 2009, the RNC has raised $23.4...When Steele was first elected RNC Chairman in January, one of the major concerns in the professional political class was whether he could raise the sort of money to keep the RNC competitive. Interestingly, fundraising has been Steele's strength to date while his skills as a spokesman -- thought to be his strong suit -- have betrayed him time and again.

I don't agree with Cillizza's conclusion. Instead, this month seems to me to be quite below average for the RNC. Consider the following graph:

RNC Graph.jpg

[Note that this graph excludes soft money, which was permitted prior to 2003. Additionally, Cillizza's figure probably excludes the $7 million or so that John McCain transferred to the RNC earlier this year. That actually improves the comparison from year-to-year, as no previous transfer in the above chart has ever exceeded $1 million.]

As you can see, there was a jump in the RNC's fundraising hauls around the beginning of this decade - and a big slide for the most recent data point. Clearly, 2009 is the worst performance to date the RNC has had since 1999 - and even then the party had access to soft money dollars. Importantly, the RNC is well off the mark established in 2005, the last year that was the beginning of a midterm election cycle.

We cannot be critical of Michael Steele for these numbers...at least not yet. There are too many factors that could be weighing down the RNC's fundraising that are outside his control: the weak economy, the tough election last cycle, the inability of the party to introduce its agenda in Congress, and so on. Any of these might be keeping the RNC from raising what it otherwise would. That being said, we cannot draw the conclusion that Cillizza does. If Steele cannot be blamed for these below average numbers - he can't be praised, either. Indeed, it might be partially his fault that the numbers have been so weak. It's too soon to say, and Republicans should continue to watch the committee closely.

Politicos like to compare the two national committees head-to-head, as Cillizza does in the above column. Moving forward, I'd suggest that this is the wrong way to judge the RNC. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the DNC had a horrible couple of fundraising cycles under Howard Dean. It might take it a while to rebuild its fundraising base. Second, Tim Kaine is serving as governor of Virginia until next year. This limits his ability to raise money. Third, the Democratic congressional campaign committees were stronger than their counterparts on the Republican side in the last cycle. Indeed, through March of this year the Democratic congressional committees had already outraised the GOP committees by $10 million. The GOP has relied on the RNC to make up the money gap - which implies that matching the DNC is not enough. Fourth, the DNC can make use of this guy:

Obama.jpg

His capacity to fundraise for the Democratic Party will be impressive. When he decides it's time, the DNC will raise plenty.

Bottom line: the RNC's subpar fundraising haul might be reducible to factors outside of Steele's control. But they might not be. It's too soon to say, which means Republicans should keep a close eye on future RNC receipts. In the meantime, it's best to avoid making comparisons to the DNC.

-Jay Cost